Well this is supposed to be a blog on YA Dystopia Fiction, so I am hesitant about posting this review, because I am not actually sure if this qualifies! Earlier on this blog I wrote one post about the definition of dystopia, and then in a post about the book Skylark, I listed what I have found to be the common elements of most dystopic fiction. However, Tomorrow, When the War Began doesn’t seem to fit with either of the posts I wrote.
There isn’t a natural disaster such as a supernova volcano or a man-made one such as nuclear war. There hasn’t been a virus that causes people to die off or turn into zombies. There isn’t some technology that adversely affects the world and there isn’t exactly an authoritarian or totalitarian government.
The plot reminds me so much of the movie Red Dawn. No, not the silly remake with Tom Cruise’s son, but the original film of the 1980’s that was made before Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Grey became full-fledged stars. Both stories deal with an invasion by foreign powers. Red Dawn was made during the Cold War period so the enemy in the story was troops from the Soviet Union and Cuba. In Tomorrow, When the War Began, it’s not clear who the enemy is that invades Australia. In each, a group of high school students must deal with consequences of the hostile takeover, and each group go beyond surviving and avoiding capture, to getting involved in guerrilla warfare to fight for their country.
What’s interesting in both is since they take place in our modern world when teenagers are not exactly known for depth of character or shouldering responsibility, these stories raise interesting questions about the ability of people so young to evolve along with the situation. Actually, maybe that’s unfair as even adults who find themselves in a life altering situation might need to develop these qualities too.
The book is more gentle than the film. In the book, the teens aren’t struggling so hard just to survive and there is even time and capacity for teen romance among the characters. The movie Red Dawn is much more grim, and the characters start to adopt the brutality of the enemy, whereas Ellie in the book is horrified by the results of the gasoline bomb she created. Since this is only the first book in the series, perhaps the characters will go to a darker place in the next one. The setting of the book is also idyllic compared to the film which takes place in the Midwest. In fact, the book’s setting reminds me a bit of another movie, The Beach, as it’s more of a natural paradise which until the invasion was the perfect place for a camping trip. Unlike This Is Not a Test and Ashfall, the dialogue in this book was much more juvenile, but again, it is a YA book so that’s not the book’s fault. I just have gotten used to so many other YA novels having the complexity and maturity of an adult novel.
So after writing these thoughts down, I am still on the fence as to whether I can really consider this book to be of the dystopian genre. What do you think? What element/s need to be in a book for you to count it as a dystopia novel?