Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tomorrow, when the War Began - John Marsden

This book by Australian author John Marsden is regarded as a classic in it's native country and is taught extensively in Australian schools. The first in a seven book sequence it deals with the effect on a group of teenage friends of returning from a week of going bush (camping out away from civilisation in the Australian bush) to find their homes and towns empty of people and livestock, their pets dead and their country invaded by an unknown foreign force. Families, friends and townspeople are being held in a makeshift camp where the celebrations for Commemoration Day had been held.

Marsden's teenagers are educated but are, at the beginning of the book, more concerned with their friends and potential romantic connections than the strident voices issuing from the TV and radio. This all changes as they return from their trip to Hell to find that a version of hell has landed in their front yard.

Marsden's novel ticks all the right boxes for young adult literature dealing as it does with growing up, change and self discovery, where it triumphs however is in it's portrayal of teenagers as being thoughtful, concerned by the consequences of their actions and being able to see many sides to an issue. This is no gung-ho flag draped all action adventure but a hard look at the reaction to war/invasion by those who haven't really been interested in politics and current affairs and are forced to reassess their relevance to them.

The essential question that Marsden asks is what would you do? Hide, surrender or fight. The group of friends decide to fight for their country and society, from that moment on they have to grow and change to accommodate their new roles and experience.

It is a book that has great relevance in today's world, almost 20 years after it was published, for a generation that also considers that the strident voices issuing from TV and radio and politics has no relevance to them. In fact, the book is asking the biggest of questions of it's teenagers and the society in which they live, particularly now. What are you going to do? Hide, surrender or fight (figuratively not literally of course) for your country and the type of society you want to live in.

Originally published in Australia in 1993 the book has held up well to almost 20 years of technological advancement (the absence of ipods, ipads and mobiles goes almost unnoticed). No longer in print in Ireland, if you can root out a copy it would be well worth it for a well written account of real teens facing tough choices rather than easy actions with no consequences (nobody dies or is hurt badly).


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Dead of Winter - Chris Priestley

This tale opens with a funeral. Michael Vyner's mother has died leaving him  an orphan. Michael's father died in Afghanistan when Michael was a baby saving the life of another,Sir Stephen Clarendon who has been Michael's benefactor and is now his Guardian. Michael is invited to Hawton Mere, Sir Stephen's ancestral home in the middle of bleak Cambridgeshire fenland, to spend Christmas with Sir Stephen and his sister Charlotte. But all is not well at Hawton Mere and Michael begins experience strange and sinister noises and apparitions. Who is the woman in the white shift? What or who is the image in the mirror?

This is a great spooky and frightening Gothic tale for children that has all the required elements for those who enjoy the more subtle horrors of vast and empty landscapes, castles, madness, death, secrets and ghosts. This is no blood and guts tale but an atmospheric and well crafted page turner that gathers its horrors around it like a cloak of thickening fog until the reader has sunk into the bed with a single lamp burning into the night, afraid not to finish the book and afraid to finish the book - and then afraid to turn the light off afterwards!

Read this in one giant bite and tell your friends, I doubt they will be as thrilled by anything so fearsome this year.

My thanks to Bloomsbury for my copy of Chris Priestley's book.

The Dead of Winter is available now.