Last year I wrote an article about the “strong female character” which was very well received. (It was even featured by WordPress in their “Freshly Pressed” section.) Since then, I’ve been thinking about doing a series devoted to individual characters that I consider “strong.”
This series will not be limited to female characters–I will include male characters–and may even decide to write about a few that aren’t human.
As I said, I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, but really got excited about starting it a few weeks ago. Because I encountered a character that I believe is perfect to kick off this series.
I had heard many good things about Australian writer John Marsden’s young adult Tomorrow series. The first book, Tomorrow, When the War Began, first came out over 20 years ago, in 1993. There are seven books in the series, and a sequel series called “The Ellie Chronicles.” I finally downloaded the first book from Audible and was immediately blown away by the characters and the story.
The quickest way to describe the series is “Red Dawn without the Cold War politics.” Seven Australian teens who live in a small town go camping in an area so remote (called “Hell”) that no one else knows about it. While camping, they hear planes overhead at night, but don’t give it that much thought. When they return to the home closest to their camping area they discover everyone is gone and most of the livestock and other animals are dead. No electricity, no phone service, no television or radio. The same is true in each of their homes.
As they work their way into town, they piece together that their country has been successfully invaded and occupied by a foreign army and that their home town is strategically important to the enemy. Retreating back to their hideout, they decide they can’t just sit out the war and do nothing. They become guerrilla fighters.
(By the way, the accompanying photos are from the 2010 movie adaptation of the first book, which is just so-so, but they did a stellar job of casting the main characters.)
The country that has invaded is never named–though I suppose one can assume it’s either China or North Korea. Is it entirely believable that a huge country like Australia can be invaded and occupied so successfully in such a short period of time? That other countries wouldn’t come to Australia’s defense right away?
Ummmmm…not really. But the story is so amazing otherwise I was more than willing to suspend disbelief.
The voice and the heart of this series is Ellie Linton, a girl brought up on a farm outside a small coastal (fictional) town called Wirrawee. Ellie loves her family’s farm and has worked on it almost since she could walk. With her best friend Corrie, Ellie gathers together a group of kids to go camping over the Christmas school break (remember, this is Australia, so it’s summer). This group includes Corrie’s boyfriend Kevin, Ellie’s neighbor Homer, their friends Robyn and Fiona, and Lee, a boy the others aren’t that friendly with but are open to getting to know better. Later on they encounter another schoolmate who has not been captured, Chris, a boy who has a drug and alcohol problem, who joins them in their hideout in Hell.
Ellie and Homer quickly emerge as the natural leaders of the group. The group elects Ellie to write the record of their experiences after the invasion. She records their plans and missions, fears, longings for their families and lost world, conflicts within the group, and romances, including her own with Lee.
Marsden is superb when it comes to action and suspense scenes–all seven books have plenty. I promise you’ll be on the edge of your seat through most of them. But where he truly excels is how he distills it all through Ellie’s eyes, and how he makes her an exceptional, complex character.
Here are 10 things I love most about Ellie:
1. She is brave, oh, so brave–but must overcome fear every step of the way.
“That was the first moment at which I started to realise what true courage was. Up until then, everything had been unreal, like a night-stalking game at a school camp. To come out of the darkness now would be to show courage of a type that I’d never had to show before, never even known about. I had to search my own mind and body to find if there was a new part of me somewhere.”
Reading these books coincided with a mini-crisis in my own life–one of a series happening over the past year since my mother became ill. It may sound a little corny, but Ellie’s example of courage in the face of overwhelming fear inspired me and helped me deal with it. My new mantra is “Be brave like Ellie.”
2. Her love for and loyalty to her friends and family.
One of the overriding themes of these books is how love and friendship can get people through the most disastrous times in our lives. Even though there are moments when her friends disappoint her, even when she disappoints them, the bond the group shares is what gets them through the worst of times.
3. Her confusion over her feelings for Lee and Homer.
No, this isn’t a love triangle in the usual sense of the term. Growing up next door to Homer, Ellie has always felt possessive of him and is a little jealous of his interest in Fiona. At the same time, she falls in love with Lee, but has to spend a lot of time unpacking her exact feelings for him. This seems way more realistic to me than the insta-love you find in a lot of young adult novels.
I really like how the story doesn’t make the war just a backdrop to the love story. Ellie tells about taking some cattle to the abattoir and seeing a bull trying to mount a cow on the way in. Ellie is not defined by her relationship with Lee or her unexplored feelings for Homer. It’s one part of life, whether times are good or bad.
4. Her love for the Australian bush.
I’m a total city person, but couldn’t help being captivated by Ellie’s love for her environment. It makes it that much more believable that she can survive her new circumstances.
5. Her resourcefulness and creativity when dealing with problems–and dangerous situations.
Homer turns out to be great at planning ahead of time, but Ellie is the one who can deal with situations that turn on a dime. The group even begins to turn to her for solutions when things go wrong.
6. Her ability to see the humanity of her enemies.
Even though the invaders have taken her home, imprisoned her family, and killed some of her friends, she still sees the individual humanity of the soldiers she’s fighting.
7. Her honesty, even about her own shortcomings.
She’s so honest her friends are taken aback by what she writes in her journal. But in spite of being very proud to their faces, she’s just as hard on herself:
“I didn’t confess how wrecked I was. Let them keep thinking I was superwoman if they wanted. I knew the truth.”
8. How she draws inspiration in different ways from her friends.
Even though she’s not religious, she draws on Robyn’s faith to help her through some terrifying moments. She draws on Fiona’s gentleness to keep her from turning too hard. She draws on Homer’s strength and Lee’s occasional ruthlessness, even when it disturbs her.
9. How she questions the morality of her actions.
“Had I killed out of love of my friends, as part of a noble crusade to rescue friends and family and keep our land free? Or had I killed because I valued my life above that of others? Would it be OK for me to kill a dozen others to keep myself alive? A hundred? A thousand?”
10. Her complex outlook on life.
“Life’s about a hell of a lot more than being happy. It’s about feeling the full range of stuff: happiness, sadness, anger, grief, love, hate. If you try to shut one of those off, you shut them all off. I don’t want to be happy. I know I won’t live happily ever after. I want more than that, something richer. I want to go right up close to the beauty and the ugliness.”
Wow. Just wow. This paragraph alone is enough to make Ellie Linton one of my favorite characters of all time.