Study Guide

Tomorrow, When the War Began Themes

  • War

    In Tomorrow, When the War Began war is what's goin' down in the Aussie 'hood, and it is no good. Our big group of teen friends goes on a camping trip only to suddenly find themselves without homes, family, or friends upon their return. While they've been sleeping under the stars, war has broken out and everyone in their town has been taken captive. Whoa. War causes pretty much every major obstacle the characters in this book encounter, forcing them to grow-up fast, becoming self-reliant and organizing against the invading military in hopes of eventually saving their families.

    Questions About War

    1. How is war portrayed in this book? Is it just bad? Just good? More nuanced? Give evidence from the text to support your claim.
    2. What similarities and differences do you notice when it comes to how different characters feel about the war? What does this tell you about war?
    3. What effect does not knowing who the invading army is have on your understanding of the war as a reader? Why?

    Chew on This

    The war might be a giant mess, but it also inspires a lot of awesome growth in the Hell gang.

    One of the biggest casualties of war in this book is the teenage characters' childhoods—they're forced to leave them behind pretty much overnight.

  • Love

    Throbbing hearts and passionate embraces might not seem like they'd have much place in a book about war, but Tomorrow, When the War Began has all different types of action in it (wink, wink; nudge, nudge). Yes, we're talking about romance—after all, there's a group of hot-blooded teenagers hiding out in the woods together with nary an adult in sight. So of course there's romance. To be fair, though, this isn't the only type of love that crops up in the book. Just as war is complex, so is love, and we also see it between the teens and their families, as well as between friends.

    Questions About Love

    1. Why does Ellie decide to give Lee a chance? Why is she conflicted about Lee?
    2. How does Ellie show her love for her friends? What does this tell you about Ellie? Be specific and give evidence from the text.
    3. Would the kids fight back if their families weren't in jeopardy? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    Without the love they have for their families, the teens would have no reason to fight.

    The real role romance plays in this text is to remind readers that these are teens—as we watch Ellie grapple with her feelings for Homer and Lee, we're reminded how inexperienced she still is, making the task of navigating war all the greater.

  • Man and the Natural World

    For a book about war, nature is a major player in Tomorrow, When the War Began. In a way, nature is what saves the Hell gang from being captured during the invasion—they're off camping in a super remote spot, so they're spared—and later, once they realize what's happened, nature is where the gang retreats to for safety, returning to their remote camping spot to avoid capture by the soldiers and figure out how to keep themselves alive. This quality time with nature is more comfortable for some than others, but for all of the teens, nature offers up safety in deeply uncertain times.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. Compare and contrast Ellie and Fi's interactions with nature in Hell. What does this reveal about their characters?
    2. How is Hell portrayed? How is it different from downtown Wirrawee? Be specific and be sure to unpack the significance of these differences.
    3. How does war both make the characters confront nature and also separate them from it?

    Chew on This

    Homer is a natural leader partly because he is so comfortable outdoors, having worked on a farm his whole life.

    If all of the teens were town kids (like Fi), they wouldn't stand a chance of surviving.

  • Family

    The main thing motivating the teens in Tomorrow, When the War Began is the fact that they come home to find their families completely missing, taking captive by invading soldiers and held hostage at the Showground where the kids can't reach them. So yeah, family's kind of a big deal in this book.

    That said, family doesn't just refer to blood lines or people you share a last name with; it is ultimately about connection and commitment, and in this way, this band of friends becomes a makeshift family in their own right, watching out for each other and working together to survive.

    Questions About Family

    1. In what ways do the campers seem like family? Are there ways in which they aren't like family?
    2. How would you feel if your family was taken as prisoners? Would you try to rescue them?
    3. Are the teens foolish to try to rescue their families? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In this book, family isn't just about blood relations; it has to do with being part of a community that shares common goals.

    Family is the most important reason for the teens to take action.

  • Fear

    In Tomorrow, When the War Began, fear is a near-constant presence once the Hell gang returns from their fun little camping trip. With their families missing and life as they know it destroyed, we get an up-close and personal look at fear in various forms: fear of losing loved ones, fear of bodily harm, fear of dying, and more. As we watch Ellie and her pals stare their fears down, though, we also see just how brave this gang of teens is: With so much at risk and so much stacked against them, they have plenty to fear—and yet they forge on ahead anyway.

    Questions About Fear

    1. Is fear only a negative? Be specific and give evidence from the text to support your answer.
    2. How does Ellie deal with fear? Is it different from how Homer deals with it? What about Fi and Lee? Do you notice any patterns? What does this tell you about fear in general?
    3. What is Ellie most afraid of? Why? How can you tell?

    Chew on This

    Fear plays a big role in this story because it's what motivates the characters to act.

    Fear isn't realistically portrayed in this book: Ellie says she is scared, but she never acts like it.

  • Wisdom and Knowledge

    You might think Tomorrow, When the War Began is about nature and war, not knowledge and wisdom, but in order to successfully stay alive and push back against the invading army, Ellie and her pals in Hell have to keep their mental gears churning, whether they realize it or not. The ability to gauge situations, make decisions, and identify resourceful solutions to unusual problems is key to their success—plus, learning more about what's happening in town (a.k.a. acquiring knowledge) is an essential part of their survival strategy. For these teens, staying alive is like one endless, ridiculous high-stakes pop quiz.

    Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge

    1. Which character's knowledge set is the most useful? Why? What do they know that the others don't and why is this knowledge so important?
    2. Which character is the wisest? Why? Remember to give evidence from the text.
    3. What role does knowledge play in the teens' survival strategy? Which characters contribute to this knowledge and which don't?

    Chew on This

    Homer might not be much of a student, but he knows everything the group needs in order to survive. In this book, practical knowledge is much more valuable than book smarts.

    Wisdom primarily manifests itself in this book through Ellie's observations about humans and nature.

  • Foolishness

    In general, we're super impressed with the teens in Tomorrow, When the War Began. They're dealt an incredible tough hand, and they really rise to the challenge, not only managing to keep themselves alive, but also successfully fighting back against the invading soldiers. It's all top-notch stuff. Still, though, the Hell gang isn't immune from making mistakes. Some of the things they do are foolish, plain and simple, usually because they're unable to see a problem from all angles or anticipate all the possibilities. Fortunately, the kids get lucky a few times—but not every time.

    Questions About Foolishness

    1. What's the most foolish decision the teens make? Why do they make it and why do you think it's so foolish?
    2. Are any of the characters habitually foolish? What does this reveal about the group dynamic?
    3. What's the luckiest moment the teens have, the time when they act most foolishly but pull something off anyway? Are they aware of how lucky they are? What does this tell you about them?

    Chew on This

    No one's particularly foolish in this book; they're all just young and trying to make sense of something super confusing.

    Ultimately, the Hell gang only survives thanks to luck.

  • Friendship

    In Tomorrow, When the War Began, friends are the only people these kids have. Their families have been captured, their town's been occupied by enemy soldiers, and this little band of teens has no one to turn to for help but each other. Friendship is the thing they cling to in order to survive, their source of support and comfort, as well as assistance when it comes to meeting their basic needs for things like food. It's pretty much always true that you're a teen, friends are everything, but for these teens, this isn't just a feeling—it's their reality.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. In what ways does friendship save this group? Are there any negative things about clinging to their friends?
    2. Are there any friends in this group that aren't as reliable? Who? Does this matter? Why or why not?
    3. What are the most important functions of friends for the characters? The least? What patterns do you notice and what do they tell you about friendship as a theme in the book?

    Chew on This

    The reason the Hell gangs survives the invasion is because the kids completely commit to sticking together.

    Without their friend group, Chris would surely die, as would Fi. Some characters completely rely on their friends for survival.