This review contains mild spoilers.
The town of Wirrawee is emerging from war, slowly. School’s back in, Juicy’s is open for coffee, farmers are bidding at the cattle sales.
Ellie Linton at last gets what she has longed for and what she has fought for, to be back on the farm with her parents.
But it’s not the same. A new nation is on the other side of a new border. Suddenly the war is about to explode into Ellie’s life again. The effects are devastating. The consequences will change her forever.
I have mixed feelings about this book. It’s been a few years since I last read the Tomorrow series (which precedes The Ellie Chronicles) so I don’t know if my memory is skewed or if the writing is incredibly different. The plot is, at any rate. Ellie’s life has slowed down considerably since the war, and instead of the constant nail-biting events of the Tomorrow series, this book teaches us a lot more about cattle.
And when I say that, I’m not just being flippant. You really do learn a lot about cattle. Which is fine—I mean, it is set in rural Australia and Ellie lives on a cattle farm so that’s a huge part of her life. But some plot points that could do with fleshing out are pushed aside to make room for all the cattle talk and that’s a bit annoying.
I do find Ellie’s legal battles to be an interesting addition to her story. The Tomorrow series saw her grow up in so many ways but dealing with complex adult situations in day-to-day life is a whole different war for her to fight. The war itself is not just dead and gone. There are still instances where Ellie has to fall back on her old ways but they’re more sporadic than readers might be used to.
Here be spoilers. Well, sort of. In the first chapter of the book, Ellie’s parents are killed. It’s the opening scene and it sets up the entire book so I don’t count that as much of a spoiler. It takes Ellie the entire book before she can grieve properly for her parents and a sweet and poignant scene is interrupted with her reminiscing about her mum’s large nipples, both her parents’ pubic hair, and her dad’s ‘long soft penis and its curious head’.
I just … why? I’m not doubting that if you remember every bit about your parents you may come up with some memories of seeing them naked at some point in your life. But why that wording? It caught me way off-guard and had me questioning what John Marsden was trying to tell me: the description sounds much too familiar and sensual for a father-daughter relationship. I started to wonder if maybe I hadn’t seen my parents nude as often as most people but a quick scan of the Goodreads reviews indicate that a lot of people were spooked by this wording. And no wonder; since that sentence comes only 30 pages before the end of the book it’s something that sticks with you.
If you’re looking to start The Ellie Chronicles without having read the Tomorrow series, you might want to rethink that. There are a lot of offhand references to events and characters from the preceding books that may go right over your head. If you’ve read the books but are a bit fuzzy on details then you’ll probably have your memory jogged with the breadcrumb clues easily enough.
It’s been a while since I read the Tomorrow series but I don’t think While I Live has met the same standard. In saying that, bridging the gap between living through a war and learning to settle down was always going to be a difficult transition for readers and author alike so I’m not the least bit surprised that the book felt disjointed. Hopefully the next two books will settle into a more comfortable tone to finish off Ellie’s story.