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Darkness Be My Friend: Tomorrow #4    by John Marsden order for
Darkness Be My Friend
by John Marsden
Order:  USA  Can
Houghton Mifflin, 1999 (1996)
Hardcover, Audio
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is the 4th in John Marsden's incredible Tomorrow series, in which Aussie teens have to find ways to deal with the invasion and occupation of their country. It's only by chance that they avoided capture in the first place, and they fumbled their way through various guerilla actions and successful sabotage of enemy sites in Tomorrow When the War Began, The Dead of the Night, and A Killing Frost.

The latter saw the survivors of the group (Ellie, Homer, Fi, Lee and Kevin) air-lifted to New Zealand after an especially harrowing prison episode that left them scarred inside and out. After five months of rest, psychological counselling and a foolish self betrayal on Ellie's part, they are asked to return to enemy territory as guides for a team of professional Kiwi soldiers sent to destroy a new airbase in Wirrawee. Ellie was shell-shocked by events in A Killing Frost that left her unwilling to return. She was also alienated from Lee by the ease with which he has killed. The familiar Aussie bush revives her, its 'grey-green rocks and the olive-green leaves and the reddish soil with its teeming ants. The tattered ribbons of paperbark, the crackly dry cicada shell, the smooth furrow left in the dust by a passing snake.'

Of course, things do not go as planned and the teens lose track of the soldiers, assuming they've been killed or captured. These 'human possums' decide to have a go at the airbase themselves. This time they have many close calls and daring escapes from enemy patrols, including a terrifying gallop through the darkness and into the unknown. Indeed, it's an exciting ride all the way through this episode, but it's Ellie's contemplation of events and their morality that, as always, gives the series its depth of interest. She kills for survival, but wonders afterwards why it should be 'OK for someone else to die so I could survive', what gives her the right to say her life 'mattered above someone else's'. She's seen what a trapped kangaroo can do to dogs who come close but tells us 'I'm not a kangaroo.'

I keep waiting for this series to bog down, but it doesn't. Marsden keeps up both the pace and realism of its desperate action, and the character development of its young heroes and heroines, especially the narrator, a resourceful leader who owns up to her human flaws. In Darkness Be My Friend, Ellie reconciles with Lee and comes to terms with past events, acknowledging that 'it's expensive to be the kind of person you want, to live the kind of life you know is right.'

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