John Marsden’s A Killing Frost passes all three ofmy tests (and please forgive my purposefully hazyfocus on “good writing”, but I must have somequirks as a book reviewer!). Sensory detailpervades this novel of war, told from the point ofview of a teenager who, with her friends, becomesa partisan against an intractable enemy that hasinvaded her homeland.
The homeland in question isAustralia, and we are treated to a gorgeousanthology of landscapes and how they affect thecharacters, from the deep Outback to farmlands, toshorelands to paddocks, to hills. The Australianterrain is a character all in itself: sometimes anenemy, as the characters struggle through thebush, but also a friend that hides the troop ofheroes from numerous enemy patrols. Throughout thebook, I could see the characters’ breaths in thefrosty morning, feel the chill of the autumn wind,hear the terrifying sound of an approaching enemyhelicopter, and feel the exhaustion of someonestruggling in choppy water. By “honest portrayalof human activity”, I mean writing about a nichegroup of humans so convincingly that a reader oraudience member comes away with the feeling thatthey have shared an insider’s look into the livesof a group of people.
Think about Saving PrivateRyan: many thousands of us who were never therenow know a little bit of what it was like to landat Omaha Beach on D-Day, to experience the pain,fear, confusion, and panic of war. And Mr. Marsdenhas done something like this. Over and over again,I found myself reacting physiologically when thecharacters dodged patrols, planned attacks, andtried to survive. I felt sorry for them when theywere captured, felt thrilled at their successes.
This is hard to do — and I appreciate it fully.And the “good writin’?” Well, Mr. Marsden paintsgreat characters: Ellie, the inwardly frightenedbut outwardly heroic female narrator; Kevin, theburnt-out former POW; Robyn, the surprisinglyhardy quiet one; Fi, the beautiful andsurprisingly equally resilient city girl; Homer,the ever-ready planner; and Lee, the depressiveand jumpy rover, always on the go.This bookdoesn’t just contain well-written characters thatyou care about, but also situations and storylinesthat grab you and don’t let go.
One of thebest-written episodes, in which the teenagecharacters manage to greatly hinder an enemy-heldharbor, kept me glued to the book for three solidhours. I hardly noticed that I had ingested over a100 pages of fiction — I was that engrossed.Bibliography:.