a killing frost




John Marsden\'s A Killing Frost passes all three of
my tests (and please forgive my purposefully hazy
focus on "good writing", but I must have some
quirks as a book reviewer!).

Sensory detail pervades this novel of war, told from
the point of view of a teenager who, with her
friends, becomes a partisan against an intractable
enemy that has invaded her homeland. The
homeland in question is Australia, and we are
treated to a gorgeous anthology of landscapes and
how they affect the characters, from the deep
Outback to farmlands, to shorelands to paddocks, to
hills. The Australian terrain is a character all in itself:
sometimes an enemy, as the characters struggle
through the bush, but also a friend that hides the
troop of heroes from numerous enemy patrols.
Throughout the book, I could see the characters\'
breaths in the frosty morning, feel the chill of the
autumn wind, hear the terrifying sound of an
approaching enemy helicopter, and feel the
exhaustion of someone struggling in choppy water.

By "honest portrayal of human activity", I mean
writing about a niche group of humans so
convincingly that a reader or audience member
comes away with the feeling that they have shared
an insider\'s look into the lives of a group of people.
Think about Saving Private Ryan: many thousands
of us who were never there now know a little bit of
what it was like to land at Omaha Beach on D-Day,
to experience the pain, fear, confusion, and panic of
war.

And Mr. Marsden has done something like this.
Over and over again, I found myself reacting
physiologically when the characters dodged patrols,
planned attacks, and tried to survive. I felt sorry for
them when they were captured, felt thrilled at their
successes. This is hard to do -- and I appreciate it
fully.

And the "good writin\'?" Well, Mr. Marsden paints
great characters: Ellie, the inwardly frightened but
outwardly heroic female narrator; Kevin, the
burnt-out former POW; Robyn, the surprisingly
hardy quiet one; Fi, the beautiful and surprisingly
equally resilient city girl; Homer, the ever-ready
planner; and Lee, the depressive and jumpy rover,
always on the go.

This book doesn\'t just contain well-written
characters that you care about, but also situations
and storylines that grab you and don\'t let go. One of
the best-written episodes, in which the teenage
characters manage to greatly hinder an enemy-held
harbor, kept me glued to the book for three solid
hours. I hardly noticed that I had ingested over a
100 pages of fiction -- I was that engrossed.




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