The Dead of the Night by John Marsden and The Third Day, the Frost (also released as A Killing Frost) (Tomorrow series)
I reviewed the first book in this series here the other day, and today I'm going to (re)review the first three as a set; they all come in around 200 pages, and while each book has its own story arc, I perceive a larger arc in these first three as a group, at least compared to the beginning of the fourth book, which I'm on right now.
After the chunk at the beginning of the first book that sets up our understanding of the teens as everyday Australians in the early 1990s (though there are very few clues as to the time period--I'm putting a few references together with the publication date of the books), there is a certain emotional sameness in Tomorrow, When the War Began; The Dead of the Night; and The Third Day, the Frost. Ellie and her friends are, in this stretch, trying to figure it all out. When they rebel, they really rebel, creating major headaches for the enemy, but as they spiral around their interest in and repugnance toward the war, they also circle greater and greater consequences. Still, for most of the first three books, the group still sees some tiny sheen on the whole thing, like it's not quite real--like it's almost fun, almost a lark if you turn your head and squint a little.
I am a sucker for wars, dystopia, peril, kids figuring out adult things, and the Tomorrow series has all of it. But one thing that strikes me about these books is that I feel very strongly that the teenagers are still teenagers; they talk like real teenagers. They have perceptions and prejudices and are questioning. They have short-lived romances and petty squabbles. They are smart--and it's tied in to who they are.
Marsden doesn't let up on the reality and ugliness of the war, but he also doesn't let Ellie and the others slide into inhumanity, even as they wonder whether they've crossed a line somewhere; big things and small things happen in turn, a reminder that even in turmoil, small gestures can be very much appreciated.
I am reading the Australian versions (and providing images as I can get them); in the U.S., they're published by Scholastic. I've labeled these with the title of the first in the series so that it's easier to find them, if I want to look back later!