You are ten years old. It is summer. You think you will spend it the way you always do: eating mulberries from the tree in your backyard until your face is sticky and purple; wrestling your brothers in the town pool; seeing which of your friends can last the longest with their finger plugging an ant’s nest. Your pockets will clang with the loose change that you will use to buy icy poles when you need a break from the heat; you will race your dog down the Hill on your bike and lose.
Then for Christmas, your father gives you a book.
You don’t know this book, or the author, but you read it anyway. In it, Australia is invaded by a foreign army that takes control of the country. Everybody becomes a prisoner, except for a group of teenagers who were camping in the mountains during the attack. Their names are Ellie, Homer, Fi, Lee, Kevin, Robyn, Corrie and Chris. They have to decide if they are going to stay in the mountains and hide until the war is over, surrender themselves and join their family in captivity, or fight back.
They fight back.
You beg your dad to let you stay up past your bedtime so you can finish the book in one night. He says no. You climb out your window onto the veranda and run on silent feet through the grass to the shed. You find a torch that works and use it to read by, picking up where you left off.
The characters are older than you are, but you relate to them. They seem to have the same feelings as you about things, and the same lives. When they talk about running around the streets at night, evading soldiers, you imagine them to be your streets. You see it in your mind. You feel that you are special, that the author is writing about you and your friends and your town.
You learn from the book that you want to be brave, but you don’t know if you can be. You think that you even wish for an invasion to really happen, so you would know. The main character, Ellie, is the sort of girl you want to be, and you carry her with you for years after you finish the book. You admire how strong she is for her friends, and how well she acts under pressure. She doesn’t pretend to be more than she is, and she is as confused by life as you are.
When you find out that there are six more books in the series, you lose your shit. You drag your mother to the shop and make her buy them all for you, promising that these will be in place of your birthday and Christmas presents for the rest of your life
It’s worth it.
This September, we’ve asked eight writers to revisit their favourite books from childhood for our new series, When I was young.