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Chapter one: Ellie Linton, on an unsupervised camping trip into the mountains with her friends, is chosen to be the one who records, by writing down, recent events that have led to the present, as yet undefined, situation in Tomorrow, When the War Began. She briefly describes herself and her friends, jokingly referring to them as "The Secret Seven" because, although there should have been eight friends, Chris Lang, the first person she asks is unable to go. Chris, who stays quiet around his serious father, has to stay home. Ellie describes her friends, as they try to persuade their parents to let them go on the trip up Tailor's Stitch, mainly in terms of their relationships with their parents. Having persuaded her own parents, by promising not to smoke and to travel in a large group, Ellie remarks how quickly things can change from contemplating "'Oh wouldn't it be great if ...' " to having to consider a life-changing event which at this point remains unspecified. The reader is aware that this event has had quite an impact.
Chapter two: In this chapter, the intrepid friends attempt to reach "Hell," the area in the mountains they are fascinated by and which carries a mysterious and unnerving story about a man, a hermit, who had murdered his wife and baby. Ellie, fascinated by this story and her memories of this area, encourages her friends to keep going through the bush, even though there is a sharp drop and no easy way of getting down. They manage to reach a fresh water stream and are resigned to starting their trek back to the top when Robyn, looking around, finds a bridge.
Chapter three: The friends, with renewed vigor, can therefore continue their journey. They speculate about the hermit who perhaps lived there, built the bridge and ate any number of small animals or vegetables and about the fact that the friends were probably some of the only people who had ever been there. They find a clearing and begin to make themselves comfortable. They talk and talk, inspired by their surroundings and fall asleep easily.
Chapter four: The following morning starts slowly and the friends do not do much other than find a snake in Homer's sleeping bag which scares them all in different ways. During the night however, they are awoken by droning noises as planes fly overhead and the friends joke about a nuclear war and being the only ones left. It seems there were many planes and only on reflection does Ellie realize that they flew without lights. Homer wonders about Fi, to whom he has taken a liking, having previously thought she was a bit of a "snob." He worries that he is not good enough for her.
Chapter five: Although they had intended to do a lot of walking, the friends mostly relax, think and chat about going overseas when they all finish school. They have managed to spend five days together without any major disagreements. The friends make their way back to their vehicle and take a leisurely drive back home, just noticing some fires in the distance. Ellie has an uneasy feeling but cannot understand its source.
Chapter six: The drama begins with the words: "The dogs were dead." Only one of Ellie's dogs is alive and there is no sign of her parents or anyone else. Discounting all other possibilities, the friends remember the planes and speculate whether there could have been an invasion whilst they were away, mindful of how ridiculous that sounds.
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