Author: Diana Peterfreund (website | twitter)
Publication Date: April 28th 2015
The first middle grade novel in an exciting new series from acclaimed author Diana Peterfreund, perfect for fans of The Goonies and The City of Ember.
Gillian Seagret doesn’t listen to people who say her father’s a crackpot. His conspiracy theories about the lost technology of Cold War–era rocket scientist Dr. Aloysius Underberg may have cost him his job and forced them to move to the middle of nowhere, but Gillian knows he’s right and plans to prove it.
When she discovers a missing page from Dr. Underberg’s diary in her father’s mess of an office, she thinks she’s found a big piece of the puzzle—a space-themed riddle promising to lead to Dr. Underberg’s greatest invention. Enlisting the help of her skeptical younger brother, Eric, her best friend, Savannah, and Howard, their NASA-obsessed schoolmate, Gillian sets off on a journey into the ruins of Omega City, a vast doomsday bunker deep inside the earth,.
But they aren’t alone inside its dark and flooded halls. For while Gillian wants to save her dad’s reputation by bringing Dr. Underberg’s secrets to light, there are others who will stop at nothing to make sure they stay buried . . . forever.
Omega City has been described as similar to City of Embers and The Goonies, and having Googled these movies (didn’t watch them – I KNOW, the Goonies is on my list), I think this description is very apt. It’s a rollicking adventure full of surprises, twists and turns. I would describe it as X-Files meets Indiana Jones for 8-12 year olds.
One of Diana’s strengths has always been complex plotlines that weave together seamlessly, and this one is no different. Gillian’s father, a professor who specializes in conspiracies, published a book about an inventor called Dr. Underberg, who supposedly invented a battery that could last a hundred years in the middle of a Cold War. He lost his job because the facts were supposedly debunked, and Gillian and her brother Eric now live in the middle of nowhere Maryland so they can hide from the media scritiny. But when Gillian finds evidence that suggests that Dr Underberg’s work might still exist, she embarks on an adventure with her brother Eric, her best friend Savannah, their classmate Howard, and Howard’s brother, leading them into an underground world – and possibly into the hands of people who want to keep Dr. Underberg a secret.
“The sad truth is, sometimes it’s easier for people to stick with the problems they know than to try to imagine a new way of life.”
As usual, reading one of Diana’s synopses is like unpacking an entire world, and as usual, I had my doubts – until I started reading. As an X-Files fan, I was fully drawn into Gillian’s conspiracy-filled life. I liked how intrepid, curious, and questioning Gillian was. I liked how she was okay being the oddball in school, because she believed so passionately in her father and his work.
Being a middle-grade book, two things were a bit jarring for me. Firstly, there was a lot more description than I was used to – scene setting, especially as we get further in – becomes more and more important. For me now, there was a tad too much description, but I know that as a twelve year old, I would have eaten up every word.
“And it has been great. Mostly. Savannah’s different in the fall. Like how she spends more energy deciding where to sit at lunch than she does on the average quiz, and last week, she pretended not to know the answer to a problem in math class, even though she was the one who showed me how to solve it when we were doing our homework…”
Secondly, while I liked the secondary characters, I did feel they were a bit light on character development in service of a fast-paced plot. Don’t get me wrong – each of the characters was a normal kid, from Eric who only wanted to play video games, to Howard the space-obsessed, to Savannah, who wanted to be popular in school and has a crush on the pizza delivery boy. They all had fun and distinctive personalities, but, as an adult, I really wanted to get into their heads because I liked them so much. Again, as a twelve year old, I think I would have adored the characters, so I don’t think this is an issue, but there was a bit of a disconnect for me as an adult.
That said, for this book, plot was the main purpose, and I had so much fun trying to solve clues and run around on adventures with Gillian and her friends. The quest is just epic enough, the world is well-developed, the characters were funny and sarcastic, and at every turn, there was a twist. I definitely had heart-pounding moments where I was stressed for the characters, and I loved that.
Sibling Rivalry: The relationship between Gillian and her brother Eric, and between Howard and his brother Nate really held this book together – their backtalk, friendly joshing and care for one another reminded me of my own relationship with my brother.
Hints of Romance: As a frequent romance and YA reader, I was totally seeing some major hints at flirting from two characters – I won’t say much else, but I sincerely hope this puppy love happens.
Talking Upwards: I’m not afraid to admit that there were a few ideas and bits of history in this book that I had to look up – and that that is one of my favourite parts of this book. Diana has written a middle grade that never talks down to younger readers – that encourages research, smarts, and innovation.
The Final Word:
Omega City asks readers to go on not only a classic adventure, but also an intellectual one; there are elements of The Westing Game and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe here. For adults or older readers, this one if you love rollicking journeys. For teachers or librarians, I can totally see this book being read aloud to a group – or even better, placed in a 4th, 5th, or 6th grade classroom for a curious young mind to pick up on a whim and fall in love with reading.
OMEGA CITY is out in bookstores now. Are you interested in reading it? Are you into middle-grade? How do you feel about classic adventure books and movies like The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe or Goonies? Let me know in the comments!