Think about your standard tween adventure novel. What do you need? A mission. Someone who needs to be saved, and a kid who saves the day. Someone who learns, someone who grows, and someone who’s just misunderstood. An evil genius, who may not seem so evil at the beginning of the story. A satisfying conclusion that may be just a little different than you expected. And a character at the end who understands that the training wheels are off, and you can’t go back to the way it was. Think of your favorite tween adventure, and all or most of those elements are in there.
Popular young-adult author Diana Peterfreund understands the ground rules of tween adventure novels, and doesn’t miss a step in Omega City, the formulaic yet enjoyable novel that lays the groundwork for a new series.
Gillian Seagret is at the center of our story, and readers will quickly observe – she’s a girl! (Let’s face it – most tween adventures are led by decisive, action-oriented boys.) Gillian’s sidekick is her best friend Savannah – also a girl! Rounding-out the crew are Gillian’s younger brother Eric, super-smart-yet-socially-awkward Howard, and Howard’s older brother Nate. Overall, it’s a good mix. Everyone is likeable in one way or another, and they each bring strengths to the team.
Gillian and Eric live with their father, an author whose conspiracy theories about a cold-war era NASA scientist have left him discredited by academia. The subject of dad’s research – Dr. Alyoysius Underberg – mysteriously disappeared many years ago, taking with him any chance of verifying dad’s claims of the futuristic technologies Dr. Underberg had created.
While Eric is skeptical, Gillian still has faith in her father. Her faith is validated when a mysterious stranger appears in her father’s life; an attractive sophisticated woman who is decidedly different from the tin-foil-helmeted groupies who regularly attend dad’s lectures. That stranger starts nosing around in dad’s files, which prompts Gillian and Savannah to start their own quest. Gillian’s knowledge of her father’s quirks allows her to successfully uncover clues that reveal Omega City, a secret underground post-nuclear refuge – Dr. Underberg’s greatest creation. The group finds the immense complex in ruins, and with the femme fatale and her henchmen following close behind, their goal becomes making it to the surface with their lives.
So basically, if you put The Goonies in The City of Ember, and gave them the plot from The Poseidon Adventure, you’d have Omega City. (If you can follow that, buy yourself an ice cream.)
It’s a good story, well-told. Peterfreund writes well, and keeps the action moving. Tween readers won’t lose interest. There’s no “second-act-slump.” But the best feature is the interaction between Gillian and her friends. Gillian is the de facto leader – the mission is her idea. But Gillian struggles with decision-making, especially when leading her friends into dangerous predicaments. Savannah is smart, but she pretends to be ditzy at school. Her intelligence shines through in each crisis. Eric moves from sarcasm and doubt to optimism as his father’s wild ideas are validated. Howard, the brainy space expert slowly learns social skills from his new friends. And Nate – a few years older than the rest – finds his role as protector diminishing as the plot develops. Omega City would be a great novel for a small group studying character development.
Omega City follows a well-worn path, but is good enough to merit a place in your school library media center and your classroom collection. Promote the book to students who love a good action story, or those looking for strong female protagonists. Consider the book for small group study. Be on the look-out for the sequel Forbidden Fortress, due February, 2017.