Omega City is Diana Peterfreund's first MG novel. Billed on Goodreads as City of Ember meets The Goonies, my expectations were pretty high. The Goonies is one of my all time favorite movies. And this book delivered on that promise. Big time.
Gillian's father is in disgrace. He wrote a book about famous scientist Aloysius Underberg that was immediately discredited and that he couldn't back up because a broken pipe destroyed all of his research. Now the only job he has is teaching conspiracy theory nights. When Gillian discovers mysterious files on his new girlfriend's computer that have too much to do with her father's research, she knows something is terribly wrong and she begins to attempt to solve an old code that Underberg left behind. With the help of her brother, Eric, her best friend, Savannah, and an astronomy obsessed classmate named Howard, they figure out where Underberg buried his final gift to humanity. They magnate to convince Howard's older brother, Nate, to drive them out it to it. But the plotting girlfriend is right on their heels. Trying to escape her and her goons with guns, the kids find themselves in an abandoned, ruined underground city with a limited time to find their way back out.
The characters in this book are amazing. Gillian is deeply loyal to her father, ready to fight for what he (and she) believes in, and is determined to find the truth at any cost. Eric is skeptical and wants a normal life, but he's also loyal to his family. Savannah is a math whiz who disguises her abilities in a misguided notion that her ditziness makes her more attractive to boys, but she stands by her friends and knows how to be brave. Howard is focused on NASA and astronomy to the point of true obsession. There is an implication that he is somewhere on the Autism spectrum. He is an important part of the team and the others come to appreciate him and rely on him as the story unfolds. Nate is the older brother, protector, and highly frustrated person who knows he will ultimately be held responsible if anything happens to his young charges. The five of them together are awesome. They all have abilities that make them crucial to the team and get them through their adventure.
The different relationships exhibited within the team are essential to the story too. There are two very different sibling relationships. I love a great sibling story. Gillian/Eric and Nate/Howard exhibit the finest aspects of why. They have very different relationships affected by what they are and their different age spans, but both show what loyalty, love, and understanding for a sibling you don't always like or want to be with looks like. The friendship aspect is important too. Gillian and Savannah are very different and often frustrated with each other, but they adore each other. The evolving friendship all of them have with Howard as the book progresses is incredibly well done, particularly the bond he and Gillian develop.
As far as adventure books for MG go, Omega City stands out. It is fast-paced, well plotted, surprising, and funny. Peterfreund balances humor and peril perfectly. The action never felt like it was too unrealistic either. These are all things I could see kids their age being able to do and succeed at. As science-fiction it works incredibly well too, being just believable enough to feel real but with enough out of the ordinary to spark the imagination.
I adored everything about Omega City and can not wait for the next book in the series.
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Balzer & Bray, at ALA Midwinter. Omega City is available for purchase on April 28th.