Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 22, 2011

Omega Park, by Amy Barker

My goodness, this is a very bleak book indeed.  There is fine writing here, moody atmospherics and powerful drama but it is not for the faint hearted.

Amy Barker’s debut novel is set in a sleazy Gold Coast suburb and her characters are all from an alienated underclass.  It begins with the death of Jacob in a car crash, and the riots which ensue are reminiscent of those that shocked the nation when warfare with police broke out in Redfern back in 2004.  The novel then unpacks a back story of crime, drug abuse, hopeless parenting and violence.  In some ways it reminded me of Jon McGregor’s Even the Dogs in its unremittingly bleak view of the world; coming-of-age in this world is not just a matter of identity and belonging, it’s also about surviving the risks and holding onto some semblance of hope and integrity.

The central characters are well drawn, even appealing sometimes, despite their behaviour.  There are times when the reader feels a faint sense of hope about the prospects of Dingo because he has a supportive family, but the odds were always stacked against Jacob especially once his mother Leo takes up with Peter John Smith, one of the nastiest characters I’ve come across in fiction.  He seems irretrievably evil, and while the genesis of his utter lack of humanity isn’t explored, Barker seems to have little doubt that his time in prison has exacerbated his sociopathic behaviours.  Leo’s pathetic loyalty to this crude, vicious brute seems inexplicable, and ultimately, it’s the trigger for Jacob to redefine the relationship he has with her on his terms.

If their own circumstances were not difficult enough, the boys must also confront the prejudices of people outside the Omega Park Estate.  Whether he likes it or not, because he’s moved into the Estate, Dingo has joined a ‘team’, the Parkees, and peer pressure makes it inevitable that he will join in self-destructive behaviours that characterise the lawlessness of Omega Park.  Redemption when it comes is not entirely convincing, but then, lucky breaks are sometimes just that.

Omega Park was the winner of the 2008 Queensland Premier’s Literary award for best emerging author.  The book is the subject of impressive critical praise, which you can read at Amy Barker’s own website.  This is a courageous young author who is not afraid to tackle confronting issues of contemporary Australian life and it will be interesting to see what themes she explores in the future.

PS There is a study guide available for teachers at UQP.  I think a teacher’s guidance would be valuable for most YA readers because of the book’s confronting themes and depressing subject matter.

© Lisa Hill

Author: Amy Barker
Title: Omega Park
Publisher: UQP, 2009
ISBN: 9780702237201
Source: Review copy courtesy of UQP

Availability: UQP


Responses

  1. Sounds intriguing, Lisa. But I did laugh when I read that there’s a character in it called Dingo.

    • Trust me, Kim, this is not a funny book.
      I have taught many kids who have home lives like the ones depicted in this story and I found a lot of it quite distressing.

      • In the book Dingo is just a nickname for Damian.

        • Thanks for clarifying that, Jamie-Lyn. I think it’s a good nickname because dingoes are sometimes loners but sometimes hang out in packs, and since the death of Azaria Chamberlain, they have a bad reputation and people are suspicious of them, yet (apparently) if they are brought up in caring homes, they can be lovable family pets. So it’s a good symbolic choice of name by the author IMO

  2. I added it to my wishlist… looked it up on Amazon but don’t think I can afford £44 (!!) for the one existing copy available on this side of the planet.

    • Yikes! £44!! Maybe there’s an eBook?


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