Friday, July 17, 2015

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, 2007

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on Goodreads 
It all starts with a school essay.
When twelve-year-old Gratuity (“Tip”) Tucci is assigned to write five pages on “The True Meaning of Smekday” for the National Time Capsule contest, she’s not sure where to begin. When her mom started telling everyone about the messages aliens were sending through a mole on the back of her neck? Maybe on Christmas Eve, when huge, bizarre spaceships descended on the Earth and the aliens – called Boov – abducted her mother? Or when the Boov declared Earth a colony, renamed it “Smekland” (in honor of glorious Captain Smek), and forced all Americans to relocate to Florida via rocketpod?
In any case, Gratuity’s story is much, much bigger than the assignment. It involves her unlikely friendship with a renegade Boov mechanic named J.Lo.; a futile journey south to find Gratuity’s mother at the Happy Mouse Kingdom; a cross-country road trip in a hovercar called Slushious; and an outrageous plan to save the Earth from yet another alien invasion.
Fully illustrated with “photos,” drawings, newspaper clippings, and comics sequences, this is a hilarious, perceptive, genre-bending novel by a remarkable new talent. the planet from a really big catastrophe.

(423 pages)

I heard really excellent things about The True Meaning of Smekday, so I decided to read it even though my mother really didn't like it (she thought it was stupid). After finishing it, on one hand I can see what she means about the book being stupid fluff - after all, it's a silly book about a girl and an alien driving across the country in a floating car after the aliens invaded Earth. Yeah, not a lot of depth there. But on a different level, a deeper level, The True Meaning of Smekday is much more than a silly romp through cliche action tropes. On that other level, it's actually mocking those cliches. Case in point: this quote from the book (which I added to Goodreads because it was too long to put in here).

Underneath the entertainment fluff, it's actually a pretty serious look at racism and "racial superiority." There are a lot of parallels between the Boov's colonization of Earth and the European colonization of America, and I think it's an amazing way to point out the terrible mistakes made in the past through a first-hand exploration of the colonization of the Boov, who honestly believe that humans are basically like dogs and don't really mind being relocated into cramped human reservations. The parallel is accentuated by one of the secondary characters, a Native American man who has spent his entire life dealing with bias. It's also extremely powerful, at least to me, that every time Tip talks about her mother she has to explain to people that her mom is Caucasian, not African American. The idea that a black girl can have a white mom doesn't jive with people's perceptions of race, and it throws them for a loop.

But enough about the serious stuff. Let's get into the characters who make this book so funny! Tip is a fun narrator because she's so down-to-earth and sarcastic. She is such a realist it's hilarious, and she's constantly saying things like "this is the way things should happen: [insert what usually happens in novels] . . . and, yeah, that didn't happen." This was incredibly refreshing to read, and made her feel so much more realistic. Her life isn't like something out of a storybook, things happen that are messy and ridiculous and embarrassing. And sure, crazy stuff happens that will never, ever happen in real life, but it never feels like the book jumps off the real end because Tip is just so . . . so human that it really feels like her story is perfectly reasonable.

Now let's talk about J.Lo. He has to be my favorite character! I love his way of speaking English, slurring words together and using them incorrectly at the funniest times. He's like a combination of an adult and a little kid, altering between adult-level skills (like dealing with complicated machinery) and making kiddy mistakes/having the simplistic reasoning skills of a child. It works out to be hilarious, and heartwarming, and I just want to bring J.Lo home and have a long conversation with him about, I don't know, just about anything so I can hear more of his goofy reasoning.

All in all, a great book that I highly recommend. It's the most engaging social commentary I've ever read, and the awesome thing about it is that you can totally not pick up on any of the underlying messages, and still have a great time with it! The message doesn't drive the plot, the characters drive the plot and the message just kind of hitches a ride underneath.

P.S. You've probably heard of the movie Home, which is based on The True Meaning of Smekday. I watched it right after finishing the book, and I really enjoyed it. You should definitely watch it if you're interested. Don't watch the movie first, though, because it cuts out a lot of the best parts from the book, and spoils the rest of them!

2 comments:

  1. Glad to hear you liked Home. I loved Smekday so much, and I was afraid the movie wouldn't be able to live up to it.

    I still can't think of the words "squishable gaputty" without tears of laughter coming to my eyes. (I tried to read that scene aloud to my daughter and couldn't make it through i was laughing so hard!)

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, The True Meaning of Smekday is so hilarious! The movie definitely changes a little more of the story than I would like, but it keeps most of the same sense of humor.

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