I reviewed The True Meaning of Smekday a couple of years ago–and it was a delightful read! The sequel, Smek for President, finally came out this past month, so I reread the first in anticipation. Today I’m re-posting my review for the first one. Stay tuned for a review of the new book soon!
I don’t remember anymore where I originally heard about The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, but I know I read it because I couldn’t resist that title–or the premise that came with it.
Sometime in the very-near future, aliens called Boovs land on Earth on Christmas Day (in true Doctor Who tradition) and proceed to take over the planet. Resistance is, shall we say, futile. The Boovs rename Christmas as Smekday, in honor of their General Smek who conquered Earth (Smekland). Our heroine is Gratuity Tucci–her friends call her Tip. Tip’s mother was abducted by the Boov on Smekday, a story she begins to relate for a school writing assignment on “The True Meaning of Smekday.”
When all humans are ordered to relocate to Florida, Tip sets out alone in her car (she’s eleven, but she taught herself to drive after her mother disappeared), accompanied only by her cat, Pig. Along the way, she meets a Boov named J.Lo (his Smekland-name). He has his own troubles, and they form an uncertain alliance. They realize that the troubles for Smekland have just begun, when another race of aliens comes to invade: the Gorg, known throughout the civilized galaxy as the Takers.
I am always impressed by books which can manage satire-level humor, balanced with genuine tragedy and heartache. Telling an absurd abduction story is one thing. Telling a tragic abduction story is another. Doing both at once–now that’s really something. There’s a lot of humor throughout the book, but there are also serious dangers and serious tragedies. Neither detracts from the other.
Tip is a spitfire narrator, brash and brave while also possessing real fears and pain, particularly around the loss of her mother. She has an incredibly strong narrative voice that’s a lot of fun to read. J.Lo is wonderfully funny in his not-quite-grasping human culture, his endless munching on truly awful things and his nutty technology. Balanced with the humor is the growing friendship between J.Lo and Tip. And it becomes clear that, regardless of how many legs he has, J.Lo possesses so many of the qualities that make us all human.
I mentioned satire above, and there are definitely strong strands of commentary here on the real world. The most obvious (sometimes pointed) one is the comparison between the Boovs sending of humans to a reservation, and the Europeans doing the same thing to the Native Americans in history. There’s a Native American character who is great in many ways, but almost makes the satire a little too hit-you-over-the-head-with-it.
On a less serious parallel to the real world, parts of the book take place in Happy Mouse Kingdom in Orlando, Florida. Need I say more? And despite the humor, the book gets into surprising depth about what makes “Happy Mouse Kingdom” so appealing.
There are some interesting experiments in the actual telling of the story. Besides Tip telling the story, the words are illustrated by Tip’s Polaroid photographs (drawings), and supplemented in places by J.Lo’s comics. It’s cleverly done, and adds some depth, especially to the portrayal of the Boov. The comic section detailing their history as a culture was one of my favorite parts (and there was some pretty heavy satire there too).
I read the print edition, but there’s also an audiobook that won an Odyssey. And Dreamworks is planning a movie for 2014, which I am now looking forward to!
Tip is eleven, and that’s probably a good target age for the reader too, though obviously it’s a lot of fun even if you’re older! It’s a funny story about aliens, a heartwarming story about friendship and family, and an effective satire about culture, environmental issues and politics. All that, in a Middle Grade book. Never tell me books for kids can’t have depth. 😉
Author’s Site: http://www.adamrex.com/
Buy it here: The True Meaning of Smekday