Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Rex, Adam. The True Meaning of Smekday--4 stars out of 4!
I do not read much fantasy, so as far as I know, every selection outside of Harry Potter is as witty, clever, wacky, and irreverently phantasmagorical as Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday. However, I doubt it. This goofy, funny, new, science fiction-fantasy hybrid manages to poke fun at many of the adults who will pay for it while it makes important statements about such disparate themes as female empowerment, racism, the trappings of fame and legend, and popular culture. Rex also mixes genres and occasionally includes photos from the book’s action and graphic-novel-type strips explaining various ideas throughout the book. While there is little actual suspense in the novel (it is clear from the start that humanity survives and that the protagonist will somehow save the day), I was on the edge of my seat wondering who or what Rex would lampoon next.
Gratuity Tucci needs to write an essay for school about Smekday, the holiday imposed on Earth by the Boov, a race who had invaded and left all within a year. The feisty eighth grader was eleven and lived with her wifty mom and a cat named Pig during the invasion. Through pictures, comic strips, and a wild narrative, Gratuity relates her adventure and the way she saved the planet: “This story starts in June 2013, about six months after the alien Boov arrived . . . At the time I lived in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania was on the eastern side of the United States. The United States was this big country where everybody wore funny T-shirts and ate too much” (6-7). When Gratuity’s mom is abducted and a mole is implanted on her neck that ultimately gives the aliens control over her, Gratuity is on her own. Searching for her mom, she straps cans on to her feet so she can reach the car’s pedals, and she begins driving to Florida, where all of the humans were sent. Along the way, she meets an alien who has named himself J.Lo. They form a truce after Gratuity’s car breaks down and J.Lo is the only individual who can fix it (J.Lo is on the run from the Boov for different reasons). At that time, J.Lo explains why the Boov have renamed Earth “Smekland” with the wisdom of the conqueror: “Peoples who discover places gets to name it [sic]” (28). Gratuity sees with great clarity the next meaning of Smekday: that the conquerors, in their brilliant, bumbling, arrogant way, are no better than anyone: “The Boov weren’t anything special. They were just people. They were too smart and too stupid to be anything else” (150). As soon as people begin to grow accustomed to the Boov, a new and greater threat arrives: the Gorg, also known as the Takers, a sadistic and ugly race of clones who destroy planets for fun. Gratuity and her partner must gather up anyone who will help, including their Native American friend from Roswell, 93-year-old Chief Shouting Bear, who may own an actual UFO, and the members of BOOB, a group of middle school boys living in the tunnels under Florida’s Happy Mouse Kingdom theme park. Although politician Dan Landry believes the Gorg’s promises of peace, and Gratuity’s mom believes whatever Landry says, J.Lo and Gratuity know better, and they must act quickly before they are discovered and their plan to drive out the Gorg is ruined.
This tour-de-farce (all puns intended) kept me laughing and saying “Hmmm . . .” throughout the entire book. Students favoring New Media, genre-busting books like The Invention of Hugo Cabret will love the occasional comic strips and pictures, and adults will love the Toy Story-ish, there’s-a-joke-for-everybody feel of the entire novel (one of my favorites is when Gratuity is trying to explain to J.Lo the various hoaxes surrounding the Loch Ness monster when she finally realizes, “I was trying to explain to a space alien that there were no such things as monsters”). As a science fiction fan (I’m one of those rare readers who likes sci-fi but not fantasy), I also appreciated that Adam Rex is a sci-fi fan too: he even made a Babylon 5 reference! Also, the odd relationship between Gratuity and J.Lo is very reminiscent of Kirk and Spock (with a little Butch and Sundance thrown in), and their interactions are as much fun as the odd parallel world the author creates. The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex is a mixed-genre novel that everyone can enjoy. It has memorable characters, a wild but very readable storyline (if you do not take it too seriously), important themes of friendship, fair treatment of aliens and fellow humans, and an all-too-human attachment to pride, inequality, and fame that will resonate with readers long after the end of the novel.


Blogger Mandalynn said...

Thanks for the info. I promised to book talk this book for my students this week, but hadn't gotten to reading it. I know, I know - I'm going to start it tomorrow.

4:35 PM  
Blogger Mandalynn said...

Thanks for the info. I promised to book talk this book for my students this week, but hadn't gotten to reading it. I know, I know - I'm going to start it tomorrow.

4:37 PM  

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