The True Meaning of Smekday

The True Meaning of SmekdayBy Adam Rex [LibraryThing]

After the Boov aliens kidnap Gratuity “Tip” Tucci’s mom (and oh yeah, invade and take over Earth, renaming it Smekland), things get… Weird. Tip decides to travel on her own to the human reservation in Florida, rather than taking the alien transport, and on her way she meets a Boov named J.Lo who might not be all bad, and she discovers her mom might still be alive somewhere. But nothing is what it seems, the humans aren’t in Florida after all, another alien race is threatening humans and Boov alike, and Tip, J.Lo, and Tip’s cat Pig might be the only hope for humanity.


Wow. I didn’t get Tip’s nickname until I just typed it above. Clearly, I am super-smrt.

This book just treads the line between message-built-into-story (which I love!) and story-built-around-a-message (which tends to bother me), but I think it stays pretty well in “fun story that makes you think” territory. Essentially, what happens with the alien invasion and human relocation parallels white folks colonizing the “New World” and the genocide against American Indians. (There isn’t exactly a genocide against humans, but they are brutally taken over, have all of their rights curtailed, are referred to as savages and barbarians [and the invaders all think they're saving humans from themselves by civilizing them], and are sent to live on small reserves with few resources, while the Boov keep changing the terms of the deals they make with humans, or outright going back on them, so yeah, it’s pretty clear what’s happening.) There are a few moments that were… Uh, not subtle about the message; but there were a lot of small moments that were very powerful.

Clearly, the book dealt with racism in a head-on way. It’s demonstrated a few times with the way a group of people in Roswell deal with an American Indian character — they write him off as a crazy drunk and, as far as they know (or care), his name is Chief Crazy Legs. Tip actually stops to talk to him, and discovers a) his name is Frank; and b) he’s probably the smartest person in the book. And Tip herself is biracial; in one moment that stuck with me, another character said something along the lines of, “Your mother isn’t what I expected.” To which Tip, smart and wry, basically answers, “You mean white?”

The biggest issue with this book was the pacing. It was slow and meandering — there were a lot of elements that could have been condensed or cut. They drive to Florida, looking for humans, and that’s the first half of the book; then the second alien species appears; they get chased to Arizona, still looking for humans, get sidetracked in Roswell for awhile, and the climax doesn’t even start until you’re 375 pages in. I feel like a lot of those elements could have been combined or trimmed, because by the end, even though I was still enjoying the book, I also was wondering when the heck it was going to be over already. That’s really not what you want, especially in a book that’s on the younger side of the YA spectrum.

The book took awhile to settle into itself, too. In the first quarter or so, a lot of the humor is of the forced, look-how-wacky-I-am! variety (case in point, J.Lo the alien’s name). It eventually calms down into being actually funny — my favorite bit was J.Lo’s “Pictorial History of the Boovish Race With Pictures” — but it took awhile for me to get into it. I was also put off by the parodies of brand names. I wouldn’t have noticed, except that Happy Mouse Kingdom (guess what that was) was a major plot point, so there were constant references to the Happy Mouse character, which meant that instead of being a funny gag, it was way too much.*

The book would probably be a three-and-a-half cupcake affair if it didn’t deal so well with race issues; I enjoyed it, but don’t have much of an urge to seek out Adam Rex’s other books. But because it did manage to deal with issues that I consider important (while remaining funny, no less!), it gets knocked up to four cupcakes.

Bonus: When I was googling to find the cover image, I ran across this video. If it makes you giggle, you would definitely enjoy the book.

* I was going to say I get this, if it was due to copyright reasons and because a section of the book takes place there, but then I noticed the book is published by Disney-Hyperion, so… Bzuh?

    ← Previous Review: Dragon Flight | Next Review: Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware: A Pals in Peril Tale

    5 Comments »

    1. Gillian said,

      September 7, 2009 @ 4:35 pm

      This is actually Adam Rex’s only novel, the rest of his stuff is picture books, and two books of very strange Monster poetry.

      I always show the following to adults that I’m trying to get to read this book. Kids I just tell them the premise.
      http://www.smekday.com/10reasons.html

    2. Rebecca said,

      September 7, 2009 @ 5:09 pm

      Bwahahaha. The final punchline of that was great. *g*

    3. Seth Christenfeld said,

      September 8, 2009 @ 5:34 pm

      And the “very strange monster poetry” is ridiculously funny.

      As for the “Happy Mouse Kingdom,” I don’t think it’s copyright so much as the fact that it’s the Captain Ersatz version of Disneyworld–the real Magic Kingdom, for one thing, doesn’t have an entire second park inverted beneath itself.

      I’m willing to chalk up the pacing problems (which are there in force, certainly, and are what kept Smekday off my personal top ten list for last year) to the fact that it is, as Gillian noted, Rex’s first novel; I hope/suspect that whatever he writes next will be substantially better in that regard (and, I’d hope, even funnier).

    4. Active Voice » Cold Cereal said,

      January 29, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

      [...] to Rex’s second book, Fat Vampire, Rex was on my list of authors to watch after I finished The True Meaning of Smekday a few years ago. And considering the two books, I feel safe in saying this: Adam Rex is a very [...]

    5. Carolyn said,

      May 15, 2012 @ 4:14 am

      Oh! So this is where I heard about Smekday! Thanks for the recc, I really enjoyed it. Great, funny book.

    RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

    Leave a Comment