Monday, March 03, 2008

Everyday is Smekday!

I finished reading The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex yesterday, a wonderfully inventive novel of alien invasion.

The main character is a smart, sassy 11 year old girl named Gratuity (nick name "Tip"). She is resourceful at the start of the book and becomes even more so as the book progresses. The novel moves from invasion plot, to a road trip plot, to a save the world plot with Gratuity joined by a confused but very handy alien who calls himself J.Lo. He has mistakenly alerted another hostile alien species to the presence of Earth (aka Smekland) and thus is on the run from his own species (the Boov) and isn't welcomed by humans either. Gratuity is trying to find her mom and survive, and together with a pet cat named Pig, they save the world not only from the Boov, but also from the much more fearsome Gorg.

Rex is an illustrator and throughout the book there are wonderful little black and white sketches that made me smile every time I came upon one--I defy anyone to see a drawing of J.Lo's goofy smile and not adore the little alien.

Rex also has a great ear for ESL and J.Lo's speech is fun to read with all its malaprops and confused verb conjugations. There is a wonderful scene that hinges on J.Lo's use of the word "explore" for "explode" (I never noticed how close those two words were before this). I particularly loved exchanges like this:

"I am thinking we are alls in the same car now," said J.Lo. "We should to have no more secretions."
"Secrets. Yes."

This kind of dialog had me snorting with laughter as I read along. But the novel isn't all jokes and silliness--there are some excellent points made about how people treat each other, group mentality vs individual responsibility, and friendship. The novel also includes moments of insight such as this exchange between Gratuity and J.Lo:

"This is incredible!" I shouted. "You guys can teleport! You can clone things! You could, like, teleport to France and leave a clone of yourself behind to do your homework!"
The Boov frowned. "Everybodies always is wanting to make a clone for to doing their work. If you are not wanting to do your work, why would a clone of you want to do your work?"

There were a couple of weak spots in the book. One conveniently borrowed idea--the Boov discovered the existence of our planet and learned our languages through TV broadcasts--is exactly the scenario in the fun Star Trek parody film Galaxy Quest. And Gratuity's mom is such a space cadet in the beginning that it is hard to see how she has become much more capable when she is finally tracked down in Arizona. But these are really minor quibbles with a book that takes on so many cultural icons (Roswell, New Mexico; Disney World; Indian Reservations) and folds them into a rambunctious plot with grace and humor.

I can't wait to read this one with Ian if only for the great fun that reading J.Lo's part aloud will bring.

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