"review" · comics/graphic novels · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

the true meaning of smekday

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex (author, illustrator)
Hyperion Books for Children, 2007.
hardcover, 425 pages.
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. ~Publisher’s Comments.

Glad my anxiety for arriving late for parties is not one that carries over to raving about books. Adam Rex’s 2007 novel The True Meaning of Smekday is a fantastic read. Expect to see this on any future list titled “Must Reads for Middle-Graders (regardless of Gender, Ethnicity, & Limb-count).” With a strong and sassy female protagonist, girls will feel vindicated, while boys will hardly be alienated.
“BOOB is an…acronym.” […] “Brotherhood Organized against Oppressive Boov. It stands for that.”
“Shouldn’t it be B-O-A-O-B, then?”
“We really wanted it to be BOOB,” said Marcos, and at the younger boys giggled again. (126)
“Waitaminute,” I said. “BOOB?”
“It’s the name of our club,” said boy number two.
“Are you guys from Florida or something?”
“No,” said Beardo. “Why?”
Both boys shouted over each other.
“It stands for–”
“Shut up!”
“Backyard telescope Ob…Observation of–”
“Of Occupations by Boov!”
“I don’t know why I ask,” I said, “but shouldn’t your acronym be like, BTOOB or something?”
“BOOB sounds better,” they said.
Boys. Honestly. (225)

The True Meaning of Smekday has been an amusing personal companion to our evening family read-aloud of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Adam Rex is not as ridiculously funny as Mr. Adams but they’ve a similar gift for timing with their absurdities and outright silliness–nor are their criticism apologetically perpetrated on the sly; although Rex a bit more transparent with his.

I had a terrible thought. I thought about the people in concentration camps in World War II, told by Nazi soldiers to take showers, and the showerheads that didn’t work, and the poison gas that tumbled slowly through vents until every last one was dead. And then I thought about everyone two days ago, rushing to line up for those rocketpods. (92)

The True Meaning of Smekday would be a fun read while studying American History. Anything the aliens (whether Boov or Nimrog) are capable of, humankind has already done. Their actions are not unfamiliar, nor are their histories. The evolution of the Boov as drawn by J.Lo (the Boov deuteragonist) however funny is quite familiar (irreverently so for some–another likeness to Douglas Adams*). The behavioral trajectories are haunting, as we’ve seen most, if not all, of them played out over and over. Indeed, knowledge of historical events and their fall-outs create an incredible tension in the story.

“Captain Smek himself appeared on television for an official speech to humankind. (He didn’t call us humankind, of course. He called us the Noble Savages of Earth.)
“And so now I generously grant you Human Preserves–gifts of land that will be for humans forever, never to be taken away again, now.” (63)
“It’s mostly white folks living on the reservation now.”
I frowned. “And the Indians are okay with this?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…it was a reservation,” I said. “It was land we promised to the Native Americans. Forever.”
Mitch looked at me like I was speaking in tongues. But…we needed it,” he said. (338)
“Before we came, Captain Smek and the HighBoovs telled us that the humans needed us. That the humans were just like the animals, and that we could to make them better. Teach to them. We were told the humans were nasty and backwards. It…it is what we thought.” (149-150)

Gratuity and the Boov companion calling himself J.Lo do not come into an easy relationship. Rex takes his time and considers real emotion here. Why would Gratuity be nice, let alone trust, any of the Boov, the very aliens who abducted her mother and essentially orphaned her? But tough situations create a necessity and realizations that follow with apologies do seem to work. The relationship between these two characters, with the help of a cat named Pig, is wonderfully developed and a magnificent part of the read–despite, or because of, how difficult their ability to communicate could at times be.
“Gorg,” I repeated. “There was only one Nimrog named Grog.”
“By this time, yes. Beforethen there were many Nimrogs named Gorg. Gorg was a popular boy name, like Ethel.”
I was aching to mention that Ethel was neither popular nor a boy’s name, but I felt we were really getting somewhere.” (196)
The book is told in essay form, at least the first two parts are before Gratuity is essentially encouraged to finish the story in a longer third section of the novel. “Photographs” are included, as well as comic-form illustrations, sketches, and news-clippings. Adam Rex is a talented illustrator and his use of this talent is a marvelous part of the story. His inclusions seamless and charming. But his writing is equally good–which is disgusting really. He tells a good story, he weaves in elements for reuse, has great comedic timing, and his actions sequences are exhilarating. He talks about silly things and important things, his characters change and develop, each lifting off the page, vivid whether in text or image.Readers of Science Fiction or no should find more than a few things to love in The True Meaning of Smekday. Avid and reluctant readers alike should know Adam Rex’s name. He is funny, relevant, and frighteningly intelligent–and sickeningly talented. Is there anyone who wasn’t charmed by this read in some way?
If I haven’t given you a reason to hand this to a middle-grade reader. Gratuity and J.Lo have provided 10 Reasons of their own.

*Being positively compared to Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker Guide stories can only be one of the best things ever, by the way. If you haven’t read the stories, please remedy immediately.
check out: “7 Impossible Things before Breakfast” has a great interview w/ Adam Rex here.

7 thoughts on “the true meaning of smekday

  1. Dang, you’re gonna turn me into a reader of YA, aren’t ya? This sounds fantastic, and lo, the library has it. Just another thing for the TBR pile. In fact, it looks like the library’s got a few Adam Rex books…

    The illustrations here look rather fitting to the story, from how I understand the book is presented, not to mention rather nice to behold.


    1. lol. I don’t want to go it alone!! Would like to know how you find it though. Adam Rex’s name is oft referenced when someone needs a book for boys, especially the most reluctant boy reader. I’ve found he suits my oft “inappropriate” juvenile male sense of humor, too; so Smekday had a lot to offer.

  2. This one has been on the ol’ radar for awhile. I am a big fan of his art and really should have read this one by now. Needless to say the BOOB conversation has me wanting to read it even more! 🙂

    Have to say that people just don’t know what they are missing if they don’t read YA fiction once in awhile. There is an enchantment to good YA fiction that simply does not exist in adult fiction. There is enchanting adult fiction, don’t get me wrong, but the YA stuff is different and both should be liberally sampled as part of a regular reader’s diet! I believe the Surgeon General says so too!

    Rex has a picture book coming out sometime (hopefully soon) that Neil Gaiman collaborated on and I can’t wait. It will be one I bring home for sure, despite the high cost of children’s picture books.

    1. I’m sure the Surgeon General has as well.:)

      will have to keep an eye for that picture book. and yes, picture books are pricey aren’t they; which is why I am glad they make such wonderful gifts…

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