January 19, 2011

Review: The True Meaning of Smekday

True Meaning of Smekday By Adam Rex
Available now from Disney Hyperion
2011 Winner of the Odyssey Award for Excellence in Audiobook Production

I have no idea how this book would work as an audiobook.  Some sections are done like a comic.  Others are illustrated by 'photos,' sketches, or other representations of things the characters come across.  The illustrations are well-done, offering information not available in the story. 

But any team that could adapt it well would deserve an award.

Gratuity Tucci (her friends call her Tip) is driving by herself to Florida.  Why?  Because that's where the aliens are relocating the humans and they've already taken her mother.  She doesn't trust their transportation so she's relying on her own.  But then her car breaks and she and her cat, Pig, are stranded at a gas station . . . until one of the aliens fixes their car.  Soon Tip, Pig, and J.Lo the Boov are on a cross-country trip to save the world from even worse aliens.

When I started the novel, I was underwhelmed.  Alien invasion as a satirical critique of Western imperialism has been done to death.  But things improve after the group reach Bland Name Disney World and the storyline becomes more complex.  Adam Rex does do one thing with the satire that I appreciated - an actual Native American shows up and some people are pretty cognizant of the comparisons between the Boov's actions and human action.

I liked Tip's personality from the beginning as well.  She doesn't trust easily, but she doesn't cut herself off from other people either.  She accepts genuine help.  She's also pretty savvy for an eleven-year-old.  But I'll take it because I love a book featuring a strong female character, especially ones aimed at children.  I enjoyed the way Rex portrayed her biracial heritage.  It's not an issue at all when she and J.Lo are alone, but it sometimes bothers the people they encounter. 
The plot peters out a bit at the end as well, when the way to defeat the aliens becomes clear yet takes forever for Tip to figure out.  Luckily, there's lots of great character interaction among her, J.Lo, and minor characters that fills up the space well.  Unluckily, adults tend to be all but useless.  In fact, I can only recall one useful adult.  It couldn't hurt to have more adults act a little intelligently, could it?

THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY is pretty firmly aimed at older children.  There's a bit of cussing and a lot of violence.  (Some violence which I find disturbing, even.)  At the same time, it's quite funny and charming.  I'd have loved it as a kid.  I still found it absorbing and worth recommending to others, but it does have flaws.  I'm probably passing this one onto my nieces anyway.

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