The True Meaning of Smekday was a hit in our house–particularly with my 6th grade son. Set in the future after an alien invasion of Earth by the Boov, young Gratuity (Tip) is writing as essay titled The True Meaning of Smekday as a class assignment. The essays will then be judged by a committee of government representatives and they will choose one to be included in the time capsule they will bury later that year.
As Gratuity writes her original essay we begin to learn about the invasion of the Boov and how they carried off Gratuity’s mother, sucked her right into a spaceship. (This is clear from the beginning before the flashback so I don’t think I am giving away anything.) ALL humans are then ordered to report to Florida. On her way Gratuity meets a Boov (who has chosen J-Lo as his Earth name) and they form an unlikely alliance. For the moment, at least, J-Lo is also trying to avoid the other Boov.
After Gratuity’s essay is chosen to be included in the time capsule she writes an extended version to be surreptitiously slipped in with the original. This addition gives many more details on what transpired after her first encounter with J-Lo. Gratuity is not eager to share them publicly, but thinks the whole story should be included in the time capsule. And she figures she will be dead by the time it is dug up and opened so she doesn’t have to worry about it then.
The True Meaning of Smekday is truly brilliant on many levels. Most importantly, Gratuity’s story: losing her mother to an alien invasion and the perilous–often hilarious– adventure of her physical journey and battle with multiple aliens in a deftly plotted conclusion is the piece that will appeal most to the young readers for whom the book was primarily written. There are also several parallels in the story of the Boov taking over Earth, changing its name to Smek because their Captain Smek “discovered” the planet and then herding all humans already living there into spaces (one state) that are woefully inadequate in size and resources to the plight of the Native Americans with the arrival of the Europeans and the rabid concept of manifest destiny by the government in the United States. After herding all humans to Florida, the Boov discover there are oranges in Florida and they really like oranges. So they then herd everyone to Arizona–even though they had promised Florida to the humans.
Once in Arizona Gratuity meets Chief Shouting Bear (not his real name; he was so christened by Caucasian residents of the area because he is Native American and vocal in his dislike of those descended from the race that subjugated his culture and ancestors) who becomes a trusted friend and support on her complicated journey. Adam Rex has given us an extraordinary character in Gratuity who allows us to experience the fear and loss as she searches for her mother as well as the frustrations and surprises–tender, funny and even joyous–of meeting and getting to know someone very different from oneself.
The only flaw I found was that the chapters detailing Boov history seemed to go on for too long, often causing me to lose interest. They are mostly written for adult readers, as their tongue-in-cheek humor is veiled social commentary that will be outside most children’s experience or understanding. Young readers do NOT be deterred by these passages–skim them if you want to but don’t abandon The True Meaning of Smekday because the story will be a thrill ride you will be glad you took!