Review written by Jonathan Lavallee
What does Smekday mean for you? That’s the essay question that Gratuity Tucci answers in the first part of The True Meaning of Smekday. There’s a contest to choose one essay to go into a time capsule to be opened one hundred years in the future.
That first essay got her a C+, but her teacher allows her to revise it for extra credit.
So Gratuity does, and her essay is the one selected to be put in the time capsule.
What is Smekday? Well, that’s the day the Aliens called the Boov landed. They took over the planet after a very short war where all their silent guns destroyed all the monuments we had, and their advanced technology completely and utterly wiped out any defences we had. The Boov were benevolent though, and said that they wanted to share this new planet that they had found—now called Smekland in honor of their Glorious Captain Smek—with us humans. Of course, after a few weeks it was clear that we had no interest in living peacefully with them, so they decided to put the entire population of the United States into the State of Florida. They are quite sure we’ll enjoy it there.
That leads to moving day and the start of Gratuity’s trip. Her mother vanished the day that the Boov arrived; she’s been living on her own for a while now and decides that she doesn’t want to travel the way everyone else is. She’s going to drive to Florida from her home in Pennsylvania, despite the fact that at eleven she has to tie cans on her feet so that she can reach the pedals on her mom’s car. This trip lets her meet a Boov engineer on the run named J.Lo, and embroils her in the middle of the conflict between Human, Boov, and another race of Aliens called the Gorg who have come to take the planet that the Boov took from the Humans.
It’s a phenomenally funny book, in a way that a lot of books that try to be funny aren’t. This book is hilarious because of the situations that Gratuity and J.Lo find themselves in are easily reflected back to our everyday lives. There’s the communication barrier between Gratuity and J.Lo which is constantly entertaining because they do understand each other, there’s just a few moments where that breaks down in understandable and not outrageous ways. The book also doesn’t rely on any kind of potty jokes—well, except for one based around young boy’s desire to say the word “Boob” but it’s so well done that the joke doesn’t seem out of place.
One thing I feel the need to point out is that Gratuity is from a racially mixed family. I point it out because, in the sea of white washed book covers with blue eyed and blond protagonists, having a main character that doesn’t fall along that spectrum should be recognized as only a good thing. It’s brought up in the story as well, but we’ll cover that more below.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Gratuity has been without her mother for a while and does stuff like drive the car to get groceries. While cool for Gratuity, it’s not the best view on family especially when you include how her mother tends to be scatterbrained and impossible as a parent, at least in the beginning. Gratuity talks about how her mother will do something really smart, and then spend all their savings on a vacuum from a door-to-door salesperson.
This is a story about conquest, so there are some shooting scenes and explosions but really nothing above the standard PG action movie fest. There are guns, there is shooting, but they’re mostly alien weapons that don’t make sounds and just make things disappear.
Colonization and Race
Okay, this is the big one. Part of the humour in the book stems from the fact that the Boov are treating the people of the United States much like the Colonists treated the First Nations people. They came in thinking they were better and that the First Nations people were nothing but savages. They took over and said they were going to work together, and then when the First Nations people didn’t do exactly what the Colonists wanted they killed/treatied/pushed them into small reserves of unwanted land. This happens almost word for word in the book. Captain Smek tells the humans that because after six weeks of dealing with Humans and their inability to understand their place, the Boov are going to move all the Humans to Florida. There are a bunch of people shown signing papers, but they’re just random Humans the Boov found to represent the various areas. When Gratuity and J.Lo show up in Florida they are told that they moved all the humans to Arizona because the Boov discovered that they liked oranges, and since there were a lot of oranges in Florida the Humans couldn’t be there.
I was amazed the first time I read it, and what blew my mind even further was that the fact that white people in the USA benefited from this same method of colonization doesn’t register on most of the people in the book. There’s a moment when Gratuity and J.Lo get to Arizona and learn that they’ve moved people onto this First Nations reserve; when Gratuity points out the fact that what they did was kind of in keeping with what the Boov did, the response was, “Well, we needed it.”
Some of the humour plays on race as well, but again in a way that’s constructive rather than stereotypical. When Gratuity uses the government agency to find her mother, they couldn’t find her because they assume that she’s black like Gratuity is; when she points this probelm out to them it completely deflates their egos.
There’s a character they meet on the way to Nevada, in Rosewell. Frank, who is known by the locals as Chief Shouting Bear, who is hiding an actual Boov ship but plays the part of the angry native in order to have people leave him alone.
All this revolves around the idea of Colonisation and the problems of dealing with people who have privilege. Now it’s a YA book so things work out well in the end, which they usually don’t in a colonized situation but it’s a great jumping point for that kind of discussion about colonial US history (and Canadian too but there are some differences, and the book is set in the US).
This is a fun book with a lot going on, a lot of humour, and a lot to talk about. It should be on the list of books your tween should read.
The language is nice and straight forward, so even those who might be daunted by the over four hundred pages of this book will quickly be able to go through it and laugh at so many of the jokes. As an illustrator, Adam Rex also adds a bunch of comic panels and the “actual pictures” that Gratuity takes on her trip. If you want to read this book to your younger children, you as the parent might have to stifle a laugh here or there or else you might find yourself explaining what makes something funny. Of course, because you’re going to laugh there’s a good chance your older tween will really enjoy this book too.
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
Published in 2007 by Hyperion Books
Read the paperback version