Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday is a strange beast. On the one hand, it is a young adult, maybe late children’s, novel (okay, I made that second term up). The writing is fairly simple, not too much symbolism, the dialogue is straightforward, no irony, etc. (the plot structure is quite interesting and well-done though). However, there is a weird post-colonial critique that runs through this thing. Like, I’m talking an ironic/parodic critique of European colonization. I am not sure most younger folks would pick up on this though. Then again, I might be underestimating their cleverness (and probably overestimating my own).
The True Meaning of Smekday runs like this: Earth is invaded by aliens called the Boov (one of the worst names for aliens I have come across, even if it does sound rather comical), a young black girl, Gratuity, is separated from her mother and sets out across American in a car to find her. She is accompanied by a rogue Boov named J.Lo and her cat, Pig, in a modified automobile that is now a hovercar. Wait, a minute, I said this was straightforward but now I’m sensing Rex playing with American lit’s fascination with road novels (Kerouac’s On the Road is the classic example, but others include Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent). Of course, this is a post-apocalyptic/alien invasion riff on the cross-continent road trip. The Boov look like frogs with multiple octopus legs while travelling in large dome ships. They simply arrive on Earth and take it over, forcing the humans to move to parts they do not want. So the Americans are shipped first to Florida and then to Arizona.
Wait, this sounds a little like the colonization of North America doesn’t it? And this is where Rex’s book gets really interested. He is very critical of colonization and there are numerous pointed jokes about how the Boov are acting in a hypocritical fashion (J.Lo believes that they had been very kind to the humans). There is even a “mad” Indian who yells at white people and ends up becoming a key part of how Gratuity saves the world. A second set of aliens, named the Gorg (seriously? ), shows up and are intent on enslaving the humans after beating the Boov. Unlike what actually happened in North America, in this novel, the “native” Americans are able to stop the alien invaders. I am intrigued by Rex’s subtext as it flows beneath the surface and suggests to me a deep understanding of American history that has been cleverly disguised in this children’s novel published by Disney’s Hyperion Books (the grad student in me has alarm bells going off at this, there’s an article to be written here!).
This is a clever and funny book that manages to offer up lessons on American history, racial politics, and human geography. I really enjoyed it and finished it very quickly (another one that I stayed up at night to read). This book is worthy of the title young adult fiction and gets me excited for some of the other titles on my list.
I highly recommend this book for readers! It is worth the time and would make a great summer read. Also, there are comics and illustrations in this novel. Does it get any better?
Rex, Adam. The True Meaning of Smekday. New York: Hyperion Books, 2007. Print.