Monday, March 5, 2012

Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday: The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex

I think a day dedicated to celebrating Middle-Grade fiction is a wonderful idea, and I've been meaning to contribute to Shannon Messenger's MMGM* for a while, but the logistical challenge of having a post ready for a specific day is apparently beyond me** (and Marvelous Middle-Grade Random Day of the Week just doesn't have the same ring to it). Then I read this truly marvelous book and I was motivated! So, for my inaugural Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday post I proudly present:

This book is screamingly brilliant from beginning to end. It was so funny it hurt my brain. It's a road trip in a flying car with an 11-year-old driver, an alien and a cat named Pig, and it is a wicked, wicked social satire. It has flaky layers of irony as delicious as a Napoleon. Oh, yes, we're definitely going with a Napoleon as the food metaphor. Not only is the writing oozing with multiple layers of humor, from slapstick action to aliens massacring English grammar to ridiculous names like Gratuity Tucci; but also the structure is perfect: layer upon layer of narrative and plot development that doubles back on itself in yummy satisfying ways.

Okay, I'm done with the pastry metaphor. Think Terry Pratchett meets Carl Hiassen. I should really just quote from it so you see what I mean:
Mom went on to explain that the aliens, a lot of them now, had brought her aboard their ship to fold some laundry. They related, not with words but with complicated hand gestures, that they were really impressed with her laundry folding skills. She was guided to a table piled with bright, rubbery suits with tiny sleeves and too many legs. So she got to work. As she folded, she happened to notice another human, a Hispanic man, she said, far off at the other end of the room. They had him opening pickle jars.
This is the low-level background absurdity that underlies the entire narrative. Then we get Gratuity's sarcastic comments on everything:
There are companies that claim to make a greeting card for every occasion. If any of them are reading this, I couldn't find a "Sorry all your friends deserted you after your alien abduction" card when I needed one.
Gratuity's mother is abducted again right before the alien Boov turn Florida into a Human Preserve and make everyone move there.  Gratuity sets off on her own to find her mother, and encounters one of the Boov at a convenience store.
For you time-capsule types, MoPo was something called a convenience store, as in, "The soda is conveniently located right next to the doughnuts and lottery tickets." People who want to understand better how the human race was conquered so easily need to study those stores. Almost everything inside was filled with sugar, cheese, or weight-loss tips.
Adam Rex skewers us repeatedly with these throwaway lines.

And then there's the plot, which involves the alien (who looks absurdly like the aliens from an old video game) souping up Gratuity's car with pieces of his own broken vehicle so that it flies (on cloned gasoline). Oh, and the alien calls himself J.Lo, and the car's name (after part of a slushy machine has been grafted onto it) is Slushious. Girl, alien and cat make their way to Florida, where they discover the Boov have decided the humans can't have Florida after all because oranges taste so good. Now they have to go to Arizona. Gratuity stops to visit Happy Mouse Kingdom first. Then they crash into Roswell (literally)(ha, ha) and find out what really happened there (it has something to do with a long-eared koobish and a water tower). The plot continues being ridiculous and convoluted but making perfect sense in a hilarious, human-skewering way.

Every once in a while Adam Rex breaks out into comic book format to give useful information, like the history of the Boov, or "8 Things You Have Always Wanted to Know About the Gorg But Were Afraid to Ask the Gorg Because the Gorg Might Punch You In The Face." (The Gorg are different aliens that come invading after the Boov. They're worser.)

I need to stop talking now so you can run out and go get this book, and I can sit down and reread it. (Keep your eyes open for the scene with the squishable gaputty: I tried to read it to my daughter and I couldn't finish I was laughing so hard.) Adam Rex is very much like Terry Pratchett in his ability to deal with serious themes like racism and imperialism and all the really stupid things humans do and have you crying with laughter while he does it.

Mmmm. Flakcy.
*  If you follow the link, you'll see Shannon Messenger's MMGM post and links to everyone else who participates: lots of great books to read about!

** It's still beyond me, though this time it's not my fault: I was going to post this first thing Monday morning so that MMGM people could link to it, but I didn't get home from a weekend trip until 3pm. Sigh.


  1. 1) Yay! Dead Houseplant has joined MGM. Welcome!

    2) You had me at "It's a road trip in a flying car with an 11-year-old driver, an alien and a cat named Pig..."

    3) Then you said "Terry Pratchett meets Carl Hiassen" and sealed the deal.

    This sounds completely up my alley. I've never heard of it and love the cover as well.

    1. Oh, you'll really enjoy it! I'm very interested to try out his other middle grade books: Cold Cereal and Fat Vampire.

  2. But there's no Kindle version of it, so....

  3. This one has long been on my to read list. Thanks for featuring it and welcome to MMGM!

  4. Glad you joined thee group. This sounds like a fun read. I always admire authors who can be funny.