Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch: The True Meaning of Smek Day by Adam Rex, Hyperion, 2007.

After my bitter complaint here that there wasn't a single sf book on the initial Norton ballot, miraclously, the final ballot has added one, The True Meaning of Smek Day by Adam Rex.

It's sort of fun, has lots of nice Messages, joins the ranks of the *tiny* number of sf books for kids with a black protagonist (which is not to be sniffed at), and is politically interesting if heavy handed and ruins its own message. It's best feature is that Gratuity is the kind of competent kid protagonist that I treasure. All that apart, it's ordinary as hell.

Gratuity Tucci is eleven and she has been asked to submit a school essay on The True Meaning of Smekday for a time capsule competition. In her first essay she tells of her mother's mole, how her mother is abducted, and her own decision to drive to Florida instead of getting on the rocket. She also explains that the invading Boov have decided that the planet is now theirs and they have signed a treaty "forever" with humans--using as representatives anyone they pick up (the first of the political messages, as this is pretty much how native American "representatives" were chosen). She takes her cat, Pig [which made me smile as I had a cat called Pig] and ends up collecting a rather worried looking Boov. There are adventures.

Part two: Gratuity is told to add more to the essay. She tells of the journey through Florida onto Arizona where the Boov have pushed the humans having decided they want Florida [again reference to history, not very subtle]. Then the Gorg arrive, all clones of a single inhabitant of a planet where the species wiped itself out after fighting non stop for generations--so much for the anti-stereotype messages otherwise running though the book. The Gorg are nicely gruesome and they hate cats.

Gratuity and J-Lo, the Boov, who has been rendered cute by this time with nicely broken English and odd eating habits, finally find Gratuity's mother who is helping to organise one of the Arizona encampments [and there is a discussion on the way all the Americans in Arizona have split into ethnic and ideological groups, a racist is shouted down and a lecture about free speech given.] Gratuity discovers that the Gorg hunt cats because they are allergic. Gratuity and Boov clone and teleport Pig[s]. The Gorg leave the planet, someone else takes the credit, and Gratuity explains this is a good thing because she gets to lead her life as she wants to. There is a coda ninety or so years after.

End of book.

It isn't allegory, but its real message is teaching children to question the colonialist stories told by America and Israel (those being the contemporary examples) and once it's done that, it actually falls back into some of the trite assumptions about "the other" it ostensibly sneers at.

I enjoyed it, it's fun. it will go down well with kids. It has an identical plot to about twenty other books in my collection which it handles with a certain swing. I have nothing bad to say about it. Except it isn't a patch on any of the titles I listed in February in terms of any attempt to introduce kids to any kind of speculation.


Blogger Libby said...

I'm curious, Farah--does anything in the voice of the narrator or the inclusion of the illustrations alleviate what you see as derivative? That is, if the message is tired (and even though I don't read a lot of sf, I can tell it's tired), it's still a worthwhile one, and the package seemed to me inventive. But maybe you're saying the package is nothing new, either? That's what I'm unclear about. Because I don't really care if the message is tired if the packaging is new and effective (which it seemed to me).

10:24 AM  
Blogger Farah said...

It is nothing new, but it is fun. It's told in what I've come to hear as "the voice of children's tv c. 1990".

When I was a kid adults spoke as adults to children. I don't mean spoke down but assumed that we wanted to climb up, and children's books were written in the same tone.

Today children's tv speaks 'where children are at" and some fiction writers have moved to do likewise. This isn't bad, it's just a matter of taste. If you like Coville, you'll enjoy the voice of this book.

Hope that helps.

12:46 AM  
Blogger Libby said...

I've read it, Farah, and I thought it was pretty refreshing. That's why I asked, since it seemed stale to you and I was curious why.

And there's always been plenty of children's lit that *does* talk down (the Narnia books, e.g.). I guess I prefer the "kid speaking to kid" tone over that. But, as you say, it's a matter of taste.

4:44 AM  

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