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Literature / The True Meaning of Smekday

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The True Meaning of Smekday is a humorous Young Adult Science Fiction story written by Adam Rex and published by Hyperion/Disney. It all starts with a school essay. When twelve-year-old Gratuity ("Tip") Tucci is assigned to write five pages on "The True Meaning of Smekday" for the National Time Capsule contest, she's not sure where to begin. When her mom started telling everyone about the messages aliens were sending through a mole on the back of her neck? Maybe on Christmas Eve, when huge, bizarre spaceships descended on the Earth and the aliens - called Boov - abducted her mother? Or when the Boov declared Earth a colony, renamed it "Smekland" (in honor of glorious Captain Smek), and forced all Americans to relocate to Florida via rocketpod?

In any case, Gratuity's story is much, much bigger than the assignment. It involves her unlikely friendship with a renegade Boov mechanic named J.Lo.; a futile journey south to find Gratuity's mother at the Happy Mouse Kingdom; a cross-country road trip in a hovercar called Slushious; and an outrageous plan to save the Earth from yet another alien invasion. Fully illustrated with "photos", drawings, newspaper clippings, and comics sequences, this books breathes new life into the "Kid Hero" genre.

The book was loosely adapted into a movie by DreamWorks, titled Home (2015), and was released in March 2015, starring Rihanna, Jim Parsons, and the actual J-Lo.

Tropes in this book:

  • Adults Are Useless: Beginning with Tip's pretty mom (when asked whether she's as clever as Tip, Tip answers that she's very pretty) and ending with the paranoid Roswell lady ( who betrays the protagonists to the Gorg), adult women in the book are rather detached from reality. The men are either just as clueless, or don't care, except Chief, who pretends to be a crazy old man so people will leave him alone. Dan Landry plans on outsmarting the Gorg, or so he says, but they play him like a fiddle.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of the Kid Hero genre, and also of most "alien invasion" movies.
  • Alien Abduction: Gratuity's mom and others are abducted a few months before the actual Alien Invasion to teach the Boov English.
  • Aliens Steal Cable: Most Boov knowledge of Earth's pop culture comes from human television programs.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Somewhat justified in that the Gorg are all clones of the same chaotic individual, but his race, the Nimrog, wasn't much better, having a 300-year civil war over a parking space.
  • Anger Born of Worry:
    • At the beginning of the book, when she thinks the "alien birthmark" her mom aquired is cancer, Tip has a bit of a meltdown.
    • After J.Lo dives for her camera that fell into the water and doesn't come out for a couple of minutes, Tip nearly breaks down, not knowing he has Super Not-Drowning Skills. This is the turning point in their relationship.
  • Animals Hate Him: Seemingly inverted with the Boov, as cats are irresistibly drawn to them... but it's because the Boov smell like fish. Tip weaponises that by siccing a hungry lion on some Boov.
  • Art Shift: Things like the history of the Boov and the Nimrogs are told in the style of a graphic novel. Drawn (in-universe) by J.Lo.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: The Boov think of themselves as this, and indeed they begin to come off as such once the highly-destructive Gorg show up. (The Gorg in turn manage to convince some key humans that they are this, offering the cure for cancer.)
  • Big Friendly Dog: Lincoln, Chief's dog, is only intimidating until he sees you, after which he becomes slobbery.
  • Big Red Button: One of the koobish who were transported to the boovian moon via capsule leans on this, and causes the capsule to explode.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Boov, in addition to their Bizarre Alien Sexes, eat a lot of things humans wouldn't, but gag at tomatoes. The koobish can be partially eaten, and it doesn't even hurt them.
  • Bizarre Alien Sexes: The Boov have seven sexes (or genders - it's unclear what J.Lo actually meant) that translate in English to: girl, boy, boygirl, girlboy, boyboy, boyboygirl, and boyboyboyboy.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: While the Gorg are attacking, J.Lo calls them poomps (Boov word for buttocks, almost for sure), which he follows with Gratuity's catchphrase, "Pardon my language".
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: Chief, a real Native American (Dine), does not dress like that and Tip lampshades this fact.
  • Brainless Beauty: Gratuity's mom Lucy starts out like this, but later shows her leadership skills.
  • Bubble Gun: The Boov actually use these for writing - J.Lo's actual name consists of seventeen bubbles (Tip, at her first try, manages to write the rude word for "elbow", apparently).
  • Bumbling Dad: Gender-Inverted, since Tip's dad is absent, but her mom is a Brainless Beauty, more often parented by Tip than the other way around.
  • Catchphrase: Gratuity's is "Pardon my language." These turn out to be her last words.
  • Celebrity Survivor: The culture of celebrity worship continues even after every human being in America has been moved to Arizona. Actors now live in "New Hollywood" (Scottsdale), where they "fill their days with activities such as smiling and waving at cars as they anticipate the eventual restart of the film industry." Musical artists live in Sedona and perform benefit concerts to raise awareness of the alien invasion.
  • Clone Degeneration: The Gorg, leading to the Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Gratuity's mom who can't shut up about being abducted by aliens, to the point she loses all her friends. Of course, The Cuckoolander Was Right. Chief is also rather excentric and revels in it.
  • Concussions Get You High: After Chef gets hit on the head by a Gorg, he's a bit incoherent. Vicky the aggressively normal and prejudiced ufologist (yes, really), asks whether he's drunk.
  • Deadly Distant Finale: The last page of the book is Gratuity's obituary straight from the newspaper. It describes how she died (at the age of 113) at the opening of the time capsule she sent her essay to.
  • Disappeared Dad: While comparing human families to Boov communal child-rearing with J.Lo Tip's narration notes she doesn't find it uncomfortable to talk about her dad, but she never actually says where he is. In any case, he never appears on page.
  • Disneyfication: The animated adaptation, Home (2015), drops most of the more edgy themes of the book.
  • Ditto Aliens: The Gorg are all identical, because they clone themselves. The cloning process causes some imperfections to accumulate, though - like cat allergy.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • J.Lo's story of how the Boov were forced out of the sea is reminiscent of global warming.
    • Putting the humans in reservations. This is directly paralleled with the history of Native Americans as embodied in the Chief.
  • Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion: The Gorg are extremely allergic to cats. They try to remedy this by killing any and all cats on the planet. So Tip and J.Lo clone Pig. A lot. Aliens - thwarted.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Gratuity, so named because her mom did not know what Gratuity meant when she was born, as well as J.Lo, who learned his pop culture from TV. Then again, he doesn't seem embarrassed by it.
  • Egopolis: Captain Smek renames Earth "Smekland" and Christmas Eve "Smekday".
  • The Exit Is That Way: After her conversation with Landry about Gorg, Tip is so distraught she accidentally walks into broom closet. The closet later turns out to be a telecloner which allows her some Exact Eavesdropping.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Dan Landry steals the credit for saving the Earth from Tip and J.Lo, but they're fine with that (especially once all that fame drives Dan into mental breakdown).
  • Fantastic Vermin: The newspaper clipping on the last page has a cut-off article about how koobish, a species native to the Boov's homeword, have an excessively large population in New Mexico.
  • Fictional Counterpart: "Happy Mouse Kingdom" is full of alternate-world Disney stuff.
  • Flying Car: J.Lo "repairs" Tip's car (which had a flat tire) with random bits and pieces, including tin from a vending machine that said "Slushie". Thus, Slushious is born - a weird contraption that flies and is still, mostly, a car.
  • Flying Saucer: Chief has a ridiculously fake one to show to the tourists in his basement. With smoke effects and Thus Says Zarathustra. Actually, though, a real Boov probe did crash into his water tower. It's hidden under tinfoil and paper-mache inside the fake saucer.
  • Founding Day: The titular Smekday is an anniversary of when the Boov declared Earth a colony, renamed it "Smekland" (in honor of their glorious Captain Smek), and forced all Americans to relocate to Florida via rocketpod.
  • Gender-Blender Name: J.Lo, a male alien named for a female pop star. The fact that his species has seven genders only serves to make everyone more confused.
  • Ghetto Name: Gratuity. (Her friends call her Tip.)
  • Higher-Tech Species: Humanity is low in the pecking order, with the Boov able to defeat them through superior tech and the Gorg, having manipulated and improved Boov technology, superior to the Boov in turn.
  • Human Disguise: In Roswell, to interact with the locals (most of whom are UFO nuts) without too much trouble, Tip puts a bedsheet with cut out holes on J.Lo and tells everyone he's her troubled little brother who got so scared by the aliens he wouldn't stop wearing his Halloween ghost costume. And started speaking like a Boov. It mostly works.
  • Knight of Cerebus: The Gorg. While Tip has made jokes about the Boov while still painting them as scary, the Gorg are mostly terrifying.
  • Life Will Kill You:
    • Chief survives two alien invasions, including getting knocked out by Gorg, only to die of old age in the epilogue.
    • The very final page is Tip's obituary. She died of old age (even older than Chief) at the opening of the time capsule.
  • Living Ship: The Gorg ships are made of cloned Gorg.
  • Mars Needs Women: Very much subverted, along with the Male-to-Female Universal Adaptor (the Boov have seven genders, one of which lays an egg which then requires input from all six of the other genders). While comparing opinions on Vicky, a Conspiracy Theorist who believes (among other things) that the Boov plan to impregnate human women to repopulate their race, J.Lo notes that this is about as possible for his species as impregnating a car.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The book starts around 2013 which was about six years after when it was written.
  • Noah's Story Arc: The Boov's mythology contains a story with obvious parallels to the human Noah's Ark story, in which—since most of the planet's species are aquatic—a girl puts animals in a jar full of water to save them from a great drought. Unfortunately, she forgets to poke holes and they die of asphyxiation.
  • No Such Thing as Alien Pop Culture: Averted. The Boov are said to have at least Fun Shirts, nursery rhymes, and comic books. Their television, on the other hand, became too advanced, to the point where there were far more shows and channels than any Boov could watch and the Boov leaders finally cracked down on it after making dire predictions. (Tip points out that this is much the same attitude Earth authorities have toward television.)
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Both J.Lo the Boov and Pig the cat travel with Tip and share her adventures.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Chief's spaceship shtick started out like this, but it's been so long people simply think he's off his rocker.
  • One-Gender Race: The Gorg are all male because they're clones.
  • Only You Can Repopulate My Race: The UFO junkies at Area 51 believe that this is the Boov's endgame. Patently false, as the Boov are neither a Dying Race nor biologically compatible in any way with humans.
  • Oppressed Minority Veteran: The Chief is a Native American, a veteran (he was in the army in the fifties) and finds the whole "Boov forcing white people into reservations" darkly funny. He also wasn't believed about the spaceship crashing on his property.
  • Overly Long Gag: Near the end, there are four full pages of nothing but the word "meow."
  • Parking Payback: The Nimrogs, a highly violent species of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, are revealed to have fought themselves into extinction (save one) in a 300-year-old civil war that originally started over a parking space.
  • Pig Latin: A group of runaway boys use pig Latin (badly) because the Boov can't read it.
  • Planet of Steves: The villainous Gorg are actually a species of aliens called Nimrogs, but are collectively known as the Gorg because they're all named Gorg. It's eventually revealed that all of the living Gorg have the same name because they're all clones of a Nimrog named Gorg.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Quite literally; J.Lo is adopted into Tip's family, and the obituary describing her death at age 113 mentions that she was survived by her husband, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren "and one Boov."
  • Roswell That Ends Well: It was a Boov space probe that crashed on Earth. Later Gorg destroy Roswell but the inhabitants manage to get out of there in time.
  • Running Gag: J.Lo's accounts of Boov history and mythology involve a disproportionate amount of death by asphyxiation.
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens: The Boov and the Gorg fall into the "Aliens as Conquistadores" category, with the Boov being an obvious parody of colonialism (by putting all humans on reservations).
  • Serious Business: Downplayed as Boov treat comic books quite seriously. J.Lo, at least, likes to draw them himself.
  • Shaped Like Itself: According to their own units of measurement, the Gorg "are exactly one Gorg tall and weigh roughly a Gorg."
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Curly. Luckily, Gratuity replaces his expletives with "bleep".
  • Souvenir Land: "Happy Mouse Kingdom", a thinly veiled parody of Disney World.
  • Starfish Language: The Boov's written language is bubbles and their spoken language, apparently, would require sheep and some bubblewrap if a human wanted to do it. One of their major cultural figures is called "Sound-of-a-crying-baby-riding-on-a-duck-which-is-talking-with-its-mouth-full".
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: While in Florida's Happy Mouse Kingdom, Tip encounters a group of boys calling themselves the BOOB, or "Brotherhood Organized against Oppressive Boov." When Tip points out that this should be "BOAOB," one of the boys replies, "We really wanted it to be BOOB." Later, in Roswell, she meets two young boys who have a completely unrelated club called BOOB, or "Backyard Telescope Observation of Occupation by Boov": when she asks if it shouldn't be "BTOOB," they respond, "BOOB sounds better."
    Boys. Honestly.
  • Strange-Syntax Speaker: The Boov approach to English syntax is kind of hit-and-miss. The specifically abducted bilingual people to teach them Earth languages, but they still don't seem to get the hang of it.
  • Super Not-Drowning Skills: The Boov were originally an aquatic race and - while they've been living on land of their planet for a couple of generations now - they can still dive quite well.
  • The Unpronounceable: Humans don't have the vocal apparatus to speak Boov. Tip learns to read and write, somewhat, and J.Lo thinks she might learn to understand Boov, but she'll never speak it.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Gorg, due to Clone Degeneration, are so allergic to cats they give up when the number of cats around them grows explosively.
  • Your Mom: The Boovish "children's play song" with which J.Lo accidentally invokes the wrath of the Gorg literally translates to English as "Gorg are dumb, dumb like soap, their wives are wider than they should be." As J.Lo notes, this is kind of a strange insult as the Gorg don't even have wives (nor, for that matter, do the Boov).