Wonderful: Funny Message Books and Gummy Vitamins

Vitamins are good for you. I accept this. I used to buy vitamins, but they always sat in their plastic bottles making me feel guilty because I spent the money but hated swallowing those giant pills. And then last year, I looked to the left of the gummy vitamins I bought for the kids: adult gummy vitamins. Not weird like those chocolate calcium chews I tried once. Real gummy candy. Real vitamins.

Similarly, I tend to shy away from entertainment that’s Good For Me, but the novel I just finished, The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex, is the gummy vitamin of message books. I’d call it a Comic Allegory.

Gratuity (“Tip”) Tucci is an 11-year-old African-American-Italian girl. Her mother is abducted by the aliens who’d been sending her messages through a glowing purple mole on her neck. Shortly after this, the alien Boov “discover” Earth and rename it Smekland, because, if you discover something, you get to rename it and kick people out of their homes so you have somewhere to live. They herd all the Noble Savages of Smekland into one state, and expect the Noble Savages to be grateful.

Sound familiar?

So Tip and her cat Pig head off in the family car to find her mother. In an abandoned convenience store, she runs across a fugitive Boov named J.Lo (male) who winds up modifying her car so it can hover. From here, it becomes a road trip book. They hover across the country, first to Florida, through Roswell, NM, and then Arizona, getting into trouble, learning about each other’s cultures, and growing to appreciate each other.

Other, even worse aliens invade, and Tip and J.Lo team up to rid the world of them.

There were tons of silly touches, like multiple groups of boys who form organizations called B.O.O.B., despite the fact that the acronym doesn’t quite fit the actual group name. Lots of alternate names for familiar things, mangled English from J.Lo, bickering, disguises, funky alien technology. Tip’s personality is vivid and real. Here’s a little taste from the beginning:

I’d drained our bank account, and there was less than I’d expected in the rainy-day fund that Mom kept at the bottom of an underwear drawer in a panty hose egg labeled “DEAD SPIDERS.” As if I hadn’t always known it was there. As if I wouldn’t have wanted to look at dead spiders.

I’ve never read a book that functions so successfully as a comic novel and an allegory. It’s a wonderful middle grade novel. I loved  it. If you’re an adult and enjoy middle grade stuff, you might enjoy it, too. Or just get it for your kids.




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