Monday, March 14, 2011

I-I-I- a-a-am to thi-i-i-nking!

I know I've said this before: I don't like re-reading. But even though I'd read The True Meaning of Smekday three years ago (which means I'd pretty much forgotten everything but the big picture), I wanted to support the hard-listening folks on this year's Odyssey committee; plus my library actually owns copies of this audiobook. (I have discovered how spoiled I was getting audiobooks when they are first published, instead of months later!) It was synergy all around. The cherry on top? It's a terrific listen!

Adam Rex's 2007 book is pretty terrific on its own, of course. It initially takes the form of Tip's essay on "The True Meaning of Smekday" which will be placed in a time capsule to be opened 100 years later. But it goes on to be much more than a middle-schooler's writing exercise.

Gratuity "Tip" Tucci's mother was abducted by the alien Boov even before they invaded Earth on Christmas (now called Smekday). But now that all U.S. humans are being relocated to Florida, Tip has decided she's going to make her own way there in the family car. Unfortunately, being 11 years old, Tip doesn't realize that the roads aren't going to be in very good condition and her car soon encounters a rather large pothole. Fortunately, there's a lone Boov surreptitiously hanging out at the same gas station/mini-mart where Tip has broken down. This Boov fixes up Tip's car with some added functions (it floats for example), and joins her for the ride down to the Happy Mouse Kingdom. But once they arrive in Florida, Tip learns that the relocation area will now be Arizona. She also learns that her Boov companion, who goes by the name J.Lo, made a fatal communication error bringing yet another alien race -- the Gorg -- to Earth. The Boov and the Gorg are mortal enemies. (While listening, my brain kept turning Boov and Gorg into Bush and Gore! What our subconscious will get up to ...)

So now J.Lo, Tip and Tip's cat Pig are on the lam -- racing to get to Arizona before the aliens track them down. Their road trip is just hilarious, full of sly, topical humor, a healthy dose of satire, and wonderful characterizations. J.Lo ranks among the great characters of children's literature, and when his fractured syntax is brought vividly to life by narrator Bahni Turpin, he rightfully takes his place among Charlotte and Wilbur, Willy Wonka, Bilbo Baggins, the Cowardly Lion and many others.

Turpin reads Tip pretty straight -- she's the kind of teenager who is smarter than her mother, so she's got a sassy mouth and a hip delivery. When she is reading Tip's essay, Turpin goes all adult on us. She does a good job distinguishing the novel's other characters, including some Lord-of-the-Flies boys hiding out in the Happy Mouse Kingdom, a group of blissed-out Area 51 denizens who are feeling pretty smug about the arrival of the Boov, a particularly oily politician, and Tip's loving but slightly dim mother. Occasionally, Turpin's called upon for cat dialogue and she pulls this off as well.

But nothing in this audiobook is as wonderful as J.Lo. Turpin gives him a high, raspy, slightly robotic voice that she occasionally augments with tongue clicks and that "tsk tsk" sound you make by flicking your tongue off the the back of your teeth. And when you add in J.Lo's stutter and his mangled grammar, you have an entirely endearing package. Late in the novel, Tip asks J.Lo if he can speak in a slightly less alien voice, and out comes this newscaster delivery that had me helplessly giggling. Turpin is rightly honored by the Odyssey committee for her outstanding work.

(I've only heard her read once, in a book that gave her no opportunity to display her prodigious narrative talents: The Freedom Writers' Diary. Alas, I was less conscientious in 2007, and neglected to mention her name! At least I mentioned her reading: "the female students came alive with some character and personality." Faint praise indeed.)

Since its inception in 2008, the production talent behind the best audiobook for children and young adults have been featured in a Booklist interview with Mary Burkey. This year, she interviews Smekday's executive producer, Dan Musselman. I liked his insight on Turpin's performance. I also appreciate Burkey's comment that both of the Odyssey chapter-book winners -- this and 2009's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian -- were books that include a significant number of visual images. I wonder if pictures help bump up a narration to excellent heights? I know that a lot of my listening was accompanied by my memory of the drawing that appears at the end of the novel of Tip, her mom, and J.Lo at the Happy Mouse Kingdom (which I tried to find online, but couldn't -- darn copyright!).

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex.
Narrated by Bahni Turpin.
Listening Library, 2010. 10:38

1 comment:

Beth S. said...

This is definitely one of my favorite audiobooks of all time. Loved it! And you're right - J. Lo is by far the best part of the book!