The True Meaning of Smekday starts off as an essay written by Gratuity (her friends call her Tip) Tucci as a class assignment, but Tip has a big story to tell and keeps writing even after her essay is finished.
Tip's story happens after the aliens--the Boov--landed and defeated Earth pretty handily. The Boov have decided they want most of the Earth to themselves, so they're moving the humans to colonies. Everyone in America, for instance, has to go to Florida. Tip's mother has been kidnapped, possibly killed, by the Boov, but Tip hasn't told anyone. Rather than go in the alien ships with most people, Tip gathers up her cat, named Pig, and decides to drive from Pennsylvania to Florida. She's a good driver for an eleven-year-old.
But she hasn't gone far when she's shot at by the Boov and wrecks her car. While she's trying to find food at an abandoned convenience store, she encounters a Boov who doesn't try to kill her. In fact, he's friendly. He fixes her car and asks for a ride. She agrees reluctantly, and the book takes off as she and the Boov, who calls himself J.Lo in the mistaken idea that it's a really common name, head for Florida together.
This kind of book could be hideously depressing, but it's not. It's funny--deeply, brilliantly, cleverly funny. And this kind of book could also be hideously moralizing, but it's not. Despite the importance of the message of tolerance and understanding, and the clearly drawn parallels between the Boov's relocation of humans and the forced relocation of Native Americans, the book never preaches. In fact, in one scene, a white character tells Tip they will be taking the local Indian reservations back since "we need that land." Just about any other author would have given in and had a mini-lecture, or just had Tip rant. Instead, Tip gets icily furious, doesn't say a thing, and leaves. Readers are left to make their own conclusions.
I also like that Tip herself is of mixed race. She doesn't make a big deal of it, but it comes up a few times. Tip's relationship with J.Lo is the real strength of the book, though. Their dependence on each other, their cautious trust and growing friendship, were all beautifully done and funny as hell.
It's a long book, but I never minded. I enjoyed the whole thing. The ending was maybe a little too pat, but it worked. And the book is illustrated brilliantly by the author, including some comics that tell some of the history of the Boov. They're funny too.