In Review: Smek for President

An adventure for young readers that's only mildly entertaining.

Smek for President by Adam Rex

Published by Disney/Hyperion Books, February 10, 2015. Hardcover of 272 pages at $16.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7. 

NOTE: The copy I read was an uncorrected advance proof given away at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. Anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: Slushious, the converted Chevy, is flying above the city of New Boovworld, where Tip and J.Lo will have their newest series of adventures. This image by the author, Adam Rex, suits the comedic and alien tone of this book. The colors are bright that will catch the eye of any passerby, but the structures are alien enough to have readers wondering what a flying car is doing at such a location. This image happens very early in the book, so it’s the perfect illustration to get readers into the book. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the inside front cover, “In this much anticipated sequel to The True Meaning of Smekday, Tip and J.Lo are back for another hilarious intergalactic adventure. And this time (and the last time, and maybe next time), they want to make things right with the Boov. After Tip and J.Lo banished the Gorg fro Earth in a scheme involving the cloning of many, many cats, the pair is notorious — but not for their heroics. Instead, human Dan Landry has taken credit for conquering the Gorg, and the Boov blame J.Lo for ruining their colonization of the planet. Determined to clear his name, J.Lo and Tip pack into Slushious, a Chevy that J.Lo has engineered into a fairly operational spaceship, and head to New Boovworld, the aliens’ new home on one of Saturn’s moons. But their welcome isn’t quite as warm as Tip and J.Lo would have liked. J.Lo is dubbed Public Enemy Number One, and Captain Smek knows that capturing the alien is the only way he’ll stand a chance in the Boov’s first ever presidential election. With the help of a friendly flying billboard named Bill, a journey through various garbage chutes, a bit of time travel, and a slew of hilarious Boovish accents, Tip and J.Lo must fight to set the record straight — and return home in one piece.” I’m giving this book a try since it was a freebie at Comic Con and it’s the sequel to a book that was made into the successful film Home by DreamWorks.  I never saw the film, but am very familiar with one of Rex’s other books, Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich — one of my daughters’ favorite books. So I’m looking forward to see how Rex does with a novel. Overall grade: A

The characters: Tip is the thirteen year old protagonist of the novel. After the events of the previous novel, she’s able to roll with any strange situation. She’s devoted to her friend J.Lo, even if they don’t get along all the time. A previous character, Chief Shouting Bear, died in the previous book, but whenever she’s in a stressful situation he manifests before her and offers advice. I liked Tip’s quick thinking and her devotion to her friends. J.Lo is the Boov that’s befriended Tip and he likes to tinker with things; he’ll take something apart just to get his brain working, and a pile of trash is just a collection of things that haven’t been assembled. Like all Boov, his English is not great, and he often uses the wrong word or phrase, leading to some smile inducing lines. J.Lo just wants to clear his name among his people; he has no intention of causing further trouble. Dan Landry is a liar who will do anything for personal gain. He’s a fairly one note character created to have an adult human in the story. He’s forgettable. Bill is a tiny robot, the size of a bee. He can’t speak English, but instead spews out a series of bubbles that is writing that Boov can read. He’s a fantastic character and every time he appears my pleasure with the story increased. President Smek is the antagonist of the book, but he’s barely in it. He’s a dumb elected official whose only intelligent moment comes when he realizes that by imprisoning J.Lo he can maintain his position. After this, he’s nothing but a comedic character. There is a Boov assassin chasing J.Lo, who is dressed entirely in black. He was a fun character and when revealed was a slick piece of writing by Rex. All of the aliens are goofy characters who present little threat to Tip or J.Lo, but have the pair constantly scrambling to find safety. Overall grade: B

The settings: The story starts on Earth but quickly moves to New Boovworld. If this had been a travelogue I would have been happy. This location is like the science fiction equivalent of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. Things seem normal and then suddenly go kooky. There are huge bubble homes with octopus tubes coming out of them, sucktubes that transport Boov from one location to another (even if they didn’t want to go there), palatial structures for the government, ginormous garbage mashers (which elicits lines from a science fiction film that almost mashed its protagonists), and an antenna platform for a climatic scene. Every location will please young ones looking for the unusual and please those who love science fiction. Overall grade: A

The action: There’s a lot of running around to escape being captured and several close escapes. The best action was when Tip was on her own. Once she was reunited with J.Lo, which happens too quickly, the action didn’t seem as threatening. This might entertain younger readers, but I found it to become tedious quickly. Overall grade: B-

The conclusion: There’s a happy ending naturally, but the appearance of one character was too far fetched to believe. I don’t think younger readers will believe this character’s sudden arrival. When this individual appears, the book comes to a sudden stop. I was disappointed. Overall grade: C-

The art: There are several neat spot illustrations throughout the book and a few moments where the book becomes a graphic novel. These pages were usual Boov centric, focusing on some nonsense that the aliens were reporting, such as J.Lo’s escape or a press conference from Smek. The art is outstanding, having me wish that the entire novel had been a graphic novel. Overall grade: A

The final line: An adventure for young readers that’s only mildly entertaining. All the elements are here for greatness, and might be found if this becomes the basis for the film sequel to Home, but several jokes fall flat and the adventure and antagonists become tedious by the end. Overall grade: B-

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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