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1. THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY, by Adam Rex

In 2007, Disney Hyperion published The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. Years ago, someone wrote to tell me it has Native content and wondered if I'd read it. I had not, but today I see that it is to be a movie. So.... here's my analysis of the book (note: I'm reading an electronic copy and using the copy/paste function on Kindle for Mac for page numbers I provide). I provide summary of the book in regular font, and use italics used to indicate my thoughts/analysis.

Let's start with the synopsis posted at Amazon:

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 is a hilarious, perceptive, genre-bending novel about an alien invasion.


As the story told in the school essay begins, it is Moving Day, 2013. We learn (later) that everyone is being relocated to Florida by the Boov (aliens), taken there in Boov rocketpods. People are behaving in crazy ways. Tip (the main character) sees a lady running down the street with a mirror as if she was chasing vampires. Then (p. 4),
I saw a group of white guys dressed as Indians who were setting fires and dropping tea bags down manhole covers.
Debbie's thoughts: I don't get why they're setting fires. Maybe that will make sense as I read further. They're dropping tea bags, too. Definitely a reference to the Boston Tea Party, but why are these white guys doing this? If people are behaving in crazy ways I could see individuals doing odd things, but a group of guys doing the same thing? 

A few paragraphs later, we learn that aliens called Boov arrived on earth on Christmas Day of 2012. By June they have taken over and decided that "the entire human race" would have happier if they were all moved to an "out-of-the-way state where they could keep out of trouble" (p. 6).

Debbie's thoughts: This is definitely a colonization story. It parallels the invasion (yeah, I know some of you don't think it was an invasion) of the Americas and subsequent decisions to remove Native peoples from our homelands to Indian Territory or onto reservations. I wonder if there is an interview of Rex, somewhere, wherein he talks about why he chose colonization of the Americas as the basis for this story?

In The True Meaning of Smekday, the initial place for removal is Florida. Tip decides to drive there instead, taking her cat, Pig, along. Recall from the synopsis that her mom was taken on Christmas Eve, so, Tip is traveling alone.

Tip meets up with a Boov alien named J.Lo who becomes her sidekick. He tells her that they've named the planet Smekland because “Peoples who discover places gets to name it” (p. 28). When Tip tries to tell him it is called Earth, he smiles condescendingly. He also tells her the aliens don't like humans celebrating their holidays, so they (the aliens) replaced them with new ones. Christmas is now Smekday. The alien leader is Captain Smek, who discovered this "New World" (p. 30) for them. Hence, places and holidays are named after him.

Debbie's thoughts: I'm wondering how Rex is going to wrap all this up. He's making intriguing parallels to history.

The letter that Tip is preparing for future readers is supposed to tell them what it was like to live during the invasion. In her account of how the Boov conquered the human race, Tip describes a message from the Boov:
A. The Boov had discovered this planet, so it was of course rightly theirs.
B. It was their Grand Destiny to colonize new worlds, they needed to, so there really wasn't anything they could do about that.
C. They were really sorry for any inconvenience, but were sure humans would assimilate peacefully into Boov society.
Debbie's thoughts: Note the use of "discover" and that discovery means ownership, the use of "Grand Destiny"--which is otherwise Manifest Destiny, and the use of "assimilate" which for Native peoples, took the form of "kill the Indian and save the man." So far in Rex's story, no killing or war or disease either, which is a considerable departure from the parallel he's constructed so far.

When the Boov move into the towns, they praise Captain Smek "for providing so many pretty, empty houses in which to live" (p. 60).

Debbie's thoughts: Use of "empty" echoes a lot of writing and stories that characterize the Americas as empty, virgin, plentiful land that nobody was using. You see that a lot in Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. What makes Rex's book different from Wilder's is that in her book empty land was presented as a fact, while the colonization theme in Rex's book implicitly tells us that this emptyness had prior owners and was being taken.

On TV, Smek calls humans "the Noble Savages of Earth" (p. 63) and shows footage of the Boov making treaties--not with world leaders--but with ordinary people.

Debbie's thoughts: Rex using "Noble Savages" --- readers get that the humans are not really savages, but I wonder if Rex's use of it has enough weight for readers to see the use of "savage" to describe Native peoples, or Iraqi's as savages is also wrong (see my post about American Sniper)? Regarding treaties, this is definitely intriguing! People who know Native history know that there are many "treaties" that were made with people who had no authority to make treaties.  

When Tip and J.Lo get to Florida, they don't see anyone. Tip recalls (p. 92)
"people in concentration camps in World War II, told by Nazi soldiers to take showers, and the showerheads that didn't work, and the poison gas that tumbled slowly through vents until every last one was dead."
Debbie's thoughts: Because this is a humorous story, some of the references to history--like that one--are jarring. If you read only the paragraphs before and after that passage, you won't find the humor that characterizes the tone of the book. 

In Florida, there is a Mouse Kingdom. Tip finds other kids there and learns from them that the Boov decided they wanted Florida for themselves because the aliens found out they like oranges. They chose another state to send humans to: Arizona.

Debbie's thoughts: Again--if you know Native history, you'll recognize that decision, too. The oranges are a parallel for gold or other resources that were/are on Native lands. Learning of the resources prompted the government to take aggressive action against Native peoples. 

Tip and J.Lo head to Arizona. J.Lo is wearing a ghost costume to disguise his alien identity, thereby protecting him from the Gorg, another alien race that wants the earth and seeks to displace the Boov. On the way they pass a sign for Roswell. Tip notes that it is known as a site where a spaceship crashed. J.Lo wants to go to Roswell to see the spaceship, even though Tip tells him people think it isn't true. Then J.Lo tells her that maybe it was a Habadoo ship and moves right to telling her a joke about a Habadoo, a Boov, and a KoshzPoshz. But, Tip's mind drafts off and she doesn't laugh at the joke. J.Lo asks her (p. 204)
"You are not a fan of ethnical jokes, ah? Look, is okay if I tells it, I am one-sixteenth Habadoo--"
Debbie's thoughts: J.Lo thinks that Tip finds the joke inappropriate, but J.Lo thinks it is fine for him to tell it because he is of one of the groups in the joke. This is, of course, the on-going debates about ethnic jokes and who can tell them, but it also strikes me as relevant to this story overall. If Rex was Native, might I be responding differently to the humor and tone he uses?

When they get to Roswell, New Mexico, they meet a group of people. A woman introduces herself as Vicki Lightbody. Tip introduces herself as Grace, and J.Lo as her little brother, JayJay (who, through Tip's quick actions is disguised as a ghost). They head to Grace's apartment, which is across the street from a UFO museum. Others they meet include adults named Kat, Trey, and Beardo.

Tip tells the group she plans on continuing to Arizona. She's seen lots of abandoned cars they could borrow if necessary (theirs was in need of repair). In particular, Tip mentions a turquoise truck someone was driving (p. 228):
"You saw Chief Shouting Bear," said Beardo. "He's a...he's just an eccentric old junkman that lives around these parts. He's kind of a town legend."
"Ha--yeah. The Legend of the Crazy Indian," said Vicki. Then she looked sideways at J.Lo and me and added, "No offense."
"For what?" I asked. "We're not Indians. Or crazy."
I am one-sixteenth Habadoo," said J.Lo.

Debbie's thoughts: First, I don't much like that name, "Chief Shouting Bear." Naming and names are important to people, no matter their heritage, but there's quite a few examples of white writers using Native and Asian names as fodder for jokes. Second, why does Vicki say "no offense" after saying "legend of the crazy Indian"? Did she think Tip is Indian because of her dark skin? Remember--Tip is biracial. Third, J.Lo's response is intriguing. He uses a fraction and a word. The way that sentence is constructed could easily be spoken by someone who is claiming Native identity, not as a way of life, but as a piece of who they are. But why would J.Lo--the alien--say that? What does he know about Native identity and the blood quantum terminology he uses?

The legend they are talking about is this: in 1947, Chief Shouting Bear found a flying saucer. According to the legend, he had been in Roswell in the Air Force during WW2 and was kicked out of the military for believing in UFOs. Now, he keeps that flying saucer in his basement, runs a junkyard, and uses the flying saucer as a way to make some money.

Tip sets off to find Chief Shouting Bear's house because she wants to see the flying saucer. His house is in the midst of a junkyard. When she and J.Lo get there, she is peering over a fence surrounding the junkyard when she hears "That's where the UFO stopped" and looks down "to see a thin, dark man, like a strip of jerky--the Chief" (p. 252). He is wearing a red cap with flaps and a strap (p. 252):
"He otherwise wore the same clothes as anybody else--no buckskin or beads or anything. I'm probably an idiot for even mentioning that."
Debbie's thoughts: I like what Rex did there, acknowledging a stereotypical expectation and pushing back on it. Here's the illustration of the man.



Chief Shouting Bear takes Tip and J.Lo to see the spaceship. Tip sees it is made of papier-mache and not really a spaceship but pretends it is, thereby occupying Chief Shouting Bear so that J.Lo can go look for the telecone booth they've been looking for. She snaps a photo of the spaceship, and Chief Shouting Bear looks at her, puzzled that she seems to think it is an authentic spaceship.

While Tip, J.Lo and Chief Shouting Bear are looking at the telecone booth (the Boov are also searching for it), Vicki Lightbody and Kat show up, prompting Chief Shouting Bear to call out (p. 261):
"DON'T STEAL MY LAND, JERKS!" 
and
"YOU PALEFACED DEVILS!" 
Debbie's thoughts: There isn't any context (yet) for the shouting that he does. I've read a lot and don't recall any Native character calling a white person a devil. I've certainly seen white characters use that word to describe Native ones. I'm not sure what to make of Chief Shouting Bear using that word.

As Tip gets get ready to leave, Chief Shouting Bear asks Tip to come back tomorrow with her car so they can trade it for the telecone, but Vicki says that Tip and J.Lo were going to spend the day with her. Chief Shouting Bear says
"LET 'EM COME, INDIAN GIVER! I WON'T KEEP 'EM ALL DAY." 
Debbie's thoughts: Why is he using that phrase, "Indian giver" in his remarks to Vicki? 

Vicki replies, argumentatively, that it is dangerous for them to be around rusty junk. Chief Shouting Bear says that rusty junk will be all that is left soon, and then shouts (p. 262):
"HAWOOOO WOO WOO WOO." 
His dog, Lincoln, sits at his feet and "howled with him." Chief Shouting Bear says "JERKS" to Vicki and Kat, and Vicki tells him he could have a more positive outlook.

Debbie's thoughts: "Howled" bothers me. And the dog howling with him? Also not cool. This is war whooping straight out of Hollywood, and though we might see a dog joining its owner in making noise, this particular person and his dog howling are problematic because of the long history of characterizing Native people as animal-like. It seems to me that Rex takes two steps forward in this book and then one step back. 

The next day, Tip and J.Lo head to Chief Shouting Bear's place. They talk about people who seem to be crazy. Tip says that maybe Chief Shouting Bear wants people to think he is crazy. When they get to his house and are visiting with him, Tip asks about his shouting, saying (p. 273):
"You didn't raise your voice once when it was just the three of us. [...] But then Vicki and Kat show up and you're all 'GO AWAY, TREATY-BREAKER! DON'T...UM...DON'T--"
Chief Shouting Bear cuts her off:
"I never said 'treaty-breaker."
Their conversation continues:
"Yeah, well, that was the basic theme, anyway."
"I only usually shout at the white people," he said. "Tradition. I've got no beef with you."
"I'm half white," I said, folding my arms.
"Hrrm. Which half?"
I blinked. "Uh...dunno. Let's say it's from the waist down."
Chief Shouting Bear nodded. "Deal. I only hate your legs."
Debbie's thoughts: It is Chief Shouting Bear's tradition to shout at white people? That strikes me as inadvertently making light of actual Native traditions, none of which include shouting at white people. Chief Shouting Bear asking Tip "which half" is akin to the things I've heard a lot of Native people say in response to someone who claims they are part Native. It is a cynical response because Native identity doesn't work that way. Nobody is of this or that identity in a partial way. I should probably re-read the parts of Alexie's book to see how he handles that "part time Indian" in the title of his book.  

The two shake hands on that deal (that Chief Shouting Bear only hates Tip's legs). Tip introduces herself using her real name (Gratuity) and Chief Shouting Bear tells her his name: Frank. She is surprised by that name (p. 274):
"Oh," I said. "I thought...I heard..."
"You heard my name was Chief Shouting Bear," he said. "It doesn't matter. You can call me whatever you want, Stupidlegs."

Debbie's thoughts: I love that Rex is giving us a real name: Frank. Having the character introduce himself with that name humanizes him. With it, he seems to be distancing himself from the name that others call him (Chief Shouting Bear). That isn't a name he acknowledges as his own. With his "call me whatever you want" remark, he also seems to be telling us that such names are easily--but not appropriately--used as a means of belittling someone.

J.Lo hands "the Chief" a card that explains he is in costume as a show of solidarity with his Boovish cousins in their fight against the Gorg.

Debbie's thoughts: There aren't quotation marks around the words "the Chief" in the book. I'm using them there and throughout the remainder of my summary, because rather than call him Frank, or Chief Shouting Bear, Rex defaults to "the Chief." Why? I would have loved it if whenever Tip thinks or speaks about him, she uses his name (Frank). Using "the Chief" moves him back out of a real person and to a dehumanized entity. 

The "Chief" read the card aloud in a monotone voice and then hands it back, saying (p. 275):
"Nothing wrong with that," he said. "Hell, I wore a feather headdress for a while in the sixties."
Debbie's thoughts: Here, I infer that Frank is calling the headdress a costume that he wore in the 60s. It makes me wonder what tribe Frank belongs to. If he was of a Plains tribe, he wouldn't call the headdress a costume. 

While "the Chief" looks over Tip's car, the Gorg arrive, hunting for cats (the Gorg are allergic to cats). "The Chief" scoops Pig up and heads to the house, telling Tip and J.Lo to hide under the car while he runs off to hide Pig and the telecon booth. A Gorg finds Tip and J.Lo and asks where the telecon booth is. Tip plays dumb, and the Gorg asks her (p. 278):
"ARE YOU LOUD BEAR CHIEFTAIN?"
When she says "who" he replies:
"CHIEFTAIN LOUD BEAR MAN!"
Debbie's thoughts: More play with Native names. No doubt, readers find that hilarious--but that hilarity is less likely to be shared if it is your people or culture whose names are mocked like that.

The Gorg grills her until Chief Shouting Bear appears, telling it to leave her alone. The Gorg swung one of its arms, striking "the Chief" and knocking him out. Then he tears "the Chief's" house to the ground, looking for the telecon booth. It finds the basement door, enters, and when it reappears, it takes off, into the sky. Chief Shouting Bear is still knocked out. Tip sees he is bleeding. He needs more than she can do for him, so they get him into the car and go to Vicki's apartment which is next to a UFO museum. There, Kat and Trey ease "the Chief" out of the car. He comes, too, but his speech is slurred. Vicki asks if he had been drinking.

Drinking? Is that a realistic response to someone who has a bleeding head wound? 

Tip is furious with that question and glares at Vicki. Beardo tells Vicki that Chief Shouting Bear got hit by one of the Gorg, and she replies (p. 285):
"Don't you look at me like that. I was just asking is all. Indians drink--I saw a special about it."
They carry Chief Shouting Bear into the museum where he asks them for ice and whiskey.

Debbie's thoughts: Indians drink? A special? This idea, affirmed by a special--interesting that Rex brings forth that "drunken Indian" stereotype, but having Chief Shouting Bear ask for ice and whiskey affirms the stereotype. Disappointing. 

Leaving Trey to care for Chief Shouting Bear, Tip and J.Lo head back to the junkyard and figure out that "the Chief" really did have a spaceship, but that he had put papier-mache all over it to conceal it.

Tip and J.Lo resume their trip to Arizona, ending up in Flagstaff, where Tip tries to find her mom at the Bureau of Missing Persons. During this time in Flagstaff, they live in their car on the outskirts of town and use shower and bathrooms on the university campus.  Everyday, Tip goes back to the Bureau to talk to a guy named Mitch to see if they've found her mom. One day nobody is there because everyone is at a meeting where Boov representatives are speaking to people that have gathered on the campus quad. Tip and J.Lo head over there. J.Lo points out Captain Smek. He's one of the Boov reps, and is talking about the Gorg (p. 317):
"They are a horrible sort," Smek was saying, "and will not show the Noble Savages of Smekland the respectfulness that you have enjoyed from to the Boov. The Gorg are known acrosst the galaxy as the Takers, and they canto only take and take and take!"
He continues:
"We knows of the Gorg and Smekland leaders yesterday," said Smek. "The Gorg have probabiles made for you some fancy promises. Do not be believing them! They lie! They will enslave your race, just as to they have done so many others! They will destruct our world!"
The speech ends with:
"In closing," said Captain Smek, "the Boov are beseeching you: do not give up to the Gorg our world because of petty grudgings! Fight with us--" [...] "Fight alongside us," Smek said, "for a brighter, shiny Smekland!"
Then he repeats the speech in Spanish.

Debbie's thoughts: The occupier that has forced all the people to relocate is now telling them that another occupier won't respect or treat them well. 

Tip hears people around her grumbling about what Smek has said. Smek and the other Boov leave the stage, and Mitch, tries to get them to show respect to Smek. But he also then tells Tip that the Boov are on their way out and that they ought to ally themselves with the Gorg. Then he tells her that a Native American gentleman was looking for her at the hospital. She takes off for hospital and when she runs into his room, shouts "Chief!"

Debbie's thoughts: Again, why isn't she calling him Frank? 

Once in his room, "the Chief" tells her (p. 321):
"Mr. Hinkel," said the Chief, jerking his head toward the sleeping man. "He thinks Indians like me ought to live somewhere else. Likes to tell me about it a lot."
Tip replies that maybe he'll be leaving soon, but "the Chief" says he doubts that, because Hinkel was badly beaten by someone who thinks gay people like him ought to live somewhere else.

Debbie's thoughts: I am trying to sort through Rex's decision to make one oppressed people, embodied by Hinkel, be the one that is being racist towards another oppressed people. It is, of course, plausible, but it doesn't sit well with me. 

Tip realizes that "the Chief" had greeted her as Stupidlegs, and had called J.Lo "Boov." She had thought that "the Chief" believed J.Lo was her little brother.  J.Lo tells her that "the Chief" found out the truth when they were trying to hide the telecloner (back in Roswell). Tip is afraid that "the Chief" will tell someone that J.Lo is a Boov, but he shrugs and says (p. 322):
"When you're Indian, you have people tellin' you your whole life 'bout the people who took your land. Can't hate all of 'em, or you'd spend your whole life shouting at everyone."
Debbie's thoughts: With that, "the Chief" is saying that the Boov are just like the white people, but that he can't let hate consume his life. I need to think about that some more.

Tip realizes that his shouting (we also learn that he is 93 years old) was a way to make people think he was crazy so they wouldn't keep looking for the real spaceship.

While "the Chief" is in the hospital recovering, Tip reads to J.Lo. One of the books she reads to him is Huckleberry Finn. 

Debbie's comments: I wonder if, in the back story for this part of the story, Rex noted that Twain used "injun"?

When "the Chief" is better, he is moved to an "old folks' home" where Tip continues to visit him. On one visit, he tells her he had been sent to New Mexico after World War Two and that he had hated it because of where he was sent (p. 325):
"To a training ground in Fort Sumner. Didn't like it there--lot of bad history for my people. You know I grew up near here? On the res."
"Yeah, you said. So you're...Navajo, then?" I'd been learning a bit about the area.
"Prefer the name Dine, but yes."
Debbie's thoughts: So here, finally, we learn his tribe and what their own name for themselves is (Dine). But what is that bad history? Will kids who read the book wonder enough to look it up? And, a note to writers: the spelling we use is rez (with a z) not res. 

Unhappy being at Fort Sumner, "the chief" asked to be transferred, and that is how he ended up at Roswell. There, he learned the city wanted to build a water tower on a parcel of land, so he bought that land, which meant that the city would pay him rent for building the water tower on his land. The UFO crashed into that tower, but on its way down, it also crashed into a scientific balloon (p. 326):
The tower was totaled, and the city abandoned it--they never much liked our arrangement anyway. Somethin' about paying an Indian for land that rubs white folk the wrong way."
Debbie's thoughts: This sounds about right. Far too many people think that the U.S. government "gives" Native people things, not knowing (or disregarding) that these things (education and health care, for example) were negotiated between Native heads of state and U.S. heads of state during treaty or contract negotiations. I'll also take a minute to note that a LOT of people think we don't pay taxes. We do! Thus, I can imagine people not liking their tax dollars going to pay rent to an Indian landowner. 

"The chief" tells Tip that people knew about the balloon crash but the government was being hush-hush about it because it was top-secret. "The chief" tried to tell people he had a flying disk and an alien in his basement but people thought he was nuts. When they finally came to investigate, he was tired of them and played "the crazy Indian bit."

Tip learns that her mother is living near Tucson in a casino. Mitch passes on this info (p. 335):
"She's living in the Papago lands south of Tucson, in the Diamond Sun Casino."
Debbie's thoughts: Oh-oh. Papago? Hmmm... The people who were known by that name have, for a long time now, been known as the Tohono O'Odham. 

Tip learns that the description Mitch has been using in the search for her mom is wrong (p. 336):
"She's thirty," I offered. "Dark hair. Daughter named Gratuity."
"Black," said Mitch.
I coughed. "Black?"
"I'm sorry," said Mitch. Do you prefer African American?"
"Uh, no, I prefer you call her white, actually, because that's what she is."
"The file says she's black."
"Are you really arguing with me about this?"
Mitch looked tired. "I wrote down 'black,'" he said.
"I didn't tell you to write that," I answered, and then I could see the whole thing. "Have you been telling everyone to look for a black woman this whole time?"

Debbie's thoughts: I like seeing that conversation. Biracial kids and their parents are familiar with assumptions like the one Mitch made. Mitch doesn't answer Tip's question. He moves on. 

Mitch looks up the Diamond Sun Casino and finds it is in Daniel Landry's district (p. 337):
"Daniel Landry's district is far south of here," he said, "on some former Indian land."
"Indian land? Like a reservation?"
"That's right."
"Is this Dan guy an Indian?"
"I don't think so, no. I'm pretty sure he's white. He wasn't a governor or anything before, but he's really rich, so I imagine he's a good leader."
"Uh-huh. But he's white," I said "The Indians elected a white guy?"
"Well...I don't know. I imagine all the other people elected him. It's mostly white folks living on the reservation now."
I frowned. "And the Indians are okay with this?"
"What do you mean?" 
"Well...it was a reservation," I said. "It was land we promised to the Native Americans. Forever."
Mitch looked at me like I was speaking in tongues. "But...we needed it," he said.
Debbie's thoughts: Wow. Where to start?! Glad that the issue of land, and land being taken, is raised. But the way that conversation is laid out is a bit problematic. The way it is presented suggests that the reservation land was taken from an unnamed tribe. At one time in history, all of that land was Indian land. Today, a lot of reservations are what we call "checkerboard(s)" due to encroachment on reservation lands. See page 39 of Matthew L.M. Fletcher's article, Reviving Local Tribal Control in Indian Country for an in-depth look.  

As they head south to Tucson, Tip thinks (p. 340):
We all gained Arizona by coming here, but for the people who already lived here, we could only take something away.
Debbie's thoughts: I am glad Tip thinks this; I wonder how much readers of the book sit with that thought? 

Once they get to the casino, Tip and J.Lo go inside a tent where Tip's mom is supposedly leading a meeting. Inside, they see a redheaded man on stage with the microphone (p. 344):
"I have the stage! All I'm saying is, now that we've all had to leave our real homes, we got a chance to get America right! There can be a place for the Saxon Americans, and a place for the coloreds, and a place for--shut up!" 
Debbie's thoughts: His 'shut up' is in response to the boos coming from the audience. His hate-filled words are ones we hear, today, spoken aloud. It is good that he is booed. 

Then, Tip sees her mom take the stage. Her mom says (p. 345):
"I know, I know," she was saying. "You have every right. Just like he has the right, right? You don't have to like what he says, but letting him say it makes us Americans, and treating people the way we'd like to be treated makes us human, doesn't it? That's how I was raised, anyway."
Debbie's thoughts: Tough to read what she says. Yes, of course, we defend freedom of speech, but "makes us Americans" sounds like American exceptionalism, and "makes us human" sounds kind of like the golden rule (turn the other cheek), when I think we have the responsibility to call out hate speech. 

While inviting people in the crowd to speak, she spots Tip. Reunited, the three leave the tent and enter the casino where slot machines were pushed together to make walls for peoples homes. Tip learns that her mom was among political leaders who met with the Gorg to talk about the Gorg's demands. The Gorg plan to rid the planet of the Boov. They'll let humans have Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, but if the humans were found anywhere else, the Gorg would shoot them. Further restrictions include not using air vehicles and they can't have cats.

Debbie's thoughts: Most people may be unfamiliar with the fact that, when reservations were created, many of them were heavily policed. To leave, you had to get permission from the reservation agent. If you left without permission, you were "off the reservation" and could be shot. I wonder if Rex knew that history when he wrote that part of the book? 

Tip's mom introduces her to Daniel Landry. They'd just come from the airport where Landry needed her to translate for the new settlers who are Mexican families.

Debbie's thoughts: I'm curious about the Mexican families. He didn't say Mexican American. Remember--Tip is now in Arizona, down near the border, so maybe they are Mexican families being relocated to Arizona, but I don't recall the relocation plan including people in Mexico. 

Tip and J.Lo learn that the Gorg are taking over. J.Lo tells Tip that the Gorg "will take peoples for slaves and furniture and kill the rest." The Gorg had done this to the Voort.

Debbie's thoughts: Slaves. Hmmm... I wonder if Rex knows that many Native peoples from the eastern tribes were enslaved? Is that information the source of his reference to slavery? Or, is it specific to African peoples and enslavement of them? Is he mixing behaviors of oppressors?

Tip goes to visit Landry in his office. He tells her the Gorg have a lot to offer to humans. Tip mutters "Nothing that wasn't ours already." But Landry tells her the Gorg are driving away the Boov and that the Gorg "are giving back the whole Southwest." He tells her that humans are fighting Boov and Gorg, but the best thing is for everyone to be good and obedient to the Gorg, and that they'll leave soon anyway. He says (p. 374):
"Their whole society is based on paying and feeding old Gorg by making new Gorg and conquering worlds. They have to keep making more and more, sending them out in every direction. They're stretched too thin. Sooner or later they'll have too many Gorg and not enough resources, and the whole operation will implode."
Tip doesn't buy it. Back home in the casino, J.Lo tells her that the Gorg aren't stretched thin, and that because they can do telecloning, they won't run out of resources. The two keep talking and figure out that the Gorg clones are less-stable than the ones from which they were made. When her mom gets home, Tip asks her about the clones sneezing, but her mom doesn't recall any of that. And, her mom tells her that the Gorg are going to give them a cure for cancer, to be presented as a surprise at a big gathering.

There's a knock at the door, and it is "the Chief." Tip introduces him to her mom, saying "His real name is Frank." They invite him to eat dinner with them. After dinner, Tip walks "the Chief" out to his truck, where he tells her that some of his friends and cousins are "comin' down from the res" (p. 380).

Debbie's comments: I don't think 'from the res' is necessary. It is implied. And I'll note again, that it ought to be 'rez' (with a z) rather than res (with an s).

Chief Shouting Bear tells Tip that he is getting people together, people that they can trust. Tip asks (p. 380),
"Do you know some of the Papago Indians around here?"
"Tohono O'Odham," said the Chief. "The Tohono O'Odham Nation. Papago is derogatory. Means 'bean eaters.' And yeah, I know a few."
Debbie's comments: Glad to see that response to Tip's use of Papago! 

When the Gorg take Tip's mom, Tip and J.Lo note that they are sneezing and figure out that the Gorg hunt and kill cats because they are allergic to cats. They come up with a plan to fight the Gorg using that information.

They finally drive the Gorg away, and Tip, J.Lo and her mom head back to the casino. There, they (p. 419):
...find the Chief sitting atop his truck with Lincoln, looking out over the southern horizon at the big red ball that was slowly sailing away.
"Ha!" I heard him shout. "That's what you get, jerks."
Debbie's thoughts: The big red ball is the Gorg. He's shouting at them now, too. Gorgs and White people.

In the closing pages, some time has passed. Tip reports about stories from around the world, about people that had fought against the Gorg. Among them are "the Israelis and Palestinians, who managed to work together, for a change," and, "a group of Lost Boys living under Happy Mouse Kingdom" (p. 421).

Debbie's thoughts: Wondering how Israeli or Palestinian readers read that line, and, wondering how the Lost Boys are dressed... 

Here's what Tip says about "the Chief":
Frank Jose, the Chief, died this past spring. He was ninety-four. He said it was his time and mine had overlapped more.
Debbie's thoughts: Rex dropped Papago in the story early on and came back to it later, correcting its use. I wish he'd done that here. Nowhere do I see backstory or story itself that says Frank Jose was a leader of the Dine (Navajo) people. Rex seems to know so much! He critiques so much, and yet, leaves this intact. Why? His character knows better, doesn't she?

~~~~~~~~~~

Some current thoughts. I may add more, later.

As I reflect on Adam Rex's book, I think of it in layers. At the top is the words on the page and the ways Rex succinctly addressed things like names of tribes.  Beneath that top layer is one that constitutes what the characters know, or don't know, about Native peoples, nations, and history. There's so much misinformation out there. Rex bats down a lot but leaves other things as-is.

And beneath that layer is the premise for the story. Invaders come to the earth and start doing to humans the very things that European invaders did to Native peoples. A lot of what happened is not included in the story Rex tells. Warfare, bounties, disease, death... None of that is in Rex's story. All of that was devastating. Rex's story is not. The True Meaning of Smekday is viewed by readers and critics as funny and entertaining. Should it be? Should the colonization of a people--any people--be used as humor? Personally, I can't see similarly horrific historical events being turned into a funny story. Would we do that to the Holocaust? To slavery? But---I wondered---are there such books?

I asked that question on several listservs. Thus far, people are unable to offer a title in which this occurs. On child_lit, Tad Andracki offered some words that I found helpful. There are books for young readers where an individual's suffering due to oppression has moments of humor, but there aren't any where a peoples suffering is treated with humor.

We are, of course, talking about what is/is not appropriate content for a children's book.

One last thought: I think the ethnic joke J.Lo tells has a far broader application than its role within the story. Who can, with humorous tones, tell a story about a peoples suffering? If a Native writer had done this book, might I feel different about the tone?

This is a very long post, and if you've made it all the way here, thank you. I'm walking away from the book for now but will, no doubt, be back with updates and corrections to typos, etc. There's so much more to address than the notes I've shared thus far.

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2. Cybils 2007 Winners: Fantasy / Science Fiction


After a marathon reading session, the judges for the 2007 Cybils in the Fantasy / Science Fiction category have selected their winners. And I’m happy to say, both were at the top of my personal lists.

Elementary/Middle Grade:

The True Meaning of Smekday
by Adam Rex
Hyperion
Nothing has been the same since the Boov invaded Earth and re- named it Smekland. But things get even weirder when twelve-year-old Gratuity Tucci embarks on a journey to find her missing mother–accompanied by her cat (named Pig), a fugitive Boov (named J.Lo) and a slightly illegal hovercar–and realizes that there’s more at stake than just her mother’s whereabouts. A terrific satire with a touching ending and spot-on illustrations by the author, the novel is heartwarming and hilarious at the same time. Gratuity’s narrative voice as she struggles to define “the true meaning of Smekday” will draw readers in.
Nominated by jennifer, aka literaticat.

Young Adult:

Book of a Thousand Days
by Shannon Hale
Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books
On her first day as a Lady’s Maid, Dashti finds herself locked in a tower for seven years with her Lady, who is being punished for refusing to marry the Lord of a neighboring land. Thus begins a life-and-death battle against evil and time. Lyrically written and set in ancient central Asia, this novel retells a little-known Brother’s Grimm fairy tale with desperate, heart-wrenching emotion. Readers will be drawn in by the beautiful language and fighting spirit of Dashti, whose faith, spunk and ingenuity affect not only the darkness of her tower, but also the hearts and futures of kings.
Nominated by Sarah Miller.

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3. Robert's Snow - Adam Rex!

Behold J.Lo, in all his snowflakey glory!

Adam Rex is on of the illustrators who has donated a snowflake to the wonderful Robert's Snow auction to benefit the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute. He happens to be one of my favourite illustrators, and I was very happy that I snagged him when the ladies over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast (also big fans...see here and here) were organizing this whole affair!




I think I first came to Adam Rex's work through Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. The second I spied the cover, I knew I had to have it. As a collector of Halloween picture books, I was so pleased not only with the art, but with the smart and funny poetry within. It's a killer for my Halloween read alouds with all kids loving the illustrations, and the kids with that sense of humour (you know the ones) splitting their sides over the content.

My next encounter (after searching for more) was with the Lucy Rose series. An early chapter book, featuring a feisty protagonist (what's not to love?). After that, I just wanted to read, and own everything. Fandom? Maybe...but I have yet to be disappointed.

Adam graciously agreed to answer some of my questions, as well as some questions from The True Meaning of Smekday loving kids at my school. So here we go.

Stacy: How did you get involved with Robert's Snow?

Adam: They tracked my email address down and got in touch in 2005–I think Grace Lin had seen my first book, The Dirty Cowboy (written by Amy Timberlake), and thought my work would compliment the collection.

Stacy: Did you always know that you wanted to be an illustrator? How did you figure out that writing and illustrating for children was for you?

Adam: I always knew I wanted to be an artist of some kind. I didn't think about writing and illustrating kids' books until I was in my teens, and working in a bookstore. When I became familiar with some of the titles coming out in the late eighties like The True Story of the Three Little Pigs! and A Day With Wilbur Robinson, I realized there was a place for my sense of humor, and for the sort of art I wanted to make.

Stacy: How long were you cooking up The True Meaning of Smekday?

Adam: Oh, off and on for four or five years. At first it was just the fun project I worked on when I wanted to avoid my real work. So I started slowly. Then my agent sold it based on maybe the first third, and I worked more in earnest then. But I think some of the ideas go back further than that–I've long thought an alien invasion would be a good way to address our own history.

Stacy: How did you come up with the Boov Speak? I found that when I was reading Smekday, Boov speak stayed in my brain quite easily. Did you find yourself rearranging your words while you were writing?

Adam: Boovspeak comes kind of naturally to me–it's kind of an exaggeration of how I talk when I'm being lazy and there isn't anyone but my wife and me around. As I was working on Smekday I reached a point at which J.Lo's (my Boov's) speech came as quickly for me as did any other character's. I have not had for writing this way recentlies, so I am possibly notso much a Boovspeak Superstar as to before now. Hm.

Stacy: My students were asking about the "secret cover" on Smekday. The dust jacket image is different than the image that is physically on the book. What's the story?

Adam: No big story, really - I just came up with a number of images that I thought would make different covers for the book, and wanted to use as many of them as possible. People can peruse my July postings on my blog to see a little of how the cover evolved. I don't like to waste ideas, so I stuck runner-up covers beneath the dust jacket and on the title page. My books Tree Ring Circus and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich have "secret covers" as well, for various reasons.

Stacy: I have read that there is a sequel to Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich in the works. How is that going? Is the writing process for a collection of poetry vastly different than for a picture book?

Adam: It's written! Now I'm just figuring out the art. It will be called Frankenstein Takes the Cake. I've reported in other places that I thought it was going to be called Frankenstein Makes a Sequel

, but I was eventually talked out of that.
Writing in rhyme is different from writing prose, of course, for obvious reasons. Otherwise, writing something like one of my Frankenstein books is, in a way, like writing a number of rhyming picture books at once. Many of the poems in FMaS could have been expanded into full-length books if I'd thought that was the best way to present them.

Stacy: And here are some questions from my students who have been reading and loving The True Meaning of Smekday...

From an 8th grade reader: When you wrote the book, and didn't tell the readers some of the horrors of the aliens, did you know yourself? Or was it a mystery to you as well as the reader?

Adam: I don't know what details you're thinking about specifically, but I can definitely say that some things in Smekday were as much a mystery to me as I wrote as they will be to my readers. I wrote a lot without knowing exactly where the story was going, or how it would end, and trusted that I would figure it out eventually. That meant I had to go back from time to time and change some passages I'd written earlier so they'd fall in line with some plot detail I'd only just discovered. I didn't know at first, for example, that Gorg is not the name of the alien race, but rather that every member of the race is named Gorg. But it struck me at some point that having your planet invaded by, say, the Todd (a huge group of people who are all named Todd) or whatever would be funny.

From a 7th grade reader: How did you think of the characters and planets in The True Meaning of Smekday?

Adam: I thought a lot and drew a lot. When I felt like I had a good idea what the aliens were going to look like, their appearance helped me figure out what kind of people they were.

From another 7th grade reader: This book has so many characters and contraptions...it had a crazy plot. What or where did all of those ideas come from?

Adam: I was inspired by a lot of other books and movies and so forth, particularly the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy by Douglas Adams. But my ideas come from the same kind of places everyone's ideas come from -- you all the stories you've read, the movies and TV shows you've seen, things other people have old you, then maybe you mix it up with some other stories and ideas that don't seem to have anything to do with the first stories and ideas, then you run it all through the dirty coffee filter of your brain and, if you're lucky, it comes out looking and smelling like something brand new.

Stacy: Since it's Halloween and all, could you let us in on your favourite candy? Is it the same as when you were young or has your palate evolved?

Adam: I like gummi a lot these days, and it didn't really exist in America, as far as I knew, when I was a little kid. My earliest memories of Gummi Bears are from 6th or 7th grade. And yet Wikipedia tells me they've been around since the twenties. I don't know. I also love good dark chocolate, which as a kid I lumped in the same category as wine or coffee or kissing in movies -- things that only the mental illness of adulthood could cause you to like. When I was a kid I liked Butterfingers.


If you just can't stand it and you need some more, Adam Rex can be found all over the web. Here's a list of a few of the places that I found!

Adam Rex

Smekday

Ironic Sans

Nerds with Kids

The ARTDEPARTMENT

Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty

And for the CONTEST! Just use the comments to tell me what YOUR favourite Adam Rex title is, and you will be in the running for a brand new shiny hardcover copy of The True Meaning of Smekday! Woot!

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4. Face-Lift 333


Guess the Plot

Black Butterflies White Fences

1. Can Mike Buchanan, a severe ADD sufferer and international spy, remember his enigmatic password without the help of his meds? And what’s on the line if he can’t? Well, just a little thing called . . . the WORLD!

2. In this alternate history, General Mills incites race riots in 1962 Golden Valley, Minnesota when they choose inappropriate marshmallow shapes for their new kids' cereal, Lucky Charms. Sambo the Cuckoo Crow, who’s “wiggin’ for Darkie Puffs,” doesn’t help either.

3. She's rich, white, and married. He's single, black . . . and her son's basketball coach. Will their love lead to heartache? Or to the NBA championship?

4. In the cover of night, a band of rogue butterflies are defacing fences throughout the city. Can Detective Bumble assemble a dragnet to catch them?

5. Tasha Cohen's essay about an African-American girl's experiences in an all-white town won her a scholarship. But there's a problem: she wrote it in first person. What happens when the scholarship panel finds out she's not a sistah, but a JAP?

6. White paint is causing the rapid extinction of the black-winged air cleaner moth, but no one is listening to environmentalist Bill Blossom. Can he stop the chain of destruction in time to preserve the environment's only hope against Global Warming? Also, a talking vulture.


Original Version

Dear Mr. XXXX;

I’m writing to you because back in 1997, I sent you a query for my first completed novel; you promptly wrote back, said that I had talent and should keep writing, but that you were not “enthusiastic enough” about that particular work; [Are you going to end all your sentences with semicolons?] I misinterpreted your comment, and to my now chagrin, sent you balloons to show my enthusiasm. [Let me get this straight. You received a rejection slip and thought it was a purchase order for balloons?] Does this sound at all familiar? [On the off chance that it will sound familiar, I recommend against opening with an admission that you're the one who sent the balloons.] [Now, are you going to talk about your new book?]

You have always been my first choice for an agent and have been keeping tabs on your agency from the time you first launched XXXXX's career, [A little research is a good thing; if you've been keeping tabs on an agency for ten years, you have too much time on your hands. ] to the more recent and previously unknown, XXXXX. I also remember reading somewhere that Mr. XXXX credits you with “plucking him from obscurity,” and may I say that I wouldn’t mind the same plucking. [WTP? Do you just like to correspond with agents who've sent you rejection slips, or do you actually have a new book?]

Your early encouragement was taken to heart and during the past ten years have continued to write, raised twin boys, completed an English degree and graduated cum laude, (I’m an RN by trade, but my heart has never been in medicine), [Nice to know that when my nurse is drawing my blood, her mind is on getting plucked.] but more importantly, have continued to work on the craft of writing and tried to learn as much as I can about publishing. [Something tells me you missed the lecture on writing a query letter, possibly while keeping tabs on agent XXXX. You're supposed to be talking about your book.]

BLACK BUTTERFLIES WHITE FENCES is commercial fiction and approximately eighty-two thousand words, and is about the lasting bond of friendship and love that develops between a white married woman of means, and her son’s black basketball coach. [That's all we get? Half of a sentence? Your paragraph about Mr. XXXXX had more information. Your single sentence about what you've been doing since your last query letter was twice as long. Heck, My Guess the Plot was more informative.]

I have enclosed the first thirty pages for review and appreciate your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,


Notes

Agents don't remember ten-year-old query letters, they know who their clients are, and until you're their client, they don't care about your life story. They want to know about your book. You're selling a product, and you need to make that product sound so interesting the agent simply must check it out. Read the other 332 "Face-Lifts" on this blog. Then start over.

23 Comments on Face-Lift 333, last added: 5/10/2007
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5. Face-Lift 393


Guess the Plot

Living with the Bull

1. Know-it-all Morton Sledge inherits a fortune from his grandfather's bedspread business, but will his millions distract beautiful Bunny Perkins from the fact that he's a crashing bore?

2. Evicted from her apartment, ostracized by her friends and coworkers, Jennifer begins to suspect it was a mistake to get a pit bull.

3. The new bull Mary hired to work in her china shop just isn't working out. Not only is her business tanking, local biker gangs start harassing her. That's when she finds that sometimes a bull can come in handy.

4. Prison romances don't always turn out happily ever after, but Corinne Pilch, Number 4411227, is in for life -- with the guard of her dreams.

5. "Dear, you look gorgeous today!"
"No, Mom, we didn't get any homework."
". . . and there's absolutely no obligation to buy!"
Esther Poncky has heard it all. It's just part of . . . Living with the Bull.

6. Despite what Bill says, he really isn't the reincarnation of Napoleon, the lost King of Sweden, or the heir to the Howard Hughes fortune. Nor is he the secret lover of Paris Hilton, or the love child of Elvis. Living with the Bull might be too much for some; but Naomi loves her husband and won't see him wrongfully prosecuted for murder.


Original Version

Dear Evil Editor,

I am seeking representation for my novel, LIVING WITH THE BULL, complete at 72,500 words. [I hope all you people looking for agents and publishers are prepared to start . . . Living with the Bull.]

In LIVING WITH THE BULL, Jennifer felt like she was one letdown away from being back between her Strawberry Shortcake sheets at her parents’ house. [The only reason she didn't move back with them was because then she'd really be . . . Living with the Bull.] Then she meets Gwen, a woman her own age who spends her spare time rescuing dogs in the suburbs of Chicago. Jennifer wonders where Gwen hides her [matador's] cape, until she discovers that her friend’s utopian dog rescue more closely resembles a Tim Burton movie. Feeling betrayed by her friend, ["I trusted you, Gwen, but now I find out that your dog rescue operation is like a combination of Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes, and Mars Attacks! You've betrayed me."] Jennifer wants to give Oscar, a pit bull, a second chance at a good life. [That might be a better place to start the query.] She hopes that saving him might rescue her, too. But she never expected that her commitment to put kibble in his bowl would turn into a civil liberties crusade.

Because of Oscar’s breed, Jennifer is accosted by strangers, [mauled at home,] and ostracized at work. It’s one thing to have to defend his reputation, but her level of commitment to Oscar and her ability to keep her own life afloat are tested when she is evicted from her apartment [Yes ma'am, I know your lease says pets are allowed. But your pet has eaten everyone else's pets.] and faced with a city council that wants to ban pit bulls entirely. [Plus, her crusade to have the Constitution amended to give pit bulls the vote is going nowhere.] LIVING WITH THE BULL is the story of a woman trying [to] navigate the worlds of dog adoption, prejudice, and twenty-something independence.

I earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, [so I am well-qualified to write about . . Living with the Bull.] where I won a Hopwood Award for Poetry. I have been active in animal rescue for over eight years and I currently sit on the Board of Directors of Pit Bull Rescue Central.

A full manuscript is available upon request. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,


Notes

The reason pit bulls have a reputation for aggression (besides the fact that the media always trumpets it whenever one of them kills a rhinoceros or a little league team) is because of their name. Pit bull sounds intimidating. Henceforth, let's go with Mellow Mutt.

Even if I correctly guess that you mean Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas, it's still not clear how the Tim Burton reference shows betrayal. Dump it.

It's admirable that you want to incorporate your passion into a book, but I want to know more about what happens. All we've got is, woman adopts dog, woman loses all her friends. If you have a good story, tell us what it is. What's Oscar's past history? Was he Michael Vick's champion fighter? What does Jennifer need rescuing from? We'll care more about them if we know this. If their stories are boring, if you're mainly defending pit bulls, perhaps nonfiction is the way to go.

20 Comments on Face-Lift 393, last added: 6/15/2007
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6. Face-Lift 480


Guess the Plot

Coldharbour Lane

1. London, 1888. The city's upper crust are shocked by a series of grisly murders. Can Scotland Yard detective Miles Avery discover who is killing the flower girls of . . . Coldharbour Lane?

2. After years of struggle it looked like Winne Campbell's organic goat cheese would finally make her rich -- until the zombies showed up. Now Winnie and goat wrangler Jorge Santiago prepare to make their last stand on the roof of the barn, armed with only a potato cannon and the will to survive.

3. Chelsea is having trouble adjusting to her new home. None of the kids at school will talk to her. All of her teachers seem to want to expel her. But the real trouble begins when she runs afoul of the coven of vampires that keep her town perpetually shrouded in fog.

4. Mickey can't believe his luck when he lands a low-priced home on the waterfront--until the bodies start washing ashore. After recognizing one as his ex-wife, he starts to investigate. Big mistake. Will Mickey be the next body washed ashore at . . . Coldharbour Lane?

5. No one has lived there since the gruesome--and unsolved--murders three years ago. The Brownes know nothing about the murders when they buy the place. But they're about to find out the truth of what happened that night in the house on Coldharbour Lane. Will they survive to tell anyone else?

6. Michael buys a decrepit house, not realizing that the hippies next door have their marijuana crop on the property. What's worse, Michael's wife wants him to renovate the place into the world's greatest Georgian mansion, and Michael hates Georgian. Will their marriage survive the house on . . . Coldharbour Lane?



Original Version

Coldharbour Lane is a 100,000 word mainstream novel about a family whose plans are always in ruins.

Michael Galbraith buys decrepit houses, lives in them with his wife and three children during [amidst] all the dirt and disruption of renovation, and then, once he's restored them to perfection, sells up and moves on to the next. It's not a hobby; it's his life. Any period can become his favourite, except Georgian, which he hates. [That sentence doesn't belong there.]

Wife Rachel, a Professor of History, specialises in everything Georgian, and wants to combine Michael's mania with her in-depth knowledge to create a more perfectly-restored Georgian mansion than the world has yet seen. [Here's a better place to tell us about Michael's seething hatred of all things from Georgia.]

For the sake of family harmony, Michael agrees to view three walls and a chimney known as 8 Coldharbour Lane. But when he discovers mysterious ruins in the grounds, his imagination is captured by a much more exciting project: recreating a long-lost Roman villa.

Living in a leaky caravan, he labours on the villa by day and the mansion at night. Rachel can't understand how he can work so hard, yet achieve so little. [In other words, she doesn't know about the villa? Why is he keeping it secret from her? Even if he works on the villa while she's at work, wouldn't she notice a Roman villa taking shape on her property?] And why is he reading up on mosaics rather than Muff glass? [That was going to be my next question.]

The renovation project meets with mixed reactions from their new neighbours. The Britisher-than-thou Dhaliwals at number 2 set out to trump Rachel's period knowledge; [You teach the Georgian era? Why, our ancestors lived during the Georgian era.] the hippies squatting at number 4 think [Michael's] son Josh could be naive enough to be duped into tending their marijuana crop (it's behind the villa); [Hey kid, do me a favor and water my . . . uh . . . geraniums, would you?] and reclusive Mr White at number 6 has been pilfering artifacts from the villa site for years, and doesn't appreciate competition. [If you've been looting your neighbor's back yard for years and you still haven't got everything you want, it's time to give someone else a shot at it.] [Is the book a comedy, or are the neighbors just comic relief? It didn't sound that amusing up to here.]

But when the Department for Culture Media and Sport decides to list the mansion--as is-- [Not clear to me what this means. List it in real estate listings? List it as a historic landmark?] and the same Man From The Planning Dept who took Michael to court over the Case of the Pictish Roundhouse serves an enforcement notice on the villa, [and] then the police seal off the marijuana 'crime scene', it seems as if all the Galbraiths' plans really are ruined. [What's an enforcement notice? What does the Planning Dept. plan? Would I know these answers if I lived in Britain? Is the query going only to British publishers?]


Notes

While I'm a fan of specificity, I'm not familiar with the Case of the Pictish Roundhouse, so its mention means nothing to me. You could just say a man from the Planning Dept, with whom Michael had a previous dispute/brush/encounter, serves . . .

Have you considered scrapping this book and writing The Case of the Pictish Roundhouse? It sounds intriguing.

There's gotta be a decrepit Georgian mansion in better shape than three walls and a chimney. The Galbraiths usually renovate places good enough to live in. Now, for a project that's supposed to end up as the most perfectly restored Georgian mansion the world has seen, they start with rubble from the Battle of Britain?

As Georgian architecture was heavily influenced by classical Roman architecture, why is a guy who hates Georgian so obsessed with a Roman villa?

I'm sure this is more interesting than just watching the excruciatingly slow progress of an archaeological dig, but I'm not seeing the thread that holds it all together and makes me want to know what happens next and next. At least if Rachel knew Michael was working on the villa instead of her Georgian mansion there'd be more conflict. Can you have Michael dig up a dead body?

17 Comments on Face-Lift 480, last added: 10/23/2007
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