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.
I very rarely spend time on books meant for younger audiences because, well, I’m just not that young anymore. They’re often too simplistic for my tastes (which is not a criticism of the genre because, again, I am not the target audience). I heard great things about the audio version of this book, however, so I decided to hedge a spare Audible credit I had on it.
TTMoS’ story is decent, but not amazing. It is well-written and I can see where the young ‘uns will love it. The characters are endearing and varied, the dialogue is snazzy, the jokes are funny (if juvenile which, again, is appropriate here), and the setting is pretty epic (I mean, who at that age – or any age – doesn’t like an alien invasion?).
Still, the plot is only serviceable and not particularly engaging – it moves in a pretty linear direction, without many twists or turns to speak of. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable though, because it is. I mean, it has cats as a main plot device and that’s always a win. It’s just that that it probably will not be in the running for my Top 10 books of the year.
A list it will end up on (and top), though, is for my audiobooks of the year. To put it simply, this is the best book I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.
Narrator Bahni Turpin’s delivery is as nuanced as it is overtly impressive. She pulls off, with apparent ease, an incredible range of voices. It is by far the most diverse repertoire of unique voices I have ever heard on a single recording and the most awe-inspiring thing is that she manages to make characters from each alien race sound similar to each other (but different from other races) while still maintaining some individuality. Plus, her delivery of J.Lo makes the character a lot more adorable and affable than it has any right to be.
While that ridiculous repertoire is the most obviously impressive aspect of her delivery, Taupin is also great at subtly emoting the heck out of every piece of dialogue. I don’t only understand what each character is going through – I feel that experience, which is something I never expected from a children’s book.
If you’re just getting a book to read, I’d say this one would be a middling Borrow. If you are considering audiobooks, however, it has to be one of the strongest Buys I have ever recommended. Every audiobook I listen to from now on has to consider its market spoiled.