Thursday, January 22, 2015

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: Smile

I have been reading more graphic novels this past year and thoroughly enjoyed Raina Telgemeier’s Drama and Sisters. Now, I finally got back to her earlier and most successful graphic novel (actually, a graphic memoir), Smile, and liked it just as much as her others.

Smile takes place in the years before Sisters and, like that other graphic memoir, is a story from Raina’s own childhood. It focuses on Raina’s adventures in orthodontia, which were far more extensive than most kids’ experiences just getting braces. It begins when Raina is twelve years old, and she knocks out her two front teeth in a freak accident, tripping in the road on a dark night, playing around with her friends after a Girl Scout meeting.

That accident changes Raina’s orthodontic plan from a mere set of braces to an elaborate years-long plan to somehow rebuild her smile. Along the way, she suffers through a lot of pain and discomfort, as well as embarrassment from being the kid in middle school with no front teeth! It’s a slow, difficult process.

This is more than a story about teeth and orthodontia, though. It’s a story about growing up, finding out who you are, finding the right group of friends, and becoming a teenager. Raina has extra obstacles to face, given her unique dental situation, but the other challenges she encounters are things that will be familiar to any adolescent: trying to fit in, wanting to be cool, having a crush, and finding friends who like you just the way you are.

As with Sisters, Telgemeier perfectly captures the agonies and joys of adolescence and growing up. Her colorful drawings are realistic and filled with details that complete the story. She remembers exactly what it is like to be a young teen and depicts those experiences with warmth and wit.

214 pages, Scholastic

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