Book Review of Smile by Raina Telgemeier - 2010

Summary - This graphic novel is (semi-autobiographically) about a sixth grade girl (author, Raina Telgemeier) who knocks her two front teeth out one night while playing with friends. The subsequent dental and orthodontic theatrics that play out are contextualized by the awkward maturation that accompanies growing up and going through puberty in San Francisco, circa 1989. The main character finds herself struggling not only with how she looks as a result of her accident, but also with the social relationships tweens naturally find themselves in during this time of their lives. Her tolerance for frustration with her friends is somewhat hormonally challenged, yet the normal/ideal relationship she manages to maintain with her family, especially being the eldest of three, with two very young siblings, assists her in maintaining some sort of equilibrium in the constant drama surrounding tweendom.

Review - Obviously, reading a graphic novel is a much more efficient process than reading a regular novel, simply because the reader doesn’t have as much text to wade through. This may superficially appear to be not quite as in-depth as the reader might want, but the graphics in a novel such as this tell the story just as well, if not better, than many pages of text could. At a point in the story when Raina is feeling the pressure from all aspects of her life changing as she goes through puberty, she is picturing her first kiss as being beautiful, if not ideal, in terms of context and partner, but when she sees herself in this fantasy, she realizes that she looks nothing like the idealized image of herself! From there, the following page is a full-spread color graphic of the various toiletries that are clearly a part of her daily hygiene and beauty regimen, inclusive of facewash, waxing products, deoderant, and skin creams (p. 162).

The story unfolds around the typical tweendom drama of friends, some of whom occasionally dabble in bullying Raina, leaving an adolescent mind to circumnavigate the rough social waters of good-natured ribbing met with witty responses, as opposed to aggressive teasing met with uber-sensitivity that matures into the ability to stand her ground. Meanwhile, the world continues to turn, with or without our heroine tween, Raina, at the center. The San Francisco earthquake of 1989 lays the groundwork for classic societal issues to take precedence in the life of a tween who couldn’t be more annoyed as an independent young woman, while trying to cope with the anxiety of having all of one’s daily needs put on hold due to emergency situations.

Raina certainly doesn’t breeze through all of this effortlessly; her guideposts ala orthodontic mapping serves to lead her through this difficult portion of life, via her teeth; this painful ritualistic growth serves the character well and allows her to become beautiful and mature in ways the tween reader would easily be able to sympathize, if not empathize, with.

Telgemeier, R. (2010) Smile. New York: Scholastic, Inc.

Graphic Novel - Coming of Age - Interest Level: Third to Sixth Grade

Reading Level: 3.0 = Third Grade