Smile by Raina Telgemeier

smile Smile
Raina Telgemeier
New York: Graphix, 2010.
213 pages, chiefly col. ill.

Meet Raina a gawky, uncomfortable girl in grade-six, facing more than just typical puberty discomforts. While running home after Girl Guides, Raina trips, knocking out her front teeth, and simultaneously knocking down her self-confidence a few pegs. Correcting her smile takes years, numerous painful surgeries and a whole lot of comfort gained from watching The Little Mermaid and playing Nintendo.

The comic is charming and adorable. Raina’s discomfort with her appearance – while more extreme than most other ‘brace-faces’, or new glasses wearers – is very relatable. From changing schools, to having friends maturing more quickly than she is, to realizing maybe those people are not her friends, and finding her own niche, Raina’s experience reflects in some way the past experiences of most adults and the current experiences of pre-teens and teens.

For readers today, some of the references won’t be recognizable or appreciated in the way that they will be for those who were teens in the 90s and 00s. While most grade sixes are probably be familiar with The Little Mermaid, other references like old school Nintendo games, hair scrunchies, The Baby-Sitter Club books, Y.M. magazine, and New Kids on the Block, may not be as familiar. In not picking up or understanding these references, younger readers will not lose out on the relatability of the storyline, but it is an added benefit for older readers.

The illustrations are bright and clear. Every frame directly relates to the narrative, adding small details and visualizations that enhance Raina’s experiences, especially because the reader has the chance to really see just how horrible her teeth situation becomes. Raina Telgemeier’s retelling of her extreme dental situation, and less extreme experiences through middle school are very clearly portrayed, and made very relatable to the reader in this medium.

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