Book Title: Smile
Author: Raina Telgemeier
Style: Graphic Novel
Target Audience: Young Adult
Genres: Non-Fiction, Autobiography
Page Count: 200
Format: Hardcover (library copy)
Reading time: 45 min
Date Finished: 1/09/17
My impressions: Smile is another autobiographical work by Raina Telgemeier about a period of her life (between the sixth and ninth grades) where she went through extensive orthodontic treatment to repair an injury to her mouth that resulted in the injury of her two front teeth. But the book could equally be said to be about the awkwardness of growing up in general, because it also touches on surviving an earthquake, interacting with boys, enduring abuse from friends and finding new ways to fit in. There’s a lot of depth to this seemingly simple graphic novel, and it’s not a surprise that it was an Eisner award winner (a high honor in the world of comics).
Whereas Sisters focuses on a narrow band of time and has many flashbacks, Smile is a more sequential narrative focused on different vignettes in Telgemeier’s time growing up. Her family isn’t quite so prominent in this story, though her mom has some pretty good scenes. Pain is a central theme, both the literal pain of having major orthodontic work done and the growing pains involved in navigating the social awkwardness of middle school. And much like Sisters, that pain doesn’t just come from the world bearing down on Telgemeier; she is unafraid to show how her own actions made things worse and to even offer a sad look into how she hurt the feelings of a boy who had a crush on her because she was unsure how to handle his affections.
It’s good stuff, and it offers a great reminder of what it feels like to be an awkward kid, growing up and learning how to get along in a world where your every imperfection is fodder for others to treat you badly and where everyone you meet is just as insecure as you are. The story is well-told and doesn’t pander; it feels authentic and does a great job of saying something real about life without hitting the reader over the head with moral lessons.
Much like Sisters, it’s also a book that an adult can read and not feel like the story’s too juvenile to appreciate. In fact, I chuckled quite a bit through the book since, I suspect, I read it very different as an adult who’s had many of the same experiences rather than as a teenager who’s newly navigating them. If you can remember what it’s like to wear orthodontic gear or to have crushes or to find out that your friends have it in for you or to feel like you don’t quite fit in with the rest of the world, you’ll be able to relate to this book. I sure did.