Thursday, May 6, 2010

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

I’ll be right up front: I thoroughly enjoyed Smile by Raina Telgemeier. It’s an extremely welcome addition to my ever growing collection of graphic novels. That needed to be said up front because of what comes next.

Ready? Here it comes.

Smile reminded me of wearing braces for – no lie – six years. Third grade to ninth grade, not counting the cemented retainer that lasted long after I could vote and enjoy certain frosty beverages. Smile reminded me of getting teeth pulled, wearing orthodontic headgear, shots of Novocain, “this won’t hurt a bit,” and dental surgery. Ms. Telgemeier and I share some common history.

It most certainly did NOT remind me of my days in girl scouts nor of the New Kids on the Block image on my retainer. Did. Not. Just saying.

You can see why that opening paragraph was needed now, right? Had I just started with braces and headgear and NKOTB, you’d have thought there was no way I was recommending this book. But I am. Just not necessarily for those reasons.

Smile, an autobiographical graphic novel, starts when Raina is in sixth grade. Raina is already set to get braces, but one accidental fall and subsequent face-plant later, she finds herself missing her two front teeth. What was once routine orthodontia now becomes much more serious. But while the story centers on her dental adventures, much more is going on, and I’m almost ashamed to admit that I nearly missed it.

Smile explores relationships between friends during the junior high years. What I thought was normal teasing, mostly anyway, was actually having a stronger effect on Raina than I noticed. The book is quick read, but the story goes from sixth grade into high school. I think the passage of time escaped me, and I missed Raina’s mounting frustration from years of comments.

After a final humiliating experience, one last time being the butt her friends’ jokes, Raina realizes the people she’s surrounded herself with are friends in name only. And she makes it perfectly clear to all involved. Raina’s decision is one I wish all kids had the strength to make – sooner than later.

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