Review: Smile


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I hated every minute of having braces.

Yes, that’s a dramatic statement since I’m sure there were times I didn’t think about my braces too much (plus I did also sleep, so I doubt I was doing too much hating in my sleep). But ultimately, I remember nearly two years of aching teeth and discomfort.

I don’t regret having braces but I adored the day I got them removed. Of course, then there was the retainer.

In the autobiographical Smile (Scholastic, 2010), sixth-grader Raina Telgemeier trips and knocks out one of her front teeth (and pushed the other up inside her gums — cue the cringing now). This began four long years of trips to the dentist and orthodontist and other -ists as they try to repair her mouth.

Along the way, she grow into herself. She deals with leaving her childhood behind as she experiences first crushes and fights with friends. There’s even an earthquake. Telgemeier’s art is animated and cute. It’s curvy and dynamic and filled with exaggerated facial expressions. It moves the story along and I love the subtle changes Raina goes through as she moves from girl to young teenager.

Telgemeier is only a few years older than I am so I could relate to the time period in which she came of age. I was delighted at how she wasn’t in a particular rush to grow up (she was a girl who loved video games and The Little Mermaid) and her family is loving and supportive. This was a refreshing portrayal of being a young teenager to me, and very easy to relate to.

(The scene where Sammy gives Raina a Valentine’s Day present and it’s painful and awkward for both of them? Yes, that happened to me, too.)

The dental aspect is handled in a playful way. Something that should be horrifying is rendered as fun. Onomatopoetic words such as “snap” “poke” and “twist” accompany scenes of the tightening of braces and Telgemeier’s art is always so lovely that nothing is ever too gross. The only scene that made me squirm was when Raina had her gums cleaned. Still, I did have my teeth ache in sympathy throughout the book.

While I didn’t (thankfully!) experience the kind of dental trauma that Telgemeier did, I still saw a lot of myself in her story. Smile is a quick and fun read. It’s a lovely book for any older child worried about middle school (or braces!) and for those of us who have been there. And that just about covers everyone.

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