getting to smile

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“Handsomely illustrated and cleverly written by Telgemeier, Smile is a simple, fast-paced, yet unforgettable story that will resonate with anyone who survived those tumultuous teen years. Younger readers will likely relate to Raina’s tribulations at school and home, and those who are facing the dreaded braces will certainly feel grateful they didn’t have to live through Raina’s trauma.” Chris Bolton, Powells.com review.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

color by Stephanie Yue

Scholastic (2010)

(Tradepaper) 192 pages.

Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth. What follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there’s still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly.

This coming-of-age true story is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever been in middle school, and especially those who have ever had a bit of their own dental drama. ~Publisher’s Comments

When it comes to Raina Telgemeier’s Graphic Novel Smile I am late for the blogosphere party. I was only mildly interested, but when I was at the Library picking up a few Holds, I was scanning the Teen Comic Section and decided to finally give it a read.

192 pages; nice color work; easy-on-the-eyes, energetic drawing: these counteract the painful travails of our star Raina’s Dental  and Adolescent History.  I love how the use of Dental Drama makes negotiating adolescence seem less painful while still adding to the angst.

Smile is drawn from Telgemeier’s real life. It started as a comic run on the web and then the novel was born. The story follows Raina from accident to saying goodbye to her dentist years later, using Dental visits/operations as a means to carry the timeline from 6th into High School. In the meantime, there are boys and friends and finding the self and trying to maintain the self.

Smile is one of those novels built to reassure adolescents that they will survive and the experiences can have value. In any conversation on normal, it seems normal is ill-defined, or at least impossible to achieve and it isn’t fun. Raina makes the difficult decisions to be true to herself in several occasions and it does appear to work out—and yet Telgemeier does not skate over the pain in those interactions. Her drawing emotes quite effectively.

All is not angst ridden and wrenching, there is humor. I hope the young audience finds the relief in the comedy, the character’s wit lightens the weight of many difficult moments.

Telgemeier tells of her youth with all the historical markers, pop culture or otherwise. I didn’t have to check the footnote to know who Joe McIntyre was (Telgemeier is a year older than I), but the footnote was nice (109). The Earthquake sequence was an odd moment in the story. It felt awkward, and while it does serve as a historical marker on a timeline, it seemed random otherwise, like “hey, I lived through this devastation when I was young.” That link, to living through a devastation, is the only connection I can make to its service to the novel. Other transitions move more smoothly along the progression of story.

If you are familiar with the Children’s Comic shelf at your local Library you’ll recognize Telgemeier from the Babysitter’s Club graphic translations. Her style is highly accessible.

In Smile the panel format is (usual) straightforward. You’ll not see much extending beyond the frame, nor will you note many unusual changes in text. Smile as a novel is very straightforward if not simple (not in a bad way). It is as dynamic in presentation as it needs to be—effective.

Smile gets kudos for the unusual premise for a usual topic. It has an accessible style, energy, and humor. Easily handed over to girls or adult women who aren’t much into comics.

*******

publishing recommended ages 8-12. I think it sits nicely on the Teen shelf; is certainly middle-grade as well. People with Dental Drama’s of their own will appreciate this read.

NY Times Review by Elizabeth Bird. A good and helpful review, except for the part where she compares Smile to Stitches by David Small—that was a stretch. There are others’ work that comes to mind. If you like Smile and are interested in other comics/graphic novels, let me know.

Raina Telgemeier's site. webcomic link.

art: 1-found in relation to webcomic.  2-cover, obviously. 3-promo drawing. 4-p 39. 5-left, p 31, her friends are not shy in sharing their thoughts. In Smile, it’s in color. 6-p 91. 7-p 40

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