Smile book review

A comic book relatable for young teens


In Smile, an illustrated personal narrative of author Raina Telgemeier’s life in the form of a graphic novel, watch the author’s accident of falling on her face to find her two front teeth gone, progress to years of dental drama with on-again-off-again braces, dental surgeries and dentures meanwhile struggling with the pressures of growing up during teenhood, to reach a point where she could finally smile again.

The transition from middle school to high school is stressful, it’s a time where someone is not really a kid, but not an adult either, and while this goes on in addition to a few missing teeth, Smile by Raina Telgemeier accounts her personal experiences of struggles to get to a point where she could finally smile again.

Set in 1991, Telgemeier’s teen years consisted of Girl Scouts, phonebooks, the release of the Little Mermaid, Mario brothers, missing teeth, headgear, countless dental surgeries, earrings, more earrings, makeup, fake friends and boy confusion; all of which shaped her to the person she became by the end of her story. Growing from preteen to teen is difficult enough, but for Telgemeier, during a contest to run back home from a girl scouts meeting at the age of 12, when trying to catch up to her friend she tripped and fell on her face. Her arms and legs were still intact, but she lost two of her teeth. 

Luckily enough, Telgemeier’s parents took her straight away to the dentist to have them secured in place with a white cast which would then be removed after a couple weeks. During this period, she dealt with her classmates poking fun at her in classes. A couple weeks pass, Telgemeier gets the cast removed and her teeth are in place, but are shoved way higher than the rest of them. Throughout her years from seventh to ninth grade, Raina deals with these constant disappointments as she deals with treatment, surgeries, and constant back-to-back appointments to get her smile back. Meanwhile, she experiences what most teens do, acne, anxiety, boy confusion, an earthquake and finding out who the right people were to keep around her.

The comic book is an amazing read, and although the time at which the story is set has a few elements which readers may not know, the struggles of a teen are so well-described. It is said that a picture holds a thousand words. Since the story is illustrated in a dialogue, picture-book sort of way, readers can better interpret the setting, the feeling, and live as though we are Telgemeier.

A memorable part about this book is when Telgemeier finally stood up for herself when she was in the eighth grade against her “friends.” The type who, every time Telgemeier was insulted for her teeth and acne, would laugh along with the bullies. Telgemeier is incredibly strong to endure all the treatments both through her smile journey and mistreatment of those around her in the school setting.

With the graphic novel being 213 pages long, Smile is an amazing piece of art suitable for all ages and a surprisingly quick read. The tone remains nostalgic and worrisome at some points. It’s a realistic portrayal of a girl’s teen years, but with a toothy spin.

Smile by Raina Telegemeier, a #1 New York Times Bestseller, rates five out of five comic books.