In sixth grade, Raina Telgemeier fell while running and severely damaged her two front teeth. Because of that she had to endure four years of braces, headgear, retainers, surgeries, and more in an effort to make her teeth look and work the way they should. On top of all of that, she also had to deal with the usual problems of teenage life: middle school, high school, best friends who aren’t, low self-image, crushes on boys, etc. Smile is her story of trying to find her way.
Age Rating: 9-14, Grades: 4-8
Scholastic Graphix, February 2010
ISBN: 978-0-545-13205-3 (hdbk), ISBN: 978-0-545-13206-0 (pbk)
224 pages; $21.99 (hdbk), $10.99 (pbk)
Telgemeier has already proved that she can accurately portray the ups and downs of early adolescent life with her graphic novel adaptations of Ann M. Martin’s Babysitter Club books (also published by Scholastic Graphix). In Smile she uses her own history to talk to young teens and, by doing so, creates a level of authenticity which is hard to match. Even readers who aren’t forced to wear braces will identify with Telgemeier’s troubles with friends, feelings for the boy who ignores her, and difficulties figuring out just who she is. She doesn’t play the pity card; she just presents a situation and shows the reader how it made her feel. And since she was such an ordinary teen–not hugely popular, but not the bottom of the social heap–her experiences are accessible by a wide range of readers.
In her art it is clear that Telgemeier has a firm grasp of the comics medium. She never makes the mistake of telling what she could be showing. For example, when she develops a crush on Sean, a boy in her school, it occurs in two wordless panels, the emotions shown by blushing cheeks and a single, simple heart. Effective, age-appropriate, and believeable. Her characters are never childish, even if they are young. The young teens move from youthful bodies to the beginnings of womanly curves with just the right touch of awkwardness. Readers who enjoyed Telgemeier’s art in black and white in the Babysitter Club graphic novels will hopefully be thrilled to see that she’s in full color this time around. Stephanie Yue does the coloring and her bright, but not garish, color palette is a nice fit with Telgemeier’s deceptively simple style of art.
Even though this is a book about becoming a teenager, the physical details of adolescense are handled smoothly. There are some references to puberty, but nothing overly detailed, because Smile isn’t really about those physical changes. It’s about how something like braces or pigtails or wearing the wrong shirt can be life altering in middle school. How friends can affect how a teen sees him or herself for good or for bad. How the years between 12 and 15 are painful and strange. Telgemeier’s book is an excellent addition to middle school literature.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Scholastic Graphix.