The message in this book will make you smile.
Smile by Raina Telgemeier is a graphic novel memoir inspired by the author’s experience as a middle school student who received extensive dental work after an accident that took out her two front teeth. After the accient, Raina loses a lot of self-confidence, but as she grows older, she becomes more confident in herself and learns what is truly important.
I remember when this book came out around ten years ago because I literally saw it everywhere. I don’t remember graphic novels being as huge at the time, and as someone who strictly read contemporary YA at the time, I never picked it up. Now that I’m older, I have expanded my reading, and recently, I’ve been trying to pick up more books targeted for middle grade.
In the past few years, I’ve read quite a few graphic novels that I enjoyed, like El Deafo by Cece Bell and Best Friends by Shannon Hale, both of which are graphic novel memoirs. I was pleasantly surprised that Smile is also a graphic novel memoir, as I didn’t know this when it became popular so long ago. While Smile isn’t my favorite graphic novel, I still think it has a valuable message as well as relatable characters for the graphic novel’s target audience.
As someone who has never had braces, or any major dental work besides removing my wisdom teeth, I appreciated how Telgemeier explained a lot of the dental work that she received in this book. While I’ve seen other people get braces, I have never personally felt the physical pain that they can cause or how they may affect how someone feels about their appearance. I think Telgemeier’s explanations, especially regarding her emotions on her appearance, makes the book relatable to many readers. Even if you have never had braces, in middle school there are a lot of people who feel self conscious about how they look for a multitude of reasons, and it is comforting to read that you’re not the only person who felt that way.
I also enjoyed how Raina grew as a person throughout her experience with braces and as a student in middle school. At the beginning of the graphic novel, Raina’s “friends” frequently make fun of her and walk all over her. However, as she grows older and gains more confidence, she stands up for herself and becomes more comfortable in her skin. Even though this book doesn’t take place in 2020, it is still a relevant message that is important for young readers to hear.
Overall, Smile is a quick read with a relatable and positive message for young readers. While it wasn’t my favorite graphic novel, it is still a solid story, especially for the target audience. I give Smile three out of five stars and I look forward to checking out more graphic novels by this author.