Series: Smile #1
In sixth grade, Raina trips while racing and suddenly her life is filled with dental appointments, braces, fake teeth, and a whole lot of embarrassment. How can a girl feel like she belongs in high school when she feels like everyone is staring at her mouth?
It’s not difficult to see why Smile won an Eisner award and regularly flies off the library shelf. Semi-autobiographical in nature, the book tells the story of Telgemeier’s tween and teen years, after she trips during a race and injures her two front teeth. Faced with the possibility of having a misshapen smile for the rest of her life, or having to wear embarrassing dental equipment, Raina finds herself lacking self-confidence and struggling to fit in at high school. It’s a coming-of-age story many will surely relate to.
Even so, I admit I did not really see myself in Raina. I never understood why so many students hate braces because it seems like most people wear them at some point. And it was difficult for me to understand why Raina took so long to realize that her friends were treating her badly, or why she cared that she had to wear awkward orthodontia at night in the privacy of her own home. I suppose in many ways I was a much more self-assured and self-confident teen than Raina. But I think her struggles at fitting in can still be relatable to readers. Perhaps Raina is self-conscious about her mouth. Most readers will be able to understand her self-consciousness in some way or another.
I was not totally blown away by Smile, as I expected to be based on its popularity. However, it’s a nice story about one girl learning to find her way through high school. And it’s engaging with its bright colors and the well-timed sense of humor. I understand why younger readers like it so much, even if I didn’t feel particularly invested in the story myself.