Sunday, July 17, 2016

Smile (Raina Telgemeier)

Title: Smile

Author/Illustrator: Raina Telgemeier

Target Ages: 11-15

Genre: Memoir/Graphic Novel

Awards:  Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Winner, Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book, New York Times Editor’s Choice

Publisher Summary:
“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. Raina’s story takes us from middle school to high school, where she discovers her artistic voice, finds out what true friendship really means, and where she can finally…smile.”

I recently reviewed Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters, which I loved. In many ways, I think I like Smile even more. 

The structure of the book is centered around Raina’s journey for the perfect physical smile. Many (myself included) will empathize with her journey—getting her front teeth knocked out, braces, root canals, head gear, and more. I cringed many times at the painful experiences!

Teen angst abounds from crushes to embarrassing moments to body changes.  For instance, she develops a crush on a boy in her band class, but loses interest in him before he loses interest in her—causing awkwardness for both of them.  Unfortunately, her next crush is long and unrequited. Also, she is often mocked and teased by her “friends.” One of the worst experiences is when they pulled down her skirt during lunch! Of course, she must go to school with zits, a lack of fashion sense, and tons of teeth problems. These types of issues plague most people as they move through middle school and into high school, making her memoir highly engaging and relevant.

The heart of the narrative, though, is Raina’s emotional journey. Like most adolescents, she struggles with feeling awkward, trying to fit in, and going through puberty. She has a toxic group of friends who exploit her insecurities further.  When she finally comes to realize how awful they are and makes new friends, her confidence and outlook change dramatically. Raina learns to smile at life. 

She ends with a timeless epiphany:
“My life didn’t magically turn perfect after that…Instead, I threw my passion into things I enjoyed, rather than feeling sorry for myself.  I realized that I had been letting the way I looked on the outside affect how I felt on the inside. But the more I focused on my interests, the more it brought out things I liked about myself. And that affected the way other people saw me!”

I highly recommend Smile for middle grade and teen readers.  The graphic novel format is ideal for reluctant readers.  The motifs are realistic and relatable for all ages. 

Historical Connections:
San Francisco Earthquake (1989)

For more Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, visit Shannon Messenger's Blog.


  1. Sounds like a great read and one middle graders will relate to with the braces that so many have to get when they are so conscious about their appearances. I haven't read any graphic novels. I should give it a try.

    1. This book and author is a perfect starting point for trying a graphic novel. I like the clean lines and uncluttered illustrations.

  2. The simple cover draws kids into this one. The format and story are also appealing. Thanks. I enjoyed your review.

  3. Thanks. Hope you get a chance to check this one out.

  4. I've heard so many great things about this book. It's been on my TBR list for a while. Thanks for the reminder. Nice review!

  5. I've seen a lot of kids check this out at the school library. I had no idea it was a memoir!

  6. My granddaughter got me to read this book. I really liked it a lot. Thanks for reminding me of why I liked it.


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