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.
Smile is based on author Raina Telgemeier’s middle school and high school years so it’s set in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with references to events and pop culture of the time. When Raina goes to see a movie, it’s The Little Mermaid, and when she plays video games, it’s Super Mario Bros. on her old-school Nintendo. Raina’s personal story is centered around her dental issue that began in sixth grade when she injures her two front teeth, but it’s about a lot more than that.
Even though I never had braces, let alone went through what she did with her teeth, it was so easy to relate to Raina. She writes about things common to the middle school experience: friends, family, boys, dances, boy-girl parties, starting high school, and other important moments involved in growing up. For some that includes getting braces. For others, it’s getting your ears pierced.
In the graphics, little details matter, and I even caught Raina wearing the same sweaters more than once. It’s very realistic, but how often would you see that on TV? Her mother wore one of them, too (although the pocket was on the left when Raina wore it and on the right on her mother). It was fun to see how everyone in Raina’s group changed in appearance as they grew up, not just Raina, but her friends and siblings, too.
I haven’t read many graphic novels, but Raina Telgemeier has illustrated most the ones I have read. I picked up The Baby-sitter’s Club graphic novels (her Kristy reminds me a lot of Raina in Smile) a few years ago and I’m looking forward to the companion book to Smile, due out in August.