Graphic Novel Review: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

smile - raina telgemeier book review

Summary: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

In her graphic memoir Smile, Raina is just trying to enjoy being a sixth grader when an accident severely injures her two front teeth. Thus begins an unending series of visits to dentists and different treatment options. Throughout this process, Raina still has middle school to tackle. Her friends are sometimes insensitive toward the things that matter to her and she’s finding herself newly developing crushes on boys, even as she’s too embarrassed to smile, thanks to the braces, head gear, retainer, and other contraptions she has to wear throughout the course of this book.

Smile follows Telgemeier from sixth grade until high school as each attempt to rectify the situation with her teeth is stumped and doctors are forced to try a different route.

The Good

I truly admire Telgemeier’s ability to share her life stories as graphic memoirs, and create an enjoyable plot out of a story spanning over two years. Raina is very likable and goes through many relatable middle school woes, made even more agonizing by her dental issues. Although her dental issues do affect her self-image, I thought she did a fantastic job of holding strong. At that age, I might not have handled things as well as she did.

Another interesting aspect of this book for me is Raina’s dental problems. I loved learning about how dentists handle issues such as hers, and her experience was both frightening and comforting, because at least if I ever had such an accident, I’d have a good shot at recovering, no? We don’t see a lot of Raina’s family in this story as most of it happens at school, but they are still a reassuring presence, especially her mom.

Telgemeier handles crushes realistically — not every school crush becomes a boyfriend, and sometimes you switch crushes very quickly. Finally, bullying and unhealthy friendships feature in this story. Raina quickly learns that sometimes your friends aren’t good for you, and it was refreshing to see her remover herself from those relationships. Kids are still so new to friendships that sometimes they may allow themselves be treated poorly. I liked that Raina knew when it was enough for her.

Overall: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Telgemeier’s Smile isn’t my favorite graphic novel/memoir from her, but it’s still one I enjoyed reading. This coming-of-age memoir highlights several important themes include body image issues, unhealthy friendships, crushes, and bullying. Spanning the period from sixth grade to high school, this novel features a dynamic, relatable protagonist and will appeal to kids a variety of ages. If you like books that teach you a bit about medicine/dentistry, this is also an excellent pick in that regard.

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More Graphic Novel Review

Have you read this book or any other graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier? If you’re looking for more middle school graphic novels, check out this list with 36 options.

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