August: Smile, by Raina Telgemeier

When Raina trips and knocks out her two front teeth, it sets off a long process of painful orthondontia and oral surgery. It couldn’t come at a worse time, since she’s just started middle school. Suddenly she’s dealing with cruel, catty friends, confusing new crushes, her own changing body, and friends who are growing up at different rates than she is plus a mouthful of metal on top of it.
I already knew Raina did a wonderful job of depicting tweenage growing pains, thanks to her fantastic work on the Baby-sitters Club graphic novels, but this autobiographical story is where she really shines. Her anxieties and confusion are so relatable it hurts (especially if, like me, you also did severe damage to your two front teeth as a kid and had a string of painful dental procedures as a result. I realize that’s not a common affliction). Everyone who’s ever been a pre-teen girl and probably a fair number of people who haven’t can probably find something of themselves in Raina’s hurt at being ostracized by her friends, or her difficulty grappling with awkward crushes, both as the crusher and crushee. And on the off chance that you can’t relate to any of that well, the writing is still compelling, funny, and heartbreaking, so it’s pretty much a win/win.
As always, I’m in love with Raina’s bright, cartoony, expressive art, which makes the gags ten times funnier while still bringing home Raina’s moments of isolation, and makes her ongoing dental nightmare horrible but not gruesome. I could look at this artwork for hours, even without dialogue.
Oh, and did I mention Raina’s circle of friends is noticeably multiethnic? Shocking but true!
Smile is a funny, painful read that really captures the angst of middle school without ever losing its optimism. I would recommend for it any girl struggling through her tween years or anyone else.

Violence: None, unless Raina’s accident at the beginning counts.
Sexualized Violence: None.
Gender: The female protagonist has a mother and a sister who play major roles, and a good-sized group of female friends.
The Bechdel-Wallace Test: Passes like the wind!
Minorities: Raina’s group of friends includes a wide spectrum of skin colors, which is refreshingly not an issue.
Parents May Wish to Be Aware: Some of the dental scenes are mildly gross and scary.

  • Review by Jessica Plummer
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