by Raina Telgemeier
Reviewed by Chris Bolton
Raina Telgemeier's Smile is a graphic novel for kids based on Telgemeier's real experiences in sixth grade when an accident knocked out one of her front teeth and pushed the other all the way into her gums. If that makes the book sound horrifying, you only have part of the picture.
Telgemeier turns her toothy memoir into a snapshot of her adolescent years. As she deals with some fairly traumatic -- and often surprisingly funny -- dental drama, Raina experiences as much (if not more) anguish from two-faced friends, judgmental peers, annoying younger siblings, and (of course) boys.
Handsomely illustrated and cleverly written by Telgemeier, Smile is a simple, fast-paced, yet unforgettable story that will resonate with anyone who survived those tumultuous teen years. Younger readers will likely relate to Raina's tribulations at school and home, and those who are facing the dreaded braces will certainly feel grateful they didn't have to live through Raina's trauma.
What elevates the book to a higher level is the humanity Telgemeier brings to her work. Her art is sharp and beautiful, capturing the rollicking sensation of those formative years, where a single day can start horribly and somehow plummet even lower before suddenly rocketing to joyous heights. As a character, Raina is smart, headstrong, typically neurotic, and truly endearing. Smile isn't a penetrating memoir anywhere near the scale of Blankets or Fun Home, but readers of all ages will find its little tremors cause big aftershocks.
÷ ÷ ÷
Chris Bolton co-created the all-ages web-comic Smash, about a ten-year-old superhero, and created the web-series Wage Slaves, the second season of which premieres in March 2010. His short story set in Powell's City of Books, "The Red Room," can be found in Portland Noir.