Raina Telgemeier was about to embark on just your average, normal teenage experience when a quirk accident caused her to severely damage two of her teeth. That one night would lead to years of corrective surgeries, dental experiments, awkward headgear, and more. It seems, in fact, like it’s one thing after another and that anything that could possibly go wrong with her teeth did.
Raina grew up to work in comics, so she now recounts her story firsthand in SMILE. The story is about much more than just two front teeth, though. It’s a thoughtful, introspective look at growing up different, feeling ostracized, and knowing that there is a reason you simply don’t fit in. In that regard, it’s a story that we all can relate to, even if we didn’t wear dental headgear. Whether it’s issues of weight, looks, identity, appearance, social status, or anything else, coming of age is a test of the spirit and a true baptism by fire for just about all of us.
Telgemeier crafts a piece of work that is instantly relatable. We all know the worries of not quite fitting in, and we all know how sharp and cutting some teasing commentary --- said just in jest --- can truly be. Telgemeier expands on her dental experiences to include life in middle school and high school with friends who aren’t really true, so the story becomes universal and moving. Luckily for Telgemeier, she eventually finds a group of friends who really accept her for who she is.
Other major events take place, such as the San Francisco earthquake of 1989, but it’s the dental nightmare and its ripple effects that are the true story here. The story will resonate with most all young readers, and not just girls. Boys too will see themselves in Raina’s braces-bearing face, and adults will be able to look back (hopefully with wistful humor) on the silliness of all the traumas of growing up.
Reviewed by John Hogan on February 1, 2010