Monday, August 16, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 194 (8/16) -- Smile by Raina Telgemeier

My younger son -- who I usually call "Thing 2" here, a nine-year-old going into the fourth grade next month -- just noticed Raina's Telgemeier's Smile over here by my computer, and said that he'd read it at the library on our last trip. "I wondered what it was about, so I read it," he said. We talked about it for a few minutes, until he had to get back to his video game. And nothing I can say about Smile, as an adult and a reader of graphic novels/comics for too many years, will be as strong a recommendation as that: a boy a few years younger than the main character pulled this book off the shelf, saw that it was about a girl growing up and her dental troubles, and read it all the way to the end anyway, enjoying it straight through.

Smile is a memoir in comics form, Telgemeier telling the story of her adolescence through her teeth and all of the parts of her life that spun out from them. When she was in sixth grade, she fell while running and knocked out her two front teeth -- the evening of the day her dentist told her she was going to have to wear braces. And so Raina -- not quite a teenager yet, but just beginning to worry about boys and popularity and whether she's acting her age or not -- spends much of the next few years either in the offices of various specialty dentists (endodontists, orthodontists, periodontists) or in pain from scrapings, headgear, and ever-tightening braces.

So, without ever being blunt about it, Smile is the story of young Raina's self-image; these were the years when she did most of her growing up, and those braces and headgear and doctors' appointments are the way she organizes her story of those years. Telgemeier tells that story in a sweetly cartoony style full of wide-open faces with clear, readable expressions; we feel what young Raina does by watching her face as she goes through all of this, and learn to know which friends are true and which aren't by separating the real smiles from the smirks. Telgemeier is equally strong at showing her life through incident and her thoughts at the time, keeping it all direct and specific and not encumbering her story with narration and after-the-fact reactions.

Smile is a fine story about growing up, in the best tradition -- by writing and drawing the story of her teeth and her tween years in early '90s San Francisco, Raina Telgemeier has created a sweet, lovely graphic novel for anyone who ever was in sixth grade -- or, as my son showed, is still looking forward to that time.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

Ray said...

I've a 7 year old Thing that I'm trying to wean off BeastQuest. He liked Captain Underpants, Danny the Champion of the World, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and is enjoying How to Tame your Dragon (but not enough to make me rush out and get the other books)
What have your older things liked? Either to read themselves or to have read to them?

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