MMGM and #IMWAYR: Smile!

Fun fact—this post contains two made-up hashtags and an unprompted Star Wars reference! You're welcome.

Also, I'm continuing with my Raina Telgemeier re-read with the eternal classic. I'm probably going to pause the re-read for a bit, but I'll be pumped to get to Sisters and Guts soon!

For now, though, let's talk about the book that changed everything...Smile!

Middle Grade

Smile

Written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
Graphic memoir · 2010 · Re-review (see original review)

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after Girl Scouts she trips and falls, severely injuring her two front teeth, and what follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there’s still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly. This coming-of-age true story is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever been in middle school, and especially those who have ever had a bit of their own dental drama.

· · · · · ·

I'll direct you to my original (old-ish) review of this classic graphic memoir if you want even more dissection of it—but for my re-read, I'm going to share five key thoughts:
  • Raina Telgemeier writes in the back matter of my Smile collector's edition (#humblebrag) that "being able to laugh at trauma and misfortune is something everyone seems to appreciate." So many people certainly relate to the twists and turns and pain and absurdity of the medical chaos comprising Telgemeier's story. And honestly, I do wonder if some voyeurism and downward comparison sneak into the equation as well. But also, I think something about Telgemeier's frank willingness to let you into her story (which can't have been as easy to do as she makes it look) feels like an act of compassion to the reader. It's like she's saying, "Stop worrying about your life right now—worry about mine for a bit instead."
  • It's incredible to me, as a permanent overanalyzer, how Telgemeier never overanalyzes her own childhood in Smile. She gets all the subtext in there, but the focus is always on how she felt and thought at the age she was in the story. She's able to unearth her memories and present them in a way that feels like a pure, unadulterated dose of childhood—it works so well.
  • And this is one of those stories, like Best Friends a few weeks ago, that brings hope—hope that things won't stay hard forever, and that the pain of childhood eases with time. And part of how Smile brings that hope is by demonstrating, beautifullyhow everyone has the right to set boundaries, stand up for themselves, and take care of themselves—including teenage Raina.
  • OK, also, can we get some applause for Raina's mom?! Telgemeier writes in the back matter that "She was my hero for sticking with me through all of my dental ups and downs." She's clearly not having a fun time with her daughter's situation, yet she pushes through with aplomb and makes sure child Raina feels loved and cared for. Just, wow. #parentinggoals
  • And there are so many little things scattered through this story that I love. We hear about The Little Mermaid, a giant earthquake, even a smidge of Nintendo gaming (on an NES, no less!). Telgemeier's facial expression game is on point once again—like, forget all the other technical and philosophical reasons this story works well as a comic, because just seeing people yelling with their tongues sticking out and absolutely hearing it in your head is reason enough for this format. Oh, and there's even a panel showing Telgemeier's ensemble days in high school, which as I mentioned last week, inspired her book Drama!
OK, I'm cheating and adding a sixth thing. In the thirteen years since Telgemeier released this comforting, thoughtful, and irresistible story into the world, it's changed the kidlit landscape in unmistakable ways. Telgemeier writes in the back matter that I'm apparently so fond of quoting that "Smile was published at a time when most people associated graphic novels with action and fantasy." This was not the first graphic novel to make a major dent in the kidlit space (in fact, I'm hoping to discuss another soon on this very blog), but I'd argue it was the first to shatter those action/fantasy connections (and associated stereotypes of comics as only for boys), thus revealing the ability of comics and graphic novels to hold any story, for any reader. This book is a gift not only for the story it brings for the table, but for the countless other stories it helped open the door for...and for that, we have Raina Telgemeier to thank. 👏

Bookish thoughts:

Y'all, if my plans work out the way I have reason to believe they will, then I am about to read so many books, you don't even know. It's going to be so good.

That's all for now—may the books be with you! ✨✨

Comments

  1. Graphic novels are a great way to process trauma and give younger readers a way to connect with others who have had similar experiences to them. I love that realistic graphic novels are a thing now.

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  2. Stories that show us that bad times will pass are so important. That's great you love this one enough to reread it with so many new books to choose from.

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  3. Love your #hunblebrag hashtag! :) This sounds like a story a lot of kids can relate to, when you are self-conscious anyway to have braces and dental work is really tough! I hadn't thought of graphic novels that way, but now that you say it, yes, graphic novels were dominated by action and fantasy, and I guess their success made publishers consider other genres. Thanks for the recommendation and glad you have a great line up of books waiting for you!

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  4. Early on, my granddaughters read Smile, & then the others by Raina Telgemeier, as they were going through "some things". The books were a blessing & then they got the joy of seeing her in person! Now the books are older & I hope many others are discovering them, too. Thanks for the added bonuses of what Smile has meant to readers, Max!

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  5. Your review brought back fond memories of reading SMILE then passing it along to a 12-year-old boy who recently had crash landed his face into a sign post while skateboarding. It helped him keep a positive spin on what he was going through to repair his front teeth. He's a smiley 20+ year old now, Books can be your best friend in time of need. Thanks for bringing back another classic on this week's MMGM.

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  6. It is unbelievable that this book has been around for thirteen years! I'm so glad there are realistic graphic novels out there for those kids who enjoy reading about life drama and family and friendships and such.

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  7. Sounds very relatable and I like that it's in a graphic novel format. Will need to check this one out for sure. Happy MMGM to you.

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  8. Your review makes me want to embark on my own rereading on some classic graphic novels. Thank you!

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  9. Smile is such a brilliant book--thank you for highlighting this older but great title :)
    Happy reading this week!

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  10. Raina Telgemeier is such a a rock star in the graphic novel world. It is kind of exciting to think about the days when kidlit graphic novels were still on the verge of becoming the juggernaut it is now.

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  11. This sounds like a great story. Her books circulate well at our local library, and I’ve been meaning to read them. Have you read her book Ghosts? We just got that one in.

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  12. I have not read this one yet- but I do love graphic novels and I know a lot of kids and adults who have enjoyed it. Thanks for putting it back on my radar. :)

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  13. Raina Telgemeier's books were always very popular when I was still working in the library! I suspect they still are. I liked that both boys and girls read them. I'm really looking forward to introducing them to my own grandchildren in a few years.

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