Appetizer: Set over approximately four years (between 1988 and 1991, through the middle school years and up into the beginning of Sophomore year) in San Francisco, Smile is a memoir of Raina's tween years and her painful quest to shape her teeth into a smile that wouldn't cause her embarrassment. It begins simply enough: Raina is to get braces. This plan is complicated when Raina trips while chasing a friend and lands on her face, damaging her two front teeth. Complications ensue.
Aside from the issues with finally getting her smile to be the way Raina wants it to be, she's also dealing with acne, having a crush, realizing what she wants to do with her life, needing her first bra, learning that some of her friends are not so much friends as they are frienemies AND getting her ears pierced. This book kind of reminded me of a puberty book (like Sex, Puberty and All That Stuff or What's Happening to My Body), but would be much less awkward for a young girl to receive or discuss with an adult.
At one point, Raina notes the need to talk about how tweens feel awkward about their bodies:
I feel like that is exactly what Smile does: starts a conversation to help girls to feel a little less freakish.
This memoir felt so honest and made me reflect on my own memories of being eleven-twelve-thirteen-fourteen-ish (for better or for worse). (For better...I focused in on the day I got my braces off in eighth grade. My teeth felt so slimy! Then, after I went back to school, Mike P., the boy I kinda-sorta had a crush on, was the first person to notice that my braces were gone. Very exciting.)
I really liked the way Raina's continuing battle to get her teeth problems under control provided a unifying conflict to bring the story together. The one aspect that weakened the text for me was the narration at the very end. The equivalent of a voice over, on p. 206 Raina makes comments like "Instead, I threw my passion into things I enjoyed, rather than feeling sorry for myself" and "I realized that I had been letting the way I looked on the outside affect how I felt on the inside."
*Barfs a little.*
I, of course, agree that these are important messages to give to tween (and even some adult!) readers, the way the narration came in to sum-up the message felt a little too overty/teachy-preachy/didacticy for my tastes.
You had me until page 206, Raina Telgemeier. Page 206.
Tasty Rating: !!!!