Teeth issues defined Raina’s adolescence and Smile is an autobiographical graphic novel that follows her from 6th grade to 10th grade. When she first found out she needed braces to correct an overbite, she didn’t want them. Then one night after a Girl Scout meeting, she falls and knocks her two front teeth out (well, one was actually shoved up into her gum. *shudder*). Suddenly braces are the least of her problems! Over the next few years, her dentist tries every trick: he fuses her teeth to her bone; they don’t take. He pulls them and gives her fake teeth on a retainer. She gets headgear (she only has to wear it at night, thankfully). She gets braces and they attempt to shift her teeth and make new front teeth. Meanwhile, Raina is desperately trying to be normal and fit in at school, get a boy to notice her, and find friends who accept her for who she is. You know, she’s a teen.
Raina is about a year and a half older than me, so the pop culture of her teen years was also the pop culture of mine. She goes to see The Little Mermaid (although she acts too cool for it) and comes out mesmerized and convinced she wants to be an animator. She breaks with her longtime group of friends after years of small abuses and one unforgivable public humiliation, and that opens her up to finding like-minded friends who encourage her creativity. Raina does a great job of capturing special moments like finding out your passion could be a career, obsessing over a boy who has never even spoken to you, or realizing your friends aren’t really your friends. Her style of illustration is colorful, bold and straightforward. The art and text go together seamlessly, an advantage of being an author-illustrator, I imagine.
I felt sick reading the panels where Raina falls and is rushed to the dentist. Knocking out my teeth is a big fear of mine. Most fears I can manage by avoiding them, like roller coasters or public speaking, but losing my teeth could happen any number of ways! Anyone who knows me well knows that I love teeth. It’s what I look at when people speak and I’m positive I could recognize anyone I know (and most celebrities) from the nose down. As I read Smile, I kept flipping to look at the author photo in the back and I’m impressed! Everything looks normal. Raina never mentions what anything costs in the book, but I wonder the price tag on her smile. In any case, she turned her dental horror into a great coming-of-age story that won the 2011 Eisner Award for Best Publication for a Teen Audience. I hope she continues to mine her teen years for more awesome graphic novels!