Smile by Raina Telgemeier
In sixth grade, Raina is not looking forward to getting braces. But then a freak accident turns what was going to be a routine procedure into an ongoing dental hell. And so, Raina’s journey through middle school and into high school is marked by the progress of her smile. It’s a fantastic, honest look into the lives of middle schoolers, especially the quite common phenomenon of being friends with people who aren’t really all that nice to you.
Raina struggles with her self-image throughout, something that is so common with kids that age. Her difficulties are amplified by the fact that her friends are more likely to tease her or mock her than support her. As the book progresses Raina learns how to handle these situations with her peers. It’s very well done and like Roller Girl, it features an ending that doesn’t show the mean kids suddenly having a change of heart and becoming trustworthy, kind people. I have a huge appreciation for these books that show kids that often the people who hurt you the most aren’t random bullies, but the people you trust with your emotional well being. It’s really, really important that kids read about these types of peer relationships because they are so common. The only thing I didn’t love about the resolution was when it said “But the more I focused on my interests, the more it brought out things I liked about myself. And that affected the way other people saw me.” It’s true! I know it’s true!! But I think if I’d read it when I was that age I would have rolled my eyes. It has a faint undertone of blaming the person who is being bullied or who has less-than-stellar friends. I swear, I know it’s important to learn, but the inner tween in me won’t stand for it.
While the heart of the book is Raina’s life and friendships and crushes, the medical aspects of this can’t be overlooked. Because her dental issues are so severe, they take up quite a bit of the story. And the details of her procedures are not for the squeamish (aka: ME!). Definitely use caution when recommending this to kids with significant phobias around dental and orthodontic procedures.
Age Recommendation: This will resonate most with kids in Grades 4-10. Readers may appreciate it more if they are of an age where they are starting to notice other people in a romantic way. It will also ring more true for kids who are experiencing the same things in their own lives: braces, transitions between schools, dealing with your peer group.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – A girl wants cute boys to like her. She develops a crush on a classmate. She develops a crush on a different classmate. There’s a lot of wondering if people are asking you out. There’s practice flirting. There’s wondering if you should change yourself for someone. Kids play spin the bottle at a party and kids are shown kissing each other with reactions usually along the lines of “ew”.
Profanity – “jerk”, “darn”,
Death, Violence and Gore – Raina falls and has an accident that requires her to have dental surgery. There’s quite a bit of blood shown prior to the surgery, but nothing during the actual surgery. There are multiple root canals and surgeries on her mouth. I will admit to repeating “ew ew ew ew” under my breath throughout this entire section. There’s an earthquake (an actual historical earthquake) that results in deaths and injuries. An image of the collapse bridge is shown, but it is shown empty of cars.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.