Smile

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
Smile Book Poster Image
Delightful graphic novel follows teen girl's teeth troubles.
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 11 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 30 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers get a glimpse of life in the late '80s and early '90s through historical details like no cell phones, old-fashioned video games, and the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake in San Francisco. There's also considerable  detail about orthodontia, which many teens and pre-teens will relate to.

Positive Messages

For the most part, Raina's struggles are ordinary teenage concerns: Will the boy she likes ever like her back? Is she cool enough? It's this ordinariness and the realistic depiction of how Raina overcomes her difficulties that make this graphic novel stand out. Most notably, Raina figures out that she doesn't need to put up with friends who don't like her for who she is, and she finds strength in following her own interests.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Raina is a likable girl with supportive and understanding parents. Though she makes some missteps, such as standing up a boy at a dance, it's her process of correcting those missteps that makes this such a relatable and true-to-life story. Readers will be encouraged and comforted by the path Raina takes to finding new friends that support her.

Violence

Although Smile is not a violent story, there are moments of teeth-related gore that might gross out some readers, especially when Raina falls and loses her front teeth and leaves a pool of blood on the asphalt.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Some pop culture icons are included, such as Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Bart Simpson, but they serve more as historical details that place the story in the late '80s/early '90s than attempts to push merchandise. Some products mentioned: Nintendo, Hi-C, Walgreen's, Noxema, Cover Girl, and a few other cosmetic brands.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the autobiographical graphic novel Smile follows author Raina Telgemeier through her real-life experiences of having her teeth knocked out and the years of orthodontic work that follow during her early teen years. Because the story is true (although the names of the characters have been changed), not all of Raina's dilemmas are solved in the neatly wrapped-up way of most middle-grade novels, which may be disappointing to some readers. Although the cartoony drawings may indicate a light, fun story -- and there are certainly elements of that -- Smile is also a meaningful story of a teen's journey to self-acceptance.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byillolibro November 28, 2012

I recommend reading the book yourself before you give it to anyone under the age of 12.

While there is a positive message to be gotten from this book, that one need not accept bullying and disrespect, I would caution there is talk of the effects of... Continue reading
Adult Written bysixthgradefun April 2, 2016

Cute book that's relatable for kids

Kids can relate to the characters in this book. The typical parts of growing up--how to accept others, how to get along with friends (or deal with a mean friend... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old May 24, 2013

Love this book!!!

I LOVE this book! It is just so good that you can't not read. Great for boys and girls, which is nice because many books for tweens are for only one gender... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byuma013 July 14, 2015

Very good with iffy parts

I think this graphic novel is great, but with iffy parts. Raina knocks out her 2 front teeth, Friends bully her about her teeth and parts of her appearance, ca... Continue reading

What's the story?

Like many 12-year-olds, Raina is apprehensive about getting braces. But when she trips and knocks out her two front teeth, the fate of her teeth becomes even more traumatic. For the next four years, we follow Raina through many trips to the orthodontist, mouth surgeries, and a variety of dental contraptions. Meanwhile, Raina starts middle school, gets a crush on a boy who barely notices her, experiences the Loma Prieta Earthquake in San Francisco, and deals with friends who are not always supportive and are sometimes downright mean. As Raina's teeth go through extensive changes, Raina learns to stand up for herself and discovers that following her own interests, especially art, will lead to healthy friendships with people who like her for who she is.

Is it any good?

Telgemeier's simple, clean drawings in a soft color palette are easily accessible even to readers new to graphic novels, and there is also a rich, complex story to delve into. Raina's experiences with her teeth as she goes through middle and high school serve as an excellent metaphor for her life: Her teeth will never be perfect, but with a little work, they get a lot better. In SMILE, through incidents both meaningful and trivial that span the course of several years, we watch author and illustrator Raina Telgemeier grow up. Readers will enjoy figuring out that The Little Mermaid influenced Raina's future as a cartoonist, and they may relate to how Raina can always find comfort in the art room at school. But one of Smile's most outstanding qualities is its spot-on depiction of the subtle way middle school girls can undermine one another and how Raina eventually figures out when friends make her feel more bad than good, she shouldn't accept it.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Raina's experiences with her teeth make her feel like a misfit. Have you ever gone through something that made you feel like you couldn't relate to your friends?

  • How does this graphic novel compare with others you've read? Do you react to it differently knowing that the story is from the author's real life?

  • Lots of friends tease each other playfully, but sometimes they can go too far, as Raina's friends did. What's off-limits for teasing among you and your friends?

  •  

Book details

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love graphic novels and coming-of-age books

Our editors recommend

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate