Smile

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

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 18 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 48 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.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written byAnne S. April 26, 2018

Be aware of mature content

It's a cute enough story about a girl and her issues with braces. However, the book has intrigued a younger audience than is appropriate. My 2nd grader cam... Continue reading
Adult Written byparent1372 April 25, 2020

AAA

Totally appropriate, teaches kids to love math, language and more. Absolutely nothing bad about this book! Children will definitely be smarter after 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
Kid, 10 years old February 18, 2020

I feel that ya'll is overreacting

This is a great book for 9+. There is mild bullying and stuff but it's a nice thing for bullied kids to hear about other's experiences. And come ON,... 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?

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Book details

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