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  New York Times Review

IF it is a rite of passage to become your most unattractive self when you first hit adolescence, what would it be like if you added traumatic dental surgery on top? Raina Telgemeier knows because it happened to her, and she tells the story in witty and harrowing detail in her graphic-novel memoir, "Smile." There are comic-style books aimed at older teenagers on every conceivable subject, but "Smile" is unusual. It's a fictionalized memoir (some names and details have been changed), but also the equivalent of a Judy Blume novel: younger readers can turn to it for understanding and comfort. It hits home partly because there is nothing else out there like it. "Smile" recounts the dental nightmares the author endured between the sixth and ninth grades. When young Raina trips and falls face first onto the pavement one night after a Girl Scout meeting, her two front teeth take a beating. One is knocked clean out of her head, while the other is pushed far up into her gums. What at first appears to be a straight-forward procedure to replace the teeth turns into an interminable ordeal, as Raina undergoes every treatment imaginable to rearrange her mouth. Alongside this are the everyday horrors of junior high. Telgemeier recounts the increasingly cruel tortures "friends" come up with to tear one another down, as when an unexpected display of the tooth-cleaning equipment Raina keeps in her backpack leads her "pal" Karin to chant "Dog breath!" at high volume. Yet sometimes, amid all the problems, Raina finds herself surprised by the good things in life, too. "Weird. ... Something happens when you smile at people. They smile back!" In the end, she comes to terms with herself, the friends she chooses to have and her own much maligned mouth. Drawing in a deceptively simple style, Telgemeier has a knack for synthesizing the preadolescent experience in a visual medium. She skillfully adapted four of Ann M. Martin's "Baby-Sitters Club" books as graphic novels before finding her own very personal story to tell in "Smile." Nor does she overlook the appeal of gross medical procedures. Kids have always had a penchant for gore, so the author's attention to detail in the dentist chair should go over big. In some ways, "Smile" is the middlegrade equivalent of David Small's graphic memoir, "Stitches." But where that was an unsparing account of surgeries required because of parental negligence, Raina's tale is more upbeat, while still tapping into that fear we all have of being at the mercy of the hand holding the sharp metal instrument. Here, then, is a story to comfort readers traversing the years between childhood and adulthood: it presents a kind of worst-case scenario with a happy ending. "Smile" understands that sometimes the horrors inside your mouth can pale in comparison with something as simple as asking a boy to a dance. Both, however, are survivable. Elizabeth Bird is a children's librarian with the New York Public Library. Her first picture book, "Giant Dance Party," is due out next year.

  Booklist Review

The dental case that Telgemeier documents in this graphic memoir was extreme: a random accident led to front tooth loss when she was 12, and over the next several years, she suffered through surgery, implants, headgear, false teeth, and a rearrangement of her remaining incisors. Accompanying the physical treatment came social rough spots with friends, while puberty delivered another set of curveballs with crushes, maturing bodies, and changing family expectations and judgments. Both adults and kids including various dental professionals and younger siblings are vividly and rapidly portrayed, giving quick access to the memoirist's world. Telgemeier's storytelling and full-color cartoony images form a story that will cheer and inspire any middle-schooler dealing with orthodontia. At the same time, she shows how her early career choice as an animator took root during this difficult period offering yet another gentle reminder that things have turned out fine for the author and can for her reader as well.--Goldsmith, Francisca Copyright 2010 Booklist
Summary
From the artist of The Baby-sitters Club Graphix comes this humorous and charming true story! <p>Eleven-year-old Raina just wants to be a normal sixth grader. But one night after a trip-and-fall mishap, she injures her two front teeth, and what follows is a long and frustrating journey with on-again, off-again braces, corrective surgery, embarrassing headgear, and even a retainer with fake teeth attached. And on top of all that, there's still more to deal with: a major earthquake, boy confusion, and friends who turn out to be not so friendly.</p> <p>This coming-of-age true story is sure to resonate with anyone who has ever been in middle school, and especially those who have had a bit of their own dental drama.</p>
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