7 06 2012

There are folks out there that think comic books or graphic novels aren’t “real” books.  Smile by Raina Telgemeier is one of the books that will change their minds.

It’s got everything you want out of a middle grade level novel.  There’s comedy and drama. Laughter and tears.  There’s the emotional heartbreak of being a teenager, and the excitement of youth.  Family troubles, obnoxious little siblings, too much homework, friends that just don’t understand, and that boy/girl that you like that just doesn’t seem to realize you exist…  Raina went through all of that, just like every teenager, but she also had to endure the years and years of dental procedures after knocking out her two front teeth in junior high.

Smile is drawn in a friendly cartoonish style that reminds me of Jimmy Gownley (Amelia Rules!), and written in a friendly tone that feels like it really is 12, 13, 14, and 15 year old Raina telling you her story.   She’s a deep character, and she really lets us inside of her thoughts, feelings, and fears, which makes for a fantastic read.   The story is pretty much an autobiographical memoir of the author’s life during her middle school and early high school years.

What’s amazing to me is how real she gets.  Even though it’s her own story, and the character is her (even the same name), she doesn’t pull any punches.  She shares the intimate and embarrassing parts of teenage life, so author Raina lets us squirm and wince alongside cartoon Raina.  Honest, flawed characters, who we really get to know on a personal level are the best characters in the world – Raina is able to make Raina one of those.

Smile is one of the 20 books on this year’s Rebecca Caudill list, so it’s really cool to see such a great book (yes, real book, not just comic) that happens to also be a graphic novel get recognized like this.   When Mrs. Sergeant, the school librarian, gives her little speech about the Caudill books this fall, I will definitely be chiming in to recommend Smile to all the kids.




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