I was eight years old when I first stepped into the orthodontist’s office. An older doctor with kind eyes and a soft voice promised that he would fix the catastrophe that was my mouth. I had a significant overbite, a problematic jaw alignment, too many teeth for the size of my mouth and of course, they were crooked. I had it all, and I mean IT. ALL. It started with retainers, then came partial braces, then elastics, then the all elusive headgear, then full braces, then more retainers and finally, a small metal strip cemented to the back of my upper and lower front four teeth. This strip is still there and just the other day, the end popped off. (And for the record, those wires have SHARP edges!)
For all of these reasons and more, I fell in love with Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel, Smile. The story of her life in relation to her dental progress, Smile is more than just Raina’s childhood memories. It is a story of self-confidence, friendship, family and creating the person you want to be. I saw so much of my childhood self in Raina and literally hugged the book when I finished. I have said it before, and I will say it again: I only wish these kinds of books were available when I was young! Raina is your average kid, who likes video games, has crushes on boys at school and often feels like she doesn’t quite fit in. We were all there.
I couldn’t help but laugh as Raina plowed through the stages of her dental work. Her sarcastic humour and yet still buoyant personality had me beaming at the pages. I was constantly pointing out the illustrations to Jay, laughing and explaining how I had this “exact same thing” done to me! When Raina gets one of her bottom teeth extracted because she has too many teeth for the size of her mouth, I recalled when Dr. Delia removed my bottom front tooth. With wires and elastics, he shrunk the space where the tooth used to be. To this day, I only have three front teeth, not four (though, hopefully, you would never actually notice)!
When Raina’s headgear came into the picture, I was elated. Tons of people suffer through braces, but those who make it through headgear — my heart goes out to you! 90% of the time, those with headgear only need to wear it to bed at night. Not that it’s comfortable, mind you. I was one of the unlucky 10% who was forced to wear it to school. To make matters worse, I had the headgear with a cap that sat over my hair. For anyone who has to go through this, hear me now: I understand. It totally sucks! But you will be unbelievably grateful when the whole process is through. Here is a nice little picture of my pre-teen self, hanging out with my headgear on, as well as an excerpt from the book (one of my favourite scenes):
In short, Raina Telgemeier touched my heart with this book. It is for anyone who has ever had worries about their appearance, questioned their friends, fallen for the cute boy who sits behind you in class, questioned your own choice in clothes, and wondered where you would be in the future. Basically, this book is for anyone from ages of 9 and up. If I could put this book in every single pre-teen’s hands, I would. The message of learning to love yourself and being unafraid to be who you are shines through each page. You will see yourself in Raina, and I can guarantee, you will love what you see!