Thursday, 18 June 2015

Smile, by Raina Telgemeier

Does anybody capture the anguish of being a teenage girl as perfectly as RT? I don't think so- the frenemies, unimaginably annoying younger siblings, the desperate attempts to seem grown up, to seem cool, burgeoning boy issues, school-yard politics...The surprise attacks that the 13 year old body launches- sudden boobs, sudden hips, sudden spots; everything at once, and at the time when you feel like the ugliest, freakiest, weirdest little specimen to ever don a backpack and attempt to survive state school.

Smile, like Sisters  is very much an autobiography. Book Raina (like real life 1980s Raina) needs braces to correct her overbite- monstrous headgear on top of everything else weighing on the middle-school mind. After the traumatic trip to the orthodontist "let's make a mould of your mouth by filling it with this disgusting pink guk" (been there), Raina has an accident on her way home from a Girl Scouts meeting, knocking out her front two teeth. Impossibly self-conscious anyway, she dreads to think what her friends will say about her teeth. This fall is the beginning of 5 years of tooth related trauma that will see her up to the end of High School.
Best visual representation on anaesthetic ever?
Not the best book for the tooth-squeamish. Thinking about some of the procedures (reattaching, root-canalling, removing and rearranging) made me feel a bit sick. Teeth (the loss, damage, otherwise defacing) of teeth is the thing that makes me shiver more than anything else in the world. Other than that, anybody who has even been a teenage human will be able to relate to this in some way. Even if you managed to escape braces and have never knocked out teeth. Smile does a really good job of illustrating just how toxic female friendships can be, especially at school, and especially friendships that seem to have gone on for too long to ever feel like you can break it off. Raina's friends that she moved up to High School with are catty and unsupportive and take every opportunity to laugh at those they see as weaker than themselves. It's all about insecurity. Making others feel worse to drown out the noise of your own inferiority complex.
Who hasn't had a friend that they secretly wanted to punch in the mouth?
I love the message of this book; it's okay to feel marginalised and to worry about what people think of you, because without that, you'd never get to that moment where you realise it doesn't matter and your 'friends' are idiots and you're just going to be yourself because you're brilliant. You have to go through the fear and the self consciousness and the feeling inferior because that's how you learn that You. Are. Awesome. And yes, being a teen is hard; it's excruciating and unfair and it seems like these embarrassing injustices will never end. But it's the time that you begin to form your personality properly. You start to see what you're genuinely good at, who makes you happy, what makes you special. Which makes it all worth it.
That thing where you stand up for yourself and continue to be awesome for the rest of time.
I love Raina's work- it's so honest, so charming and so full of character, and so distinctive. The graphic novel world has celebrated a brilliant new talent comprehensively enough, but it's also gained a proper classic, role model character at the same time. Love it, would recommend to anyone and everyone, whether they like Graphic Novels or not.

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