Junior high school—there ought to be a law against it, maybe some provision of the Geneva Convention as a crime against humanity. Puberty, pimples and poisonous pals—pick your potion. Add a Sisyphean regimen of dental barbarity—braces, headgear, retainers—and welcome to Raina Telgemeier’s graphic memoir of adolescence. “When I was 11 years old, I tripped and knocked out my two front teeth,” says the author. “Smile attempts to recapture my insecurity about my appearance and the isolation I felt as my friends seized the opportunity to tease and torment me.” But wait. Amid the grief of classrooms, boys and even an earthquake (Telgemeier grew up in San Francisco), there is something else at work. The illustrations are buoyant and strong, even as they take cues from an angst-ridden everyday to which any junior high schooler can relate. A smile, despite the hardware, may well be the ticket to survival. “I’ve discovered that this is not just my story, but that of many other kids,” says Telgemeier. “Boys and girls constantly ask me about getting braces and dumping mean friends. Smile taps into fears we all share. One happy result of making the book is that I don’t feel as alone as I used to.”
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Graphix/Scholastic / February / 9780545132060 / $10.99 / ages 12 & up