Follow TV Tropes


Comic Book / Smile (Raina Telgemeier)
aka: Smile

Go To
Don't be afraid to smile!

"You may experience slight discomfort during this time."
— Raina's narration while describing how braces work

Smile is an award-winning 2010 autobiographical graphic novel written by Raina Telgemeier. One day after a Girl Scout meeting, 11 year old Raina trips and knocks her two front teeth out. What follows is nearly half a decade of retainers, false teeth, and headgear ... on top of typical adolescent worries and insecurities. Charming.

Received a sequel with Sisters in 2014.

Smile provides examples of:

  • A-Cup Angst: Played with. When Raina's mother says they need to start discussing her wearing a bra, the recently turned thirteen year old Raina drowns her out with a long "Mommmmmm."
  • Adapted Out: In real life, Raina also had a snaggletooth at one point. However, since it didn't really have anything to do with the main storyline, and it was removed fairly quickly and easily, Telgemeier couldn't think of a way to naturally fit it in, so she just left it out.
  • An Aesop: This book has several noteworthy morals; given that the story covers years Raina's life, it's also important that the book dropped this message so consistently to go alongside the story of her orthodontics:
    • No toxic friendship is ever worth holding onto. If they've never done or said anything nice to you, it's best to accept they're not good for you and cut your losses. Even if being by yourself seems intimidating, it will benefit you in the long run and allow someone better to come in your life.
    • Don't focus too much on your appearance. The people who are closest to you either won't notice or won't care.
    • Family and real friends will always love you.
  • Alpha Bitch: Karin appears to be the most jerky of Raina's friends, with Nicole as her second-in-command.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Amara, who is five years younger than Raina (making her six at the start and ten at the end) constantly teases Raina for her braces.
    Amara: You're gonna be a metal mouth!
  • Bad Vibrations: Used with Raina's depiction of the 1989 Loma Preita earthquake, which took place during the events of the story.
  • Advertisement:
  • Bitch Alert: Karin. When recounting the incident where Raina's teeth got knocked out, she wanted to know if Raina cried so that she had ammo to mock her her first appearance.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Raina's "friends" subtly demean and bully her through mean-spirited jabs at her appearance. Raina slowly but surely realizes the toll that their verbal abuse is taking on her, culminating in Nicole and Karin pulling Raina's skirt down in front of the entire school.
    Emily: You know what makes you look like a baby? ... Those ponytails!
    • Out of all her "friends," Emily plays this trope straight compared to Karin and Nicole with her jabs at Raina and downplaying the bullying that she receives while pretending to look concerned for Raina.
    • Raina herself, albeit to a far lesser degree. She can be quite standoffish and snappy towards people who want to help her, including her mother. That being said, she is still a generally good-natured person who loves her family and most of her acting out is due to her insecurities and not due to her being a bad person.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Raina breaks up with her old friends and doesn't get together with Sean. That being said, she still makes nicer friends, accepts her teeth will never look perfect, and rediscovers her artistic talent. Overall, the story leans more towards the sweet part than the bitter part.
  • Braces of Orthodontic Overkill: Downplayed, if not averted. Raina's mouthgear is fairly realistic (justified as this is an autobiographical work). Doesn't stop her "friends" from making fun of her anyways.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Raina knocks out her two front teeth, rediscovers her love for drawing, realizes her friends are not so friendly, and lives through a giant earthquake. Despite the last one being the most destructive, it's barely given mention in the story. Which is why we barely mention it in this article.
  • Bumbling Dad: Surprisingly averted; while Raina's father is a bit silly, he's still rather competent.
  • Butt-Monkey: Poor Raina; she cannot catch in a break in this book! She knocks her teeth out, loses a chance to get with two boys, is humiliated on more than one occasion, and breaks up with her friends.
  • Character Development: Raina becomes more assertive and confident as the book goes on. This is evident when you compare two specific scenes of her friends bullying her. In the first incident, Raina calls out her friends but does not take further action when they ignore her complaints. In the second incident, she breaks up with them.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Throughout the novel, Raina is told not to eat popcorn while she has her braces on. When her braces are finally removed and she thinks they look disgusting, guess how Dr. Dragoni tries to console her.
  • Crush Blush: Raina does this multiple times when around Sammy or Sean. Sammy does this once.
  • Cry Cute: Raina's initial reaction to her "friends" pulling her skirt down.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Raina, at times.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Compared to Raina Telgemeier's later work:
    • The artwork, while excellent overall, is less consistent compared to Sisters, with Raina's father changing appearance multiple times until Raina finally settled on a design she liked. This is most likely due to the book starting as a webcomic.
    • Likewise, the text is handwritten. All future graphic novels Raina Telgemeier has written and drawn used typed text. There are also more yellow text boxes here than in Sisters especially.
    • Smile has more product placement and references to the 1980's and 1990's than Sisters. While both graphic novels are relatively timeless aside from the occasional reference (who hasn't seen The Little Mermaid?), the only blatant indicators that Sisters is set in the 1990s are Raina's Walkman, the lack of cellphones (which is never explicitly pointed out), and a record player in a flashback.
  • The '80s: Begins in 1989.
  • Eye Take: Raina's reaction to her new friends treating her post-braces teeth (which she thought were ugly) with a grain of salt.
  • Flashback: After being given novocaine and laughing gas before her two front teeth are removed by an orthodontist, Raina flashbacks to around the first grade, when she pulls out one of her front teeth while playing in a bouncy house. Her mom manages to calm her down by having her father make a substitute tooth for the Tooth Fairy. The next morning, Raina wakes up to find $5 under her pillow and a letter from the "Tooth Fairy".
    Young!Raina: How come her handwriting looks exactly like Dad's?
  • Fiery Redhead: Raina's redheaded "friend", Nicole.
  • Grew a Spine: In the climax, Raina discovers how horrible her friends were over the years and learns to stand up to them and call them out.
  • Hidden Depths: Raina loves comics and is an excellent artist. Her love for drawing is, in part, inspired by her watching The Little Mermaid (1989).
  • Hypocritical Humor: Early in the book, Raina expresses insecurities about her appearance to Jane (who, coincidentally, is the only one of her friends who is consistently nice to her). Jane doesn't take Raina seriously and maintains that someone at her school has to like her. Raina then delivers this gem:
    Raina: Well ... Jeremiah likes me ... and Abraham ... and Elias ... so do Dan, and Andre, and Matt P..., oh, and Aaron, and Stephen ... but they don't count, I mean cute boys!
  • I Just Want to Be Beautiful: The source of Raina's insecurities about her face.
  • Imagine Spot: Several times when Raina worries about what her braces/dental work will look like. Played with at the end, when she thinks her teeth look bad prior to her final cosmetic procedure, but none of her friends notice anything.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Raina's reaction to her orthodontist explaining they'll have to remove her two front teeth.
  • Jerkass: Raina's friends. They subtly bully and tease her even after she tells them to stop, and pull down her skirt, then laugh when she starts to cry.
    • The periodontist is implied to be such, given his expression when he deep cleans (under her gums) seems pretty sadistic.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Raina's friend Melissa joins in on teasing her, but she does seem to genuinely like Raina, sympathizing with her after Raina's 8th grade class learns about her crush on Sean. This is probably why Raina and Melissa hang out together the most, and why Raina is only comfortable with telling her about her crush on Sammy. In her last scene in the book (the first day of high school), Melissa tells Raina to smile more often.
    • Raina flip flops between this and Nice Girl, before settling on the latter.
  • Lovable Jock: Sean, Raina's 2nd crush.
  • Karma Houdini: Raina's first group of friends do pants her and come to harangue her in the bathroom where she's crying alone. All she does is chew them out and break up with them, with is sadly Truth in Television that bullies aren't sorry and never will be. If there were any justice, they'd have been confronted by the teachers for essentially committing assault and sexual harassment.
  • Mama Bear: When Raina goes to a periodontist, the man does a deep cleaning (under the gums) without waiting for the novocaine to kick in, and also without asking her mother. Leaving the office, Raina sees her severely bruised and bloody gums in a mirror, then faints from shock and pain. Her ordinarily laid-back mother absolutely loses her shit and rips the doctor a new one, screaming at him about doing that kind of procedure on a minor without parental permission and causing said minor to pass out. His attempt to quiet her (so his other patients won't hear) only enrages her further.
  • Meet Cute: How Raina meets Sammy.
  • Nice Guy: Raina's crush in 7th Grade, Sammy. He's sweet and a bit shy, and doesn't judge Raina for her braces or acne. It's a shame she stands him up at the school dance. Sean, as well: Raina even remarks how he was always friendly to her.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Raina quickly befriends a cute and sweet 6th Grader named Sammy on her first day of 7th Grade; it's clear that the two have a crush on one another relatively quickly. By the time the next school dance is around the corner, however, Raina has a crush on another boy, Sean. Because of her conflicting emotions and disappointment Sean won't attend the dance, Raina doesn't go to the dance after promising Sammy she would. Heartbroken, Sammy breaks off his friendship with her.
    Adult!Raina: Sammy never spoke to me again after that. Which I guess I deserved.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Okay, 'villain' may be too harsh a word to describe Raina's bullies, but still: despite their bullying, Raina feels stuck as their friends. Then Karin and Nicole go too far and pants Raina in front of the entire school, causing her to realize that she should leave them behind.
  • The '90s: Raina is in 8th Grade in 1990 and the book ends in 1992 (her sophomore year).
  • Pants-Pulling Prank: Played for Drama. Raina breaks up with her group of "friends" when one of them does this to her in the school cafeteria.
  • Pubescent Braces: Raina and Sam. This is what likens Raina to Sam when they first met.
  • Rage-Breaking Point: In the middle of her dental work ordeal, Raina puts up with a lot of teasing from her friends. Until, that is, some of them sneak up and jerk her skirt down in front of dozens of other students. Their defense that she was wearing tights underneath it (and thus obviously nothing was shown) cuts no ice with a furious Raina, who lambastes them for both that and the constant digs at her braces, and she stops hanging around with them immediately.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: After suffering so much humiliation from her friends after Nicole and Karin humiliate her in front of the lunchroom, this was enough for Raina to realize how horrible they've treated her and finally calls them out.
    Raina: You guys want a reaction from me? Fine. Karen, I am NOT a dog. Nicole, I am NOT a vampire.
    Nicole: Oh, c'mon, I haven't called you that since —
    Raina: NO. And I am NOT going to let the rest of you disrespect me anymore! I'm done. GOOD-BYE.
  • Reconstruction: Of coming-of-age stories about young people who grow more self-confident in their appearance because of support from others. Unlike in most coming-of-age stories with a similar premise, Smile negatively portrays the protagonist's 1st group of friends and shows them to be at least part of the cause of Raina's insecurities. However, her self-esteem is boosted by her new friends' acceptance and her own recognition of her more important talents.
  • Rise of Zitboy: Realistically played but still present.
    Raina: A zitface. Now I'm a brace face and a zitface.
  • Rule of Symbolism: After Raina breaks up with her first batch of friends, she narrates how it allowed her to move through life at her own pace. All the while, we see Raina running on the school's race track at a moderate speed while the other girls run ahead of her. Cue Teresa, who runs right up to Raina and instantly hits it off with her.
  • Sarcasm Mode: Raina's reaction to her father's suggestion to bang her head against the wall.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Zigzags between the two ends of the spectrum by not sugarcoating how hard adolescence can be, and by cutting Raina a break every now and then to show her appreciating some aspects of growing up. The ending, however, is firmly on the idealistic end. Especially the last bit of narration.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: After Raina gets new friends, she narrates that her school life and grades didn't magically get better. She even lampshades that, no, she didn't "get the boy", as the saying goes.
    • What's more, the previous scene with Raina's skirt getting pulled down in front of everyone is Played for Drama. While everyone else laughs at her humiliation, Raina's crying in the bathroom shows that it's not so fun on the receiving end. To a lesser extent, her friends don't get punished for this because life isn't fair and the administration doesn't bother to fix this.
  • The Tooth Hurts: Raina smashes her two front teeth out with blood spurting everywhere in the first chapter.
  • True Companions: Raina's new group of friends are this to her.
  • We Used to Be Friends: By the end, Raina "breaks up" with her old friendship circle after realizing how horrible they treated her and no longer hangs out with them; however, they still stop for short conversations in the halls.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Raina's lesson.
  • You Are Not Alone: A humorous example when Raina shows off her retainer to a Girl Scout meeting. They then show off their, much more interested-looking, retainers.

Alternative Title(s): Smile