And You Thought It Would Fail: The prevailing view of girl-centered graphic novels for years has been that boys won't read them and thus they are unprofitable. Both of these books have received critical acclaim and sold millions of copies. And they're really good, as you can tell by the general tone on these pages despite occasional mocking of stupid decisions Raina (the character) makes.
Awesome Art: Both books have gorgeous colors, appealing character designs and a sublime understanding of atmosphere and humor. Splash pages in general are very pretty to look at.
More than one commentator has praised how Raina depicts her young self's development in subtle but clever ways (curlier hair, disappearance of acne, upright posture) that are more complex than simply drawing breasts on "post-8th Grade Raina").
Ensemble Dark Horse: Amara. Adult Raina even said she was surprised how popular her depiction of her little sister turned out to be.
Sue, Raina's mother, is also fairly well-liked on Goodreads. Raina has described her as her favorite character for being there for her always.
Girl-Show Ghetto: Averted; plenty of boys have admitted to reading these books and Raina Telgemeier has sold more than 15 million books as of October 2018.
Jerkass Woobie: Raina zigzags between this and a more traditional Woobie; she has been pretty selfishnote like suggesting leaving Amara's snake in the desert. or insensitive note like standing Sam up at the dance. but she gets dumped on by her "friends", is outclassed by her younger sister, and screws herself over enough that the audience has to root for her.
Anvilicious: The main message of the story is not very subtle. This lack of subtlety is often considered the book's only flaw (alongside the initially inconsistent artwork).
Catharsis Factor: When Raina breaks up with her old friends after they pants her in the courtyard.
Idiot Plot: The Sam x Raina x Sean love triangle. Basically, Raina gets a crush on a 6th Grader named Sam and a basketball player named Sean. She's unsure of which one she'd rather go to the school dance with even after Sam invites her, and eventually chooses not to go at all. Fair enough, it's her choice at the end of the day. The stupid part comes when Raina doesn't tell Sam that her plans have changed. She doesn't even need to explain why, allowing her to sort out her feelings about both boys without risking completely destroying her relationship with Sam!
Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: Despite the story having the subtlety of a train crash to the nuts, this book drops several noteworthy truth bombs; 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:
Toxic friends are bad for you. They don't have anything of value to say and they'll only make your life worse.
Don't focus too much on your appearance. The people who are closest to you either won't notice or won't care.
How Raina had her mouth basically reconstructed (ie, having her front teeth knocked out (and one of them being shoved up into her gum,) having them put back in only for them to fuse into her jawbone, having to get them taken out again and having the rest of her teeth rearranged with braces to take their place). Not all of it is shown, but some bits are, like the initial accident which shows Raina bleeding from the mouth as she scrambles to get her teeth.
The section with the periodontist, who's shown doing a vicious scaling procedure on her damaged gums which is so traumatic Raina passes out in the hallway.
What an Idiot!: On her 13th birthday, Raina's friends reveal that they know she has a crush on Sean but he remains unaware. They then try and make her dress in skimpy clothes to attract his attention. When Raina questions whether or not this is necessary, Nicole claims that she talked to Sean herself about what he likes in a girl, and about Raina, and says that he'd only go for her if she "glammed it up a bit"
You'd Expect: Raina to realize that Nicole is putting her on, since Sean probably would know Raina has a crush on him if one of her own friends talked to him about it and about her specifically.
Instead: Raina goes along with her friends and only starts suspecting what's going on after they burst out laughing at her appearance.
Crosses the Line Twice: The chapter where the Telgemeiers' pets keep dying goes from funny to dark to gut-bustingly hilarious.
Even Better Sequel: Generally considered to be an improvement over Smile due to even prettier artwork and a more dramatic, heavy story. A more ambiguous and less Anvilicious ending is also a welcome improvement.