I, like many people, suffered through two of the worst years of my life with painful orthodontia. In addition to the usual braces I had a device attached to my top teeth that fitted over the entire roof of my mouth and made speaking clearly nearly impossible. The device was a palate widener. Once a day a member of my family would crank it twice and work towards breaking my upper palate so my overlapping front teeth would not overlap anymore. Luckily I only had that particular torture for a few months of the whole ordeal.
If you think my experience was bad (and it was, oh yes, it was) it was NOTHING compared to what dental hell Raina Telgemeier shows us in her awesome memoir "Smile."
Smile by Raina Telgemeier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Raina had just gotten braces on her teeth when a far more serious dental tragedy struck. After a Girl Scout meeting she tripped and fell. One of her front teeth was knocked out completely, the other one was knocked far into her gums. The rest of the memoir reflects on Raina's experiences with corrective orthodontia (and other specializations that will give the average reader dental nightmares) as well as chronicling her puberty and growing up processes. Raina isn't always brave about what is happening to her mouth, but she's always relatable. In fact, the art, the story, the characters are all so relatable (to someone with a middle class background and decent health and dental insurance, anyway.) Though dental drama and orthodontia seem mundane, what they really are are the things that those of us who've experienced them don't just forget, but actively push to the corners of our memories. Bravo to Raina Telgemeier for being able to pull the experience out and use it to flesh out her coming of age story into something recognizable to every kid who ever had headgear or remembers what it felt like to have a guy reach into your mouth, tighten a wire, and make eating painful to impossible for the next several days.
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One thing I don't mention in the review is just exactly how hyper-aware I was in the reading of this memoir that as painful and awkward as the experience with orthodontia was as a child, it was a privilege to be able to experience it. Not a privilege in the "oh it has been an honor to share these years with these braces" but more of a "I was a privileged person whose parents had the resources to provide me with a lovely smile."
As a side note, I met Raina Telgemeier last year at C2E2. She was in the artists alley with her husband and I recognized the book she had piles of on her table as "Smile." I told her how popular the novel was in our Library and how nice it was to meet her. I noticed then, and you can see in her author photo, that her smile is really quite beautiful.