Back last year, I did a full review of the Bone graphic novel saga by Jeff Smith, one of the best graphic novelists I know. In case you don’t have time for playbacks, here’s what I scored each book (remember, this was the old template):

  • Out from Boneville – “an energetic start to a great graphic novel series…” (20/30)
  • The Great Cow Race – “…the best book of the pack!” (30/30)
  • Eyes of the Storm – “…the darkest addition yet.” (24.5/30)
  • The Dragonslayer – “…may not be the best Bone book since The Great Cow Race, but it’s a full-fleshed attempt at it” (24/30)
  • Rock Jaw – “…great premise and dazzling excitements” (22/30)
  • Old Man’s Cave – “…a barbaric warrior…with well-played action, adventure, and drama” (26/30)
  • Ghost Circles – “…a good wallop of laughs, action, adventure, and excitement that will definitely go into the scrapbook.” (23.1/30)
  • Treasure Hunters – “…solely the lowlight of the Bone saga.” (17.5/30)
  • Crown of Horns – “…a mightily entertaining–and epic–conclusion.” (23/30)

Now I’m back to review another graphic novel, from the same Scholastic imprint that’s been with Mr. Smith since the start. This one has to be one of the most unique comic novels I’ve ever read–and it’s not just because it introduces a new writing style or has vivid pictures. It has both of those, don’t get me wrong. But here’s the reason why it really stuck out to me–it’s not a wild over-the-top fantasy like Bone or Amulet–it’s an autobiographical story, a memoir! Eat Pray LoveDiary of a Young GirlRunning With ScissorsMarley & Me: A Dog Like No Other, those are all memoirs. But none of those tell a story quite like this.

Released in February 2010 by Raina Telgemeier and Scholastic/Graphix, and based off of Smile: A Dental Drama, a webcomic created by Telgemeier, Smile is an auto-bio that takes place during the 1980s and early 1990s, following Raina’s years from a preteen to a real teen. One night after a Girl Scout meeting, Raina’s friends race her to the porch. However, Raina trips and falls right onto the side of the road, busting out one of her front teeth and jamming the other up into her gum. What follows is nearly five years of on-off braces, surgery, ignominious headgear, even a retainer with false teeth! However, Raina’s dental drama is only a portion of her problems–a gnarly earthquake leaves her town shaken and stirred, Raina begins to notice two big crushes, and friends who turn out to be not very friendly. The story evolves with Raina as she goes into high school, finds her true artistic voice and real friendship, and finds a place where she can really smile.

Check out this interesting picture of Raina that offers an inside look at her teeth! I’ll have you know folks, this was in summer 1989! She was 12 years old!

PRESENTATION: Smile was the breakthrough for an inglorious author, and it’s easy to see why. Raina tells her story clearly without any narrative exposition (okay, so a few helpful names here and there), and she writes it in such a way that you can feel the emotions she’s feeling. The terror in her eyes during the earthquake when the floor begins to tremble under her feet. The amazement in her eyes when she sees The Little Mermaid for the first time. The sorrow in her eyes when she has to replace her real teeth with false teeth. The anger in her eyes when she stands up to her not-so-friendly friends. Raina tells this story impeccably and powerfully, in a way that’s just as unique as the premise itself. The illustrating work done with Raina and Steph Yue (whom provided the pictures’ color) has to be one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen in a graphic novel. Not as simplistic as Captain Underpants, not as detailed as Bone, but a nice balance in between the two. (10/10)

STORY: Same main ideas. Also, some people may be able to relate to the story such as people who are bullied at school, going through orthodontic treatment, and the like. (10/10)

FUN: Raina cracks a few jokes here and there to keep readers smiling. Also, since Raina’s story takes place in the 80’s and 90’s, there are tons of pop culture references, some more blatant than others. Raina owns an NES and is seen playing Super Mario Bros and Wizards & Warriors. Raina’s sister unsuccessfully tries to persuade her to buy DuckTales. Q*bertKid Icarus, and NES Soccer also make cameo appearances at the store. (10/10)

STYLE: Time for some restating. The humor and drama come in packs, and Smile puts up a fine balance between light-hearted humor and realistic drama. The book has ravishing illustrations that make everything look more down-to-earth. (10/10)

QUANTITY/QUALITY: Smile may not be told in real chapters, but it feels like Raina’s life is being told step by step, chapter by chapter, week by week. It has a great story to tell, and the quality of it is–dude, we’ve been over this. Giddy humor, raw drama, amazing illustrations, great connections, blah blah blah.  (10/10)

FINAL VERDICT: Smile is one of the best graphic novels you’ll ever read, telling a powerful story mixed with giddy humor and realistic drama and emotion, topped off with great illustrations that make this book a true gem among Scholastic’s Graphix lineup. (10/10)

FINAL SCORE: I, Sammwak, am proud to give Raina Telgemeier’s Smile the first ever JGB 2.0 perfect score, 60/60, which gets it an automatic A+. Raina really deserved it, but hopefully after her Girl Scout meetings she remembers to walk to the porch this time. Heck, to show you how good this book really is, I’m gonna give it a seal of approval!


Anyway, that’s a wrap for this week here at Sammwak! Have an awesome Spring Break, and I’ll see you next week (hopefully)!

Stay classy America,

~S~ 😎

Video of the Week: I was gonna put up a Harlem Shake this week, but then today my art teacher showed me this. It’s a 6-minute short film called Pigeon Impossible, about a young man who is a rookie secret agent I’ll call Discount Jake Gyllenhaal. Now, Discount Jake here is dealing with a problem that most rookies don’t come around–what happens when an inquisitive little pigeon makes its way inside your nuclear, government-issued, multi-million-dollar briefcase? Find out in this video that’s already gone viral with 1.8 million hits.

Oh, what the hey, here’s the greatest Harlem Shake you’ll probably ever see in the history of the universe EVER. Also, it might be the final Harlem Shake. Take a click to see why.