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Twofer: Raina Telgemeier – Smile / Gene Luen Yang – American Born Chinese

June 9, 2010

The first of my graphic novel two-for-one review posts! Today we’re doing full-color young adult coming-of-age graphic novels.


56. Smile by Raina Telgemeier (2010)

Length: 224 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Graphic Novel; Memoir

Started / Finished: 21 May 2010

Where did it come from? Borrowed from a friend.
Why do I have it? He handed it to me and said “here, you’ll like this.”

Summary: When Raina was in sixth grade, she tripped and fell while running up her front walk, and knocked out her front two teeth. In Smile, she describes the next four years of dental surgery, orthodontia, and most importantly, growing up that she had to undergo in order to find her smile – and herself.

Review: It’s a cute story, and one that definitely got a few wistful chuckles and a few outright giggles out of me. Although the coming-of-age moral is pretty universal, I probably would have identified with the story more if I’d had braces as a kid, but I was extremely lucky in that respect (don’t hate me too much; I make up for it by having terrible eyes.) I really liked the artwork; it’s pretty straightforward panel-based narrative, but I like Telgemeier’s style of drawing, and the book is really bright and colorful throughout. (You can see a sample at the author’s website.) So, overall, it was definitely an enjoyable read, and an interesting change of pace from my normal fantasy/sci-fi graphic novels, but not exactly life-changing. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you suffered through braces as a kid (or have them now!) and/or like memoirs in graphic novel form, you’ll probably enjoy this book.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Carrie’s YA Bookshelf, Devour Books, The HappyNappyBookseller, The Reading Zone, Welcome to my Tweendom
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: “Smile!!”


58. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (2006)

Length: 234 pages
Genre: Graphic Novel, Young Adult, General Fiction

Started / Finished: 23 May 2010

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I was poking around the library, looking for more graphic novels to read during my brain-dead time, and I remember a lot of people raving about it, so I picked it up.

Summary: American Born Chinese tells three very disparate stories. The first is of Jin Wang, a young boy who is the only Chinese student in his school, who is isolated, picked on, and in love with a white girl who barely knows he’s alive. The second is of the Monkey King, a Chinese fable about a monkey who is not content to be merely a monkey, but who wants to be one of the gods. The third is a sitcom, in which Chin-Kee, the embodiment of all of the negative Chinese stereotypes, comes to visit his cousin Danny, and generally ruin Danny’s popularity… and life. And, in the end, it turns out that the three stories aren’t quite so disparate after all.

Review: This was an interesting book with an important message, but it never really grabbed me the way I wanted it to. The whole thing was done with an interesting blend of humor and seriousness, and of stereotypes blended with respect that made it more than a typical coming-of-age/racism-is-bad-mmkay story. The inclusion of the Monkey King mythology in particular was an interesting element. Although the book is obviously based on and arguably geared towards Asian-Americans, I don’t think it’s limited to only speaking about the immigrant experience. I think that anyone who’s ever felt marginalized will find the stories here relatable, and find something to take away. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I enjoyed it well enough, but I suspect I’m not really the target audience; I think actual young adults may find it more compelling than I did.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: B&B Ex Libris, Bermudaonion’s Weblog, Bibliofreakblog, Book Addiction, Book Dweeb, The Book Zombie, The Little Reader, Ready When You Are C.B., Regular Rumination, Stuff as Dreams are Made On, Things Mean a Lot, Worducopia
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: One bright and starry night, the Gods the Goddesses, the demons, and the spirits gathered in heaven for a dinner party.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2010 10:33 am

    I think I felt about the same way as you did about American Born Chinese – thanks for the link love, by the way! I’ve discovered that my favorite form of graphic books is the memoir, so I have a feeling I’d like Smile.

    • June 14, 2010 10:48 am

      bermudaonion – Smile is obviously not nearly as serious as the other memoir-based graphic novels out there (that I’ve read, anyways), but it is a lot of good fun – I hope you get the chance to check it out!

  2. June 9, 2010 7:27 pm

    Mm, orthodontia. I sometimes have dreams that I’m back in braces and I can’t floss properly. So glad when that phase of my life was over – I’m not sure it would give me joy to revisit it in book form. :p

    • June 14, 2010 10:49 am

      Jenny – Not even in the schadenfreude-riffic form of reading about someone who had it worse than you? (I’m guessing.)

  3. June 9, 2010 10:12 pm

    I really liked American Born Chinese, but I was specifically reading it for use in my Intro to Lit course. I think college freshman will find it enjoyable and interesting. At least I hope so as I’m using it this coming fall!

    • June 14, 2010 10:50 am

      Trisha – If you don’t mind my asking, in what context are you using American Born Chinese in the classroom?

      • June 14, 2010 3:17 pm

        It will be part of my Intro to Lit course. I always use one graphic novel during the semester. We analyze texts according to all elements: plot, setting, character, theme, and point of view, but usually focus on one element more than the others. I think we will concentrate on characterization and the use of characters to convey theme for this story.

  4. June 9, 2010 11:18 pm

    My son chipped a tooth badly this winter and had to have braces and major dental work this spring as a result. He’s not exactly the target age for Smile (he’s almost 10) but I’ll bet he’d appreciate it. I’m going to look for it! (Thanks for the link love on American Born Chinese, too). :-)

    • June 14, 2010 10:52 am

      Ali – Excellent! There’s some “girl stuff” in Smile that your son probably won’t be crazy about – not physiological girl stuff, but Girl Scouts and crushes on boys and what not – but hopefully he’ll like the rest!

  5. June 10, 2010 5:37 am

    I hadn’t heard of Smile before, I don’t think, and it sounds like something I’d enjoy. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    • June 14, 2010 10:52 am

      Nymeth – Sure thing! I hope you’re able to find a copy.

  6. June 14, 2010 2:58 am

    i pick up all of my graphic novels from random browsing at the library, too. haven’t seen Smile yet, but i’ll be sure to pick it up if i do.

    i just read Yang’s other graphic novel called The Eternal Smile and it was also pretty good. the art and themes are very similar, but it was told as three unrelated shorter stories.

    • June 14, 2010 10:53 am

      Little – I’ll have to see if my library carries Yang’s other books.

  7. February 13, 2011 12:27 pm

    I absolutely LOVED smile!

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