Ramsey Beyer was a teenager from a small town in Michigan, looking forward to her first year living in a city far away from home. She chronicled that year in a series of zines featuring personalized lists (such as “things I can’t wait for” and “top 10 worst sounds”) alongside comic illustrations. Through her blog, Ramsey also reflected on her struggles with loneliness, friendship and potential romance. Her new book, Little Fish: A Memoir from A Different Kind of Year, weaves all of these materials into a poignant, beautifully illustrated, and deeply reflective graphic memory detailing her transformation to an eighteen-year-old city dwelling art student. Little Fish perfectly captures that time in a young person’s life when the past feels abandoned, the future seems totally open, and every day is a revelation.
There were two things about Ramsey Beyer’s memoir, Little Fish: A Memoir From a Different Kind of Year, that immediately convinced me I needed to read it:
1. Ramsey is from the small town of Paw, Paw, Michigan, which is very close to where I attended university.. I left my small northern, Michigan town to move to Kalamazoo, which is much bigger than where I grew up, and I, like Ramsey, felt like a little fish in a new, big pond.
2. Little Fish is a memoir told in various formats, including illustrations, lists, and blog entries. As a blogger who writes lists constantly and has a deep appreciation for contemporary graphic novels, I couldn’t imagine Beyer creating something any better suited to my tastes!
Little Fish follows Beyer as she leaves Michigan, and her comfortable life and close-knit circle of friends, to attend art school in Baltimore. In many ways, Beyer could represent any recent graduate who moves away to attend university after high school, but I felt a special connection with her, as a small-town girl and a fellow Michigander. Though Beyer moved much further away than I did for university (all the way to the East Coast!), I went through a very similar experience following my graduation, and I can vouch for the honesty of the feelings and experiences described in Little Fish.
Beyer perfectly captures the excitement, confusion, and emotional ups and downs associated with a young adult’s first big move from home. Multiple times throughout the novel, Beyer refers to how secure she felt in Paw Paw and how that was both a good and bad thing. There are times when she just wants to escape the small town life. She yearns for diversity and change, but, other times, she fiercely misses home. While she enjoys the new people she’s met at school, she misses the people from small town Michigan… though she can’t quite explain just what quality the people from home possess that her new acquaintances do not. Later, she can’t imagine spending vacation away from Baltimore and her new friends, who have quickly become constant companions, but, by the end of break, she isn’t so sure she’s ready to return to university life. She admits that, if she could come up with a good enough reason, she might never have small town life behind. These parts of the novel really resonated with me, as I went through the exact same things when I was at university. At school, I was constantly saying that I couldn’t wait to go “home,” but when I was back in my hometown, I was couldn’t wait to go “home” to university. Beyer tactfully addresses this confusing issue of having two homes and divided feelings about both, which often goes unmentioned and ignored when kids are considering the changes they’ll experience when leaving for school, but later ends up being an emotional and confusing issue.
I immediately fell in love with Beyer’s easily accessible graphic style and her penchant for list writing. There’s something very fresh and perhaps even novel about Beyer’s memoir that feels very fitting, given the topics and themes found within. Considering that this memoir addresses so many different firsts – freshman year of university, moving away from home, becoming independent, finding oneself, and experiencing one’s first serious relationship – I can’t help but feel that Little Fish would be a great first introduction to graphic novels for those who haven’t read one before. It mixes in plenty of text, in the form of lists and blog-like entries, so the comic elements are somewhat spaced out. The illustrations aren’t overly complicated and I never felt like I might be missing some hidden meaning within the images, which I’ve sometimes felt when reading graphic novels… and that I fear might be off putting to those who are hesitant about picking one up. To me, Little Fish would be a great stepping stone for readers who would like to branch out into graphic novels, but who have been a bit shy about it.
I highly recommend Little Fish to readers of memoirs, graphic novels, and YA. Beyer’s debut offers something to each of these genres individually, but also unites them in a unique and interesting way.
More about the Little Fish Blog Tour.