Little Fish: A Memoir From a Different Kind of Year

Ramsey is leaving her small Michigan town for college, an art school in Baltimore. Little Fish is an illustrated journal of her experiences during her first year living in a city. Nothing major happens — she makes friends, starts dating, feels homesick, and contemplates changing the hair style she’s always had — which makes this a small but comforting story.

Since this kind of thing matters to me, I should note that Little Fish isn’t a proper graphic novel; it more resembles a scrapbook, a collection of ephemera, particularly lists, from Ramsey’s past (since this first year took place 10 years ago). There are some short comic sequences, most notably the introduction, as well as online journal entries she wrote at the time.

The themes of the work are obvious: growing up, moving out on one’s own for the first time, starting to make one’s own choices. In fact, they’re a little too on-the-nose, as Ramsey talks to herself (and us) about them frequently. Perhaps that’s how children of the media age now process information — by not only thinking about concepts, but thinking about how they’re thinking about them.

Some sources are recommending this book for younger readers, high schoolers or even middle schoolers. That’s a good choice. It’s an easy enough read, particularly with Ramsey’s simple art style, and they’ll find the ideas fresh, representing events they themselves might be thinking about coming up in their own lives.

They’ll also relate to the self-centered focus. We don’t get much sense of the other people Ramsey meets. She describes them and talks about how much their friendship means to her, but they’re symbols. The book is firmly focused only on her, and at a relatively shallow level. Reading Little Fish is like reading her diary, one that’s been sanitized.

There’s no real conflict here, no struggles to overcome, just minutiae of daily life. Oddly, for a book about attending art school, we don’t see any of the pieces she creates, just the comics. I was also left wondering what happened next. Did she stay in school? Change majors? Stay with any particular boy? The questions raised by her journal entries don’t come with answers. A text page catching us up to date would have been welcome.

There are preview pages at the publisher’s website. The publisher provided a review copy as part of a promotional blog tour.

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