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Book Review: The Chronicles of Freshman Year

Comic book memoir takes a creative spin  on surviving college life.

Little Fish: A Memoir is the autobiographical story of Ramsey Beyer, a girl from a small town in Michigan who moves to Baltimore to attend art school. The book follows her first year away from home at college. Much of the story is told in lists and Livejournal entries that Ramsey actually wrote during her freshman year of college. While sometimes these lists and journal entries get long and repetitive, the honesty inherent in this format makes the book easy to read. However, the comics and drawings that held these writings together were my favorite part of the book. Beyer has a distinctive drawing style and the comic characters are often funny and insightful.

I had the opportunity to interview Ramsey Beyer. She said that she was originally approached by Zest Books with the idea, after the publishing company saw some of her self-published works. Beyer had to write the book while still working a full-time job and in a short period of time (only six months for the entire book). The book really feels like you, the reader, are having a personal conversation with the author. Part of the reason for this is because Zest Books gave Beyer total creative control and trusted her vision for the book. However, this did make it difficult for Beyer to know where to start her story and what route to take. Nevertheless, once she got started, Beyer says, “It all started to flow really naturally.” Beyer claims that writing autobiographical comics is therapeutic. She says, “I usually make all sorts of connections about myself and my thought process. It’s a really cathartic experience. It’s a way for me to process my thoughts and feelings about things.”

Beyer is clearly a talented artist and writer, and I suggest picking up this latest memoir.

One thing that is a little confusing in the book are the characters. Ramsey has a large group of friends, and since much of the book is drawn in comic form, it can be tricky to keep the names straight. When asked about her friends’ reactions to being in a book, Beyer said that most of her friends were excited. Though it is a comic, Beyer worked hard not to exaggerate features and drew people as accurately as possible. Beyer says that she is still friends with many of the characters in her book.

It was strange for Beyer to sift through all her journal entries and lists from her college days. “I hadn’t looked back on a lot of that stuff, and while I thought I had remembered that time for the most part, there were so many things I had forgotten!” Ramsey describes her college self as “bubbly and excited”. This is one of the reasons the book is so enjoyable. Ramsey is a likeable character. Like anyone starting college, she has her moments of naiveté and self-consciousness. However, she is friendly to everyone, and it is hard not to root for her, whether she is trying to make friends, acting on her feelings around a boy, or trying new styles of art.

For the next year or so, Beyer plans to focus mainly on shorter comics, which she wants to make into a collection of short works. Her first published book, Little Fish, does not take long to read and tells the story of her transition into college life. After reading the book, it is hard to not feel like you personally know Ramsey. Beyer is clearly a talented artist and writer, and I suggest picking up this latest memoir.

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