Verdict: Utterly charming graphic novel memoir.
Perfect for: High school students wondering what college might be like; college students wondering what other college students’ life is like; aspiring artists of any genre; lovers of comix memoirs; post-college peeps looking for a little nostalgia. So….pretty much everyone?
Summary: In 2009/2010 Natalie Nourigat chronicled her senior year at University of Oregon by drawing a one page comic for every day of her academic year. The title “Between Gears” refers to the sense of being in between two important stages of life. During the course of the year Natalie stresses about completing college and what to do with her life after graduation – all while balancing a full social life as well as her life as a graphic novel artist.
Accomplished Art – with a Side of Whimsy
Nourigat’s style is dynamic and fun. The visual narration varies between “literal” depictions of her day and a more exaggerated, manga-influenced style. I’m sure there is some special Japanese term for this, but Nourigat often will use a kind of mini cartoonish version of herself to show an expression of emotion like embarrassment or shyness or excitement. She also throws in little hearts and tears and other manga-like embellishments to show how a character is feeling. I hope my description of Nourigat’s art doesn’t make it sound like it is too cutesie or precious, because it’s not. It’s just right, and very fun. And the more straightforward art is really, really good.
The Essence of College Life* (*for middle class students)
*Sigggghhhhhhh* WARNING: to all post-college folks…this book may cause massive amounts of nostalgia. Remember the days when your major stresses were largely balancing classwork, social life, minor chores like laundry and exercise, and maybe even a part-time job? And you could go find a group of people around your age any day of the week and go out and party or just have a nice dinner or maybe stumble upon some arthouse film or campus event? Yeah, those were the days. Sometimes Nourigat’s stressing can seem a little bit #firstworldproblems-y, but she was giving an accurate account of what she was doing each day and how she felt about it and I totally cut her all the slack in the world because college is SUPPOSED to be the time when you can still be a little bit of a navel-gazer as you figure out who you are and what you are about.
ALSO, all props to Nourigat, who on top of being a “regular” college student, also has duties as a sorority sister, an Etsy vendor, a freelance artist AND someone who made the commitment of doing a page of art a day for this very book. She may not have had to work at some fast-food place as a part-time job, but she was fully committed to working on her art for both personal and career development reasons. That’s definitely a job in itself, and she does it both for the pure joy of it and as a way to create work opportunities for herself post-college. HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS TAKE NOTE: Want to have a full and meaningful college experience? Read this book. Emulate Nourigat. She did college right.
I may be an oldster, but I got a lot out of Nourigat’s “between gears” wisdom. She seeks opportunities through friends and online contacts, and lets herself be open to all possibilities. Sometimes she becomes overwhelmed by just how many choices she has and fears that if she makes the “wrong” choice she is closing certain doors forever, and what if she makes the wrong choice? And what if people (whose opinion she respects) are telling her to do one thing but her gut is telling her something else? I think we go through many stages in our lives when we feel that we are “between gears” and this book gave me a lot of comfort and inspiration about being in that phase. It’s a frightening place to be in life, but also so very exciting. Nourigat captures this perfectly.
A Year’s Worth of Books, TV, and Movie Recommendations
Nourigat references a GRIP of comics, books, TV shows and movies throughout her graphic novel. Again: college. What an awesome time to learn about all kinds of new stuff from a variety of people (profs and peers) and have the time and young brain to absorb it all (or at least try). If you are up to it, and are into comics or Japanese pop culture, you can get a whole bunch of recommendations out of Nourigat’s book.
A Peek into the Artistic Process
I’m usually quite the book reading dilettante: I like flipping back and forth between where I actually am in the book to the back cover to the inside flap to the author acknowledgements to the about the author to the index to any photo pages, etc (one reason why I prefer paper books over digital). Yet somehow I totally failed to notice -until I got to the end – that Nourigat provides a whole bonus section that explains her artistic process and how she approached developing this graphic novel memoir of her Senior year. TOTALLY fascinating. I love nuts and bolts stuff like that. How generous of her to share her “secrets” – she obviously loves her craft and loves sharing her knowledge and skills with others. Natalie Nourigat’s positive and engaging spirit shines through on every page but especially in this bonus section. This has to be even more fantastic for any aspiring graphic artists out there.
I think I would like this. I want to read it. Mini-japanese-cartoon versions of self are called “chibi’s”. As in: Chibi-Jessica.
ahhhhhh! that is a good term to know. I need some chibis.
You can read her book as a webcomic here or wait a few weeks and read it on paper 😉
Great review! Sounds super good. Good thing I gots me that new library card. Thanks for giving me something to do today!
cool cool – it just was released so check out the book as a webcomic here: http://betweengears.smackjeeves.com/comics/733139/tuesday-august-25/
I usually avoid graphic novels solely because the all-caps lettering gives me headaches, but I MAY HAVE TO MAKE AN EXCEPTION.