There are no spoilers in this review.
I have been eager to read Starfish ever since I first heard about it… well, when it first released last year. Somehow, I felt like this would be a book for me and, as the reviews started rolling in, I was more and more convinced that I would love it and… well, I really did.
A BEAUTIFUL, HEARTBREAKING JOURNEY
“I’ve always felt like I desperately needed to say my feelings out loud – to form the words and get them out of me, because they’ve always felt like dark clouds in my head that contaminate everything around them.”
Starfish was not an easy read, that’s for sure, nor was it a heavily plot-focused kind of read, either. It shone a light on brilliant characters I quickly grew to love. Kiko is a biracial Japanese-American teenager, dealing with her abusive house-hold every single day, trying to get through the day with her mother, was not necessarily a portrayal of strength – she felt more like a portrayal of a realistic teenager with her fears, her needs, her wants to be recognized by a narcissistic, emotionally abusive mother.
Reading Starfish was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.
Heartbreaking, because of everything Kiko has to handle on her shoulders, because of everything she is going through, because some moments made me want to tear the book in two from the frustration and hurt. Yet heartwarming, because Kiko’s journey was incredible to read about, her growth as a character, as she got to know herself and put herself first. The representation of Kiko as she deals with anxiety and social anxiety in this story was on point, as far as I am concerned just as well, which made this so real to read. I can’t personally speak on the biracial representation, but it is #ownvoices as well.
CHILDHOOD BEST FRIENDS, COMPLEX FAMILIES
“The painting isn’t about the starfish. It’s about the girl who wants to venture out into the ocean, away from the starfish, so she can feel like she matters.”
Our main character in Starfish is surrounded by other, interesting secondary characters I really enjoyed reading about. There’s Jamie, the former childhood best friend coming back, that I absolutely loved. He was such a sweet little bean, I loved him so much. And yes, before you ask: there is a love story blooming here and it’s the childhood friends trope so I AM LIVING FOR IT OKAY. I also felt like, despite its closeness to being a “love-cures everything” kind of horrible trope I am not a fan of, IT WAS NOT THAT WAY at all and I was so happy about it. It was interesting to see the relationship grow, but also and most importantly to see Kiko stand up for herself and try to stand together on her own, before anything else.
Obviously I should mention Kiko’s mother as an important character here. Her mother really made me want to squeeze the books in my hands so hard it would disappear. I said it before, it was not an easy read. Her mother is harmful, racist and self-centered and just, ugh this was so frustrating and hard to read sometimes. (Note that I can’t speak personally on the abuse rep, but please note that some reviewers have found it problematic. I’ll invite you to read Elise’s review on that topic. Once again though, this is an #ownvoices story and as always, can’t fit everyone’s experiences either.)
Starfish also delivers complex family relationships, regarding Kiko’s mother and as well as her brothers and father. I appreciated the glimpses we saw of Kiko with her father, as well as the moments with her brother close to the end of the book. I wish we had more brother/sister moments, but that wasn’t what this was about anyway, so I can’t be mad.
ANXIETY, BEAUTY, DREAMS
“Beauty isn’t a single thing. Beauty is dreaming一it’s different for everyone, and there are so many versions of it that you mostly have no control over how you see it”
Starfish also has so many interesting discussions about beauty standards (something that May mentioned wonderfully in her own review), about reaching out for your dreams, about finding out more about your own culture, identity and parts of yourself. It’s about standing up for yourself, it’s about finding yourself, it’s about so, so many important things. It’s not about curing anxiety, it’s about managining to live with it. It’s a “yo’re the hero of your own story” kind of empowering, really.
Well, I loved Starfish and probably rambled on too much. If you need to remember something about this review, let it be this: Starfish is a wonderful, unforgettable and beautifully written debut I’d heavily recommend you to try (if the topics dealt with are not too hard for you, please be careful). I know I’m going to read everything the author writes next.
Final rating: 4,5 drops!
Trigger warnings: emotional parental abuse, attempted suicide (not narrated in details), child physical abuse (narrated)
I’d heavily recommend you to read Michelle’s brilliant review as well.
Akemi Dawn Bowman, Starfish, Published by Ink Road, April 5th 2018.
Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.
But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.
Did you read Starfish? Do you want to?
Do you know other great books dealing with anxiety and social anxiety? Let me know in comments!