Review: Starfish, Akemi Dawn Bowman

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.



Β β€œI’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.



Β β€œThe 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.



Β β€œBeauty isn’t a single thing. Beauty is dreamingδΈ€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:Β  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, Β 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!


Posted by

Book blogger, travel blogger, writer. πŸ“š |🌍 | πŸ’ž Writing & Communications Graduate. French. Living on love, wanderlust and ya books.

58 thoughts on “Review: Starfish, Akemi Dawn Bowman

  1. I read this and absolutely freaking loved it.

    I read through the review you linked to and honestly don’t agree with it, but that’s simply because – as Elise states – it’s more because of personal experience than anything else when it comes to certain topics. I can see and understand her on certain things – as in the “cured by love” thing – but on the other hand.. I’ve been there myself, at that exact position where a relationship helped me get away from the abuse.

    I’m not going to go into it any further because my mind so is not ready for this right now [shitty emotional day, thank you unborn kid, haha], but I live for the narcissism that’s presented in this story because it hit home for me in the best and worst ways. Starfish is perfect when it comes to portraying my past in a lot of ways and I’ll always be thankful to the author for that. ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YAY I am so glad you loved it just as much as I did. It is such a brilliant book ❀
      I agree that with some topics, it really comes down to personal experiences πŸ™‚
      Oh no. I'm so sorry you had an emotional day, I'm always here a message, DM, email away if you ever need to chat, Kathy ❀ ❀ ❀ ❀
      I'm so happy you found this book and that you loved it so much ❀ ❀ ❀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know, Marie. Thank you. ❀ Thing is that it's been going on for so long that talking about it doesn't really help anymore. I simply need the amniocentesis to be over and done with so I can get the results and know what'll happen next. The insecurity is doing our heads in and nothing can really be done about that. :')

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant review, love! ❀ I've had this one on my tbr for a little while, and might have to push it a bit higher up the list! I like the idea of the complex familial relationships and the former childhood best friend relationship actually sounds really cute! ❀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a lovely and detailed review Marie ❀️ I am so glad you loved this book as much as I did. This book was definitely tough but it shows so many important topics.
    Ugghh, i hated her mother so much. Probably she is the worst mother for me in YA. She was so bad. I really wish no one gets a mother like that πŸ™ˆ I really liked how the book title perfectly fits her.
    Your review is making me want to read this book all over again πŸ˜ƒ

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thank you so, so very much, Sim, this makes me so happy ❀ ❀
      I swear some moments made me SO ANGRY and mad and ughhhhh. But this book was really raw and powerful and ultimately, beautiful with Kiko's growth, too. I loved it ❀
      Thank you so, so much!! ❀ ❀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I actually just finished this book on Monday, and your review pretty much sums up how I felt! It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time and the mom was absolutely horrible. I think Kiko’s story is one that YA needs, and I’m so glad it’s out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great review for this book Marie. πŸ™‚ I’ve heard so many amazing things about Starfish, so many bloggers seemed to be so excited for its release, but before reading your review I didn’t really have much of an idea of what this book was about. It sounds like an incredible read, though yeah I can imagine some parts would be really hard to read. Still based on what you’ve written it seems like the representation was well handled, though I get how something like this can be triggering to some readers.
    I’ll definitely be adding this to my TBR list, based on your rating alone this is a book I can’t pass by. πŸ™‚ ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thank you so, so much Beth! It was a tough read a times, but really worth it. It was heartbreaking yet beautiful and I absolutely loved Kiko’s journey. I can’t wait for you to read it! πŸ˜€ ❀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m so happy you ended up enjoying this book. I just knew you would, it’s a heartbreaking one and I wanted to punch Kiko’s mother so many times during the book, but it’s one of my favorites ❀ You did a wonderful job writing this review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thank you so, so, so, so much, this means the world to me ❀ ❀
      I really enjoyed this book and I'm so glad my expectations were actually met – I had sky-high expectations somehow, haha. I loved it very, very much ❀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Okay, so the fact that this book has some Japanese representation is all the convincing I need to pick it up. But, the fact that it also received such a high review by you makes me want to read it even more! I also think that the themes discussed in the book are important, so that’s another draw. I definitely haven’t been reading enough books outside of my preferred YA Fantasy genre lately, so I should really get on that. Any recommendations for great contemporaries I should read? Anyways, thanks for a great review, Marie πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. AHHH this makes me so, so very happy, Kat, thank you so much! ❀ I really, really hope you'll pick it up and that you will love it as much as I did.
      You're asking me for contemporary recommendations….. well…….. are you ready for my list πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ I'll try to keep it short, so, off the top of my mind:
      Nothing Left To Burn, I Was Born For This (and all of Alice Oseman's books), In Search of Us, Emergency Contact, The Impossibility of Us, Girl Out of Water, all o Morgan Matson's books, Always Never Yours, The Astonishing Color of After, I'll Meet You There….
      I should stop πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Okay, thank you so much for the recommendations! I will have to go add all of these books to my TBR list. I’ve had my eye on The Astonishing Color of After for awhile because that title is just so cool! I should probably see what it’s actually about…haha πŸ™‚ Thanks again for taking the time to tell me about these books!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. This is such a wonderful review, Marie! ❀️ I agree with you on so many points, like how Starfish was both a heartwarming and heartbreaking read. I’m gonna say this again, haha – I’m SO happy that you loved Starfish like I did; it’s honestly such an incredible book and deserves all the love it gets (and more). The Asian and anxiety rep was one of the best I’ve ever read! I felt so connected to Kiko’s character and I felt like we were the same person. I related to her so much and it was an amazing feeling to be able to see so much of myself in a book. 😍😭 I’m so glad that Starfish addressed beauty standards, too, because it’s something I could relate to as well. Great post as always! πŸ’ž

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Dezzy I am so, so, so very happy that you connected with this book so deeply – it’s SO important and so great when we can find ourselves so much in stories, I’m so glad this happened for you here! ❀
      I LOVED this book so, so very much. The anxiety rep was on point and I loved the characters and ahhh, I just can't wait to read everything the author writes next ❀
      Thank you so, so, so much for your sweet comment! ❀ ❀

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I read this last year and it was AMAZING. I had such a personal connection to it and it’s one of those books I want to hold close to my heart forever.

    I LOVE your review. It’s very detailed. I’m so happy you loved this book!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This was such a beautiful review, Marie ❀ I've seen Starfish floating around ever since it came out and everyone seems to find a little bit of themselves in it, in one way or another. That's incredibly powerful!

    Although not my favourite of tropes, I can't deny the childhood friends falling in love can be super sweet and endearing and I will on occasion indulge, even if in my experience it isn't usually as satisfying as some others. Glad to hear this one wasn't the case πŸ™‚

    It's really cool that you include other readers' reviews as well. Different perspectives are so important ❀

    Amazing review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thank you so much Sophie, I’m so happy you enjoyed reading this ❀

      Starfish was such a beautiful book, beautifully written and so, so important. I hope you'll want to give it a try someday πŸ˜€

      Thank you!! ❀ ❀

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Lovely review! I remember wanting to read this one when it first came out but I’d forgotten all about it until now! So thanks for the reminder! I’ll be sure to add this one to my list. I’m always down for a heartbreaking yet heartwarming story. It’s so hard to read past frustrating characters, but this one sounds like it’s worth it in the end! And I’m always up for the childhood friends to lovers trope. Never mad about that LOL. Sounds like this one has a lot of things going for it. So happy that you enjoyed it! πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh you’re so, so welcome, I’m so happy if I could remind you of this, it’s such a great book πŸ˜€
      I hope you’ll love it, whenever you can read it πŸ˜€ Thank you so much! ❀

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohhhh, well I’m glad I could spotlight it for you again πŸ˜€ I hope you’ll give it a try someday, it is worth picking up for sure. I loved it SO much ❀ ❀
      Thank you for your sweet comment! ❀


  12. I’m so happy you loved Starfish Marie! I agree that it’s a very empowering story. It’s a book I know I’ll reread when my anxiety gets a bit too much to handle πŸ™‚ Also thank you so much for sharing my review! ❀️

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.