I feel like I haven’t posted a book review in forever, so it was time that I did.
After scrolling through my blog, apparently my last review was for Tess of the d’Ubervilles on December 10th, so it HAS been a while. Starfish is officially my third read of 2019, and also happens to be a new favourite. This book really left its mark on me, and I’m here to share why.
Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Genre: YA, Contemporary
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Trigger warning: sexual abuse, parental abuse, suicide, racism
What this book is about:
Starfish is the story of Kiko, a Japanese-American senior in high school who dreams of going to Prism, a very selective art school. She lives with her abusive mother and her two brothers — her parents are divorced and her dad remarried. Kiko deals daily with her social anxiety and her self-centered abusive mother. She’s not really close with her brothers, and sees it as a way of protecting herself from getting hurt. It also becomes clear very early in the story that Kiko was abused by her uncle when she was a child, although her mother never believed her. And she also thinks herself responsible for her parents divorce.
To sum it up, it’s basically a coming of age story featuring a Japanese-American teenage girl with an abusive mother, a childhood trauma, anxiety and a passion for art. Add to the mix a fantastic best-friend, a trip to California, and a childhood crush she meets again year later, and you have the essence of Starfish.
Starfish is available as a free read on Riveted Lit until the end of the month!!
My thoughts ❤️
This book was such a powerful, beautiful rollercoaster of emtions. I really loved it.
This review may contain spoilers!
As someone who has anxiety, Kiko’s struggle with it hit extremely close from home and I really appreciated that. The rep was done perfectly when it came to that, and I probably cried more than a few times because of it. I could relate to her so much, and it doesn’t happen to that extent that often.
On a daily basis, Kiko also had to deal with her self-centered mother who didn’t really give a shit about her, to the point that she would literally direct racist comments towards her, and criticize her Asian-ness, which really broke my heart every single time. Kiko’s mom is a villain with no arc of redemption, and who only briefly supports her children when it can benefit her. She has been harmful to the point that Kiko doesn’t really talk with her brothers, scared that if she gets too close, she might get hurt. It also led to her having very little self-confidence, and building a carapace. Her dad hasn’t been much around for the past few years. She does visit him from time to time, but never confided in him.
When Kiko gets the opportunity of going to California with her childhood best friend Jamie, she sees it as the opportunity of a lifetime, to finally get some freedom. All the while through, though, she is burdened by her anxiety and her childhood trauma, in a very realistic way.
Throughout the book, Kiko struggled with her own identity, and also tries to reconnect with her Japanese roots. It was both beautiful and moving (and also a little bit heartbreaking).
“Dad’s the only person I know from the Japanese side of the family — the side I feel like I’m supposed to be connected to, even though I don’t know anything about it. Everyone expects me to be Asian, not white, because of the way I look. But I’m only half Japanese — I’m the same amount of Asian as I am white. Why doesn’t anyone ever call me half white? It’s confusing. I wonder if it will always be confusing.”
It just feels so real reading this. I don’t know how else to say it. Starfish points out how racist people can be, and how people of mixed ethnicity are massively misunderstood and mistreated. All the while featuring very beautiful writing, and fascinating characters.
It’s so easy for the reader to keep believing along with Kiko that her mother will somehow get better, somehow believe her & believe in her, somehow start to care, yet she is a villain to the core and she gets no arc of redemption. That was also really realistic.
Eventually, I also really appreciated Kiko’s need to be her own person, and not rely on others to help her feel better. It would have been so easy for the story to to like: Kiko meets with her childhood crush after years spent apart and suddenly all of her problems were gone. While Jaimie did help her, like her friend Emery used to, she realised that getting better & stronger was a journey she had to do herself. Again, that was not only beautiful, but also realistic. And made her a good role model for the readers!
This pretty much sums up how I feel about this book. I loved the story from beginning to end — the ending was also really refreshing and full of hope. I loved the writing style, the plot, the character development. I also really loved the metaphor of the starfish (
not going to spoil you on that one, but when you find out where the title comes from it really does make sense, and fit the book perfectly!) I also really enjoyed all the descriptions of Kiki’s art. And of course, I loved the cover as well, how gorgeous is it?!
This review doesn’t even begin to show how much I felt while reading this book, but I hope you will pick it up as well because it’s totally worth it.