Review of Starfish

February 27, 2018 Book Reviews 0 ★★★★★

Review of StarfishStarfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Published by Simon Pulse on September 26th 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Modern
Pages: 340
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Goodreads five-stars

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.

This book paralyzed me, because I didn’t know how to write a review for something that moved me so deeply. I sat on my couch and cried every time I opened it. Cried not because I was sad, but because I saw myself in this book and Akemi Dawn Bowman wrote it EXACTLY HOW IT IS, to live this way, and she articulates it – something I’ve never been able to do clearly, even to people I trust and count my closest friends. I think I am lucky enough to have a few friends who understand me anyway, but to explain why I act the way I do or feel the way I feel…nope. Because of this book, I think I finally have something of an idea – or at least a better idea – of how HUGE of a deal representation is in books. Huge. HUGE. I’ve always SAID I believed it was important, but I didn’t really know how it FELT.

Kiko is half-Japanese, half white. The biracial rep is actually why I picked this book up – not because I myself am biracial, but because I was trying to find another book to read for the January challenge! Kiko also has moderate-severe social anxiety, and lives with a psychologically and emotionally abusive, narcissistic mother.

Ding ding, on both of those.

At first I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I kept telling my husband, “I swear, I think the author met my mother and decided to write her into a book!” And then I started to cry because someone understood not only having a mother like that, but having overwhelming panic at the thought of going places or meeting people.

Normal people don’t need to prepare for social interactions. Normal people don’t panic at the sight of strangers. Normal people don’t want to cry because the plan they’ve processed in their head is suddenly not the plan that’s going to happen.

SO MUCH THIS. So much. Also, Kiko sits outside of a party in her car for about 20 minutes before she can convince herself to go in – and in the end her friend comes outside to go back in with her anyway. Been there, done that. Social functions are HARD. They’re terrifying, and exhausting. I have a very, very distinct memory of arranging to have dinner with a friend (myself and my husband), and showing up at the restaurant to discover he had invited about 5 other people. I nearly blacked out standing next to the table, and I fought tears for several minutes after my husband helped me sit down. I can only imagine what those other people must have thought of me – but Kiko knows exactly what that is like.

Kiko’s mother is psychologically and emotionally abusive. She is white, has bi-racial children (biological even), and yet she is incredibly racist. She constantly makes Kiko feel ugly and worthless. She lies to her about events in the past, she demeans her childrens’ heritage. She must be the center of attention at all times, and she must look perfect to the world outside. And Kiko – as every child does – craves her mother’s approval and support. Even when she knows it would be better to cut her mom out of her life, even when it would be healthier for her not to engage – she does. Because somewhere deep inside, there is still a tiny, tiny hope that one day her mom will be supportive and unconditionally loving.

Ding ding, again.

I was so happy to see Kiko finally get to embrace herself. Her ethnicity, her art, her personality. And to find friends who loved and accepted her for who she is, and who could celebrate ALL of her, with her. Also people who understood how poisonous her mother was.

“All that time growing up, I thought I was the only one who could see. I thought nobody understood the way he was. I thought I was the problem. But some people are just starfish – they need everyone to fill the roles that they assign. They need the world to sit around them, pointing at them and validating their feelings. But you can’t spend your life trying to make a starfish happy, because no matter what you do, it will never be enough.”

Please go read this book. Whether you identify with Kiko somehow, or if you like art (Kiko is an amazing artist and the book has some beautiful descriptions of her paintings and drawings…also check out the fan art competition). Just please read. Even if you don’t see yourself in it, I guarantee you someone in your life or acquaintance DOES.

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five-stars

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: