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.
From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.
I received an ARC of this via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Make sure to buy your copy when it comes out on September 27, 2017.
I have no words to describe my love for this book. Yes, I can tell it was written by a debut author. Yes, it has its flaws and lapses–but honestly, none of this detracts from the story for me. The beauty of the message of acceptance and self-love overshadows any imperfections Starfish may have. I think I may have just read one of my new favorite books.
I admit that I may be biased. Like Kiko, I am a half-Asian girl who hopes to one day go to school to study art. And while I am Filipina to Kiko’s Japanese, and my school is Yale to Kiko’s Prism, never have I related so closely to a character. I’m going to make a fairly safe assumption here in saying that most book bloggers/readers tend to be introverts, but I think anyone who has ever faced any sort of social anxiety can also relate to Kiko. Her struggles in facing the world are raw and realistic, written with elegance and accuracy. This book made me extremely emotional, and I think that is mostly due to the fact that I felt like I was looking into a mirror. Bowman writes with a sincerity that hits close to home.
Kiko’s learning to love herself was such an incredible journey to read about, and something I’ve been trying to achieve my whole life. The way Bowman shed light on racism and Western beauty standards has really put things into perspective for me. Every day, we tell ourselves that what other people say doesn’t matter, but that is a mindset much easier to think about than actually achieve. To watch as Kiko slowly learned this lesson from both heartbreak and hope was truly inspiring, and I felt as if I was growing as a person alongside her. She was such a well-developed, emotionally complex person–person, not character–that I couldn’t help but see myself in her shoes. I laughed and cried alongside her, and it is only with the best kind of book that you can do that. I devoured this book in one sitting, and I didn’t want it to end.
Also, there is a really, really cute ship. Jamie is our love interest in this story, and I could not dream of a better boy myself. He’s sweet, supportive, thoughtful, hot…There is a hint of insta-love, but I wasn’t opposed to it because it made sense in Kiko’s situation. Jamie was an emotional crutch for her in a time of need, which totally justified her attachment to him that occurred over such a short period. Heck, I was attached to him after 2 pages. Still, the romance was not overbearing. It was definitely supplemental to the story rather than detrimental.
I could not recommend a novel more highly. Starfish, while classified as young adult, was startlingly mature and complex. The prose was eloquent and raw in a way that provided a rich emotional atmosphere. What lacked in plot was made up tenfold by the beauty of Kiko’s self discovery. I was literally SOBBING throughout most of the book. Please, please do yourself a favor and pick this one up.