Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Genre: Young Adult: Contemporary
Publication Date: April 5th 2018 (by Ink Road)
My Rating: 5/5 stars
“We all have to dream our own dreams. We only get one life to live – live it for yourself, not anyone else.” Starfish, Akemi Dawn Bowman
“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 e-arc of Starfish from Ink Road via Netgalley to read in exchange for an honest review. I’ve heard so many good things about Starfish, and I’m happy to say that it did not disappoint.
Before I start, I’m going to give some TRIGGER WARNINGS: for mentions of sexual abuse, suicide and toxic parental relationships. Those are the main ones I can remember, sorry if I missed any!
The first chapter was already heartbreaking, and because I started this on the train, I had to stop because I didn’t want to become too emotional in public. But if a book can affect me so much within the first chapter, I know it’ll be a promising story. I enjoyed the descriptive writing and I found that it was engaging and flowed well.
I adored Kiko’s character and could relate to her on some levels, such as us both wanting and trying to make people around us proud and the strained relationship with her brothers. I found her anxiety relatable too, especially since I hate going new places without someone I know, and seeing this written down on paper was painful but it also made me feel less alone. I actually enjoyed meeting Kiko’s siblings and I wished that their family life wasn’t this heartbreaking, that way they’d be close and have each other’s support.
Kiko’s home family honestly broke my heart, and I just kept wishing she’d get a happy ending because she didn’t deserve all the psychological abuse she received from her mother. Ugh I hate people like Kiko’s mum, narcissist and racist. We also got to meet Kiko’s father and his wife, Serena, who are amazing people and the three children would’ve had a better family life with them than with Kiko’s mother.
I loved how despite Kiko’s poor family life, she was able to find a father figure in Hiroshi, a famous artist. He’s such an amazing father and the advice he gives really hit home, makes you think and is so applicable in my life and probably everyone else’s too.
I liked how romance wasn’t the centrepiece of the story, but rather Kiko learning to become comfortable with who she is was the main focus. Even though I absolutely adored the friendship between Jamie and Kiko. Jamie is literally the sweetest, most patient and kindest soul ever. The world needs more of him.
This story has such a strong and meaningful message, and I think it’s an important story that everyone should read. And it helps that this book features a biracial (Japanese-white) protagonist which anxiety -> PoC and mental health representation is important, therefore all the more reason to read this wonderful story.
I was satisfied with the ending of the book, but I also hope that Kiko cuts ties or at least doesn’t listen to her mother’s words because she deserves to be free from her mother’s negativity. I actually shed tears in the last couple of chapters, which is a rare occurrence for me because I don’t normally cry whilst reading books. So yes, this book did end up making me emotional, but it was still so so good.
I also loved how symbolic the title of the book was in relation to Kiko’s life. I love when the title means something within the story because it makes it more meaningful. And gosh the cover is gorgeous. I think I’ll get a physical copy for myself.
Overall, Starfish was a well-written book with an important message for readers. It’s such a relatable story, and I would highly recommend it to you all. And it’s not too long of a book, so you’ll definitely fly through it.