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Starfish Hardcover – September 26, 2017
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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A 2018 William C. Morris Award Finalist
A New York Public Library 2017 Best Book for Teens
A Junior Library Guild Selection
“An empowering novel that will speak to many mixed-race teens.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A stunningly beautiful, highly nuanced debut.” —Booklist, starred review
“Readers living with anxiety or depression will immediately identify with Kiko. . . . a deep and engaging story that will not only entertain but also may encourage readers to live their best lives.” —School Library Journal
“Vividly captures the identity struggles of a biracial young adult searching to find her place in two worlds.” —BCCB
“Bowman gives a powerful voice to silenced victims of sexual abuse through Kiko, whose transformation from meek and afraid into powerful and strong is incredibly moving.” —VOYA
“One of the most compelling reads of the year.” —Paste Magazine
“This book is a gem.” —BookRiot
“A vibrant, complex and heartfelt story about finding your place in a sharp-edged world that never makes it easy.” —Kelly Loy Gilbert, author of Conviction and Picture Us in the Light
“Akemi Dawn Bowman’s quietly dazzling debut novel gave me the sensation of looking into a mirror. This story is a knockout, at once an incisive portrait of family dysfunction, a nuanced depiction of Asian-American adolescence, and an artist's vibrant coming-of-age—a story so specific as to be universal. Brimming with confessional intimacy and the furious strength of empowerment, Starfish feels like the ache of being lost and the relief of finding home.” —Riley Redgate, author of Seven Ways We Lie and Noteworthy
About the Author
Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish and Summer Bird Blue. She is also a Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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For years, I have been on an undying journey to read relatable stories with topics that are either light and typically romantic, or moving and highly emotional. It’s usually a one-hit knockout for me if books are both. The relatability of the novel that I want to talk about today emanates just that, and it’s everything that I’ve ever wanted a contemporary to be and more. I’m so proud to be able to read and feature Akemi Dawn Bowman’s debut novel, Starfish, here on my site today!
One of the many reasons why I was so intrigued to read Starfish is because I wanted to see the author’s take on the abusive parent trope. In this book, the MC’s mother clearly had eyes only for herself and the only thing that seemed to matter to her were her physical appearance, how her actions and character affected how people think of her, and she honestly had little care for her children. I have to admit, however, that I loved reading the confrontation scenes between Kiko and her mom, even if it also broke my heart to see how realistic this instance is for those that come from complicated backgrounds.
I love how the author was able to elicit strong emotions from me when I read her book, and I am guessing that this is because of Kiko’s innocent yet passionate voice. The way Akemi wrote Kiko’s perspectives were, at times, extremely heartbreaking (especially during the confrontation scenes), and yet there were also instances when I rejoiced for the happiness that Kiko felt when she met Jamie, his family, and other important characters. The impressive writing style paved the way for a fast-paced reading experience that is guaranteed for readers, especially for those who have hearts for a YA Contemporary.
Kiko’s character development all throughout the book is noteworthy too. From being a daughter who had nothing but insecurities, to becoming an artist who loved telling stories through her drawings and paintings, everything was so well-written. The transformation was, for lack of better terms, impressive. I appreciated how Akemi took her precious time letting us see Kiko’s world through her eyes, and walking us through her life filled with familial heartbreaks and disappointment. In the end, Kiko might have not been able to completely overcome her social anxiety, but she did learn to wholeheartedly accept herself and her roots, and that alone made me love this book so much.
Lastly, I also think the romance aspect of the story might have been a little too subtle for me, but I know it will be perfect for lots of other readers. I like the roller coaster of a relationship Kiko and Jamie had from the start, and I like the fact that they were able to rekindle their past relationship before engaging in one that was purely romantic. This gave their love story a stronger foundation, and all the more believable. I think it’s also worth noting that Kiko and Jamie have great chemistry together, and they honestly felt like 2 characters that were really made (or written) for each other. Being together turned them into something else entirely, and I love how they both brought out the best in each other.
“With characters that are extremely easy to root for, an antagonist that readers will surely love to hate, a romance story that’s healthy in all aspects, and an extra impressive writing style and pacing, Starfish, obviously has the makings of a bestseller. I didn’t expect for this book to make me feel so lovely in my own skin, and I hope everyone gets the opportunity to read this as well. What troubles me now, however, is that this book greatly heightened my expectations for YA Contemporaries, and I only hope to be lucky enough to read a story that’s as good as this one in the future.”
Before I begin, I would like to that the Cover Gods for coming up with the ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL Starfish cover because everything about this cover works for this book and AAH. It’s just so pleasing to look at.
“I draw a girl on a plane, leaving her heart on the runway.”
There was absolutely nothing I didn’t like about this book, so let’s talk about all the things I did love:
1. Our Biracial Protagonist: Kiko is half American, half Japanese and from the very first page you can see her struggling with the image of beauty that her mother has drilled into her. She struggles to fall in love with the person she sees in the mirror, she struggles with anxiety, she struggles with her heritage versus just wanting to be “normal” which as an Indian is SO RELATABLE to me. I connected with Kiko, and fell for her instantly because her voice is raw, honest and most importantly, real.
“I draw water and fire, forgetting all the rules and morphing into something new.”
2. THE ART: I don’t talk about it one the internet much, but I’m also an artist. I’m nowhere near as talented as Kiko, but I can paint. When I feel like it. The words used by Akemi Bowan to describe Kiko’s art brought it to life in a way I’ve never seen done before. All the quotes are Akemi bringing to life her imaginings of Kiko’s art, because I thought you should see how BEAUTIFUL it was to read for me.
“I draw a thousand fairies circling around a girl so she can finally fly away.”
3. THE CHARACTER GROWTH: Three chapters into this book, I felt like I knew Kiko. I understood what it was like to be her, socially awkward and all. I loved how she blossomed and started gambling on herself more as the book progressed and by the end, she actually said out loud what she kept inside before. It was like a caterpillar learning to become a butterfly and I LOVED IT.
“I draw five Japanese women with very different faces, but all of them are equally beautiful because beauty is not just one thing.”
4. HIROSHI AND JAMIE: Now, they’re not love interests, this book DOESN’T HAVE a love triangle, but they’re both such SPECTACULAR characters. Hiroshi is an artist who takes Kiko under his wing, introduces her to his Japanese family and shows her what unconditional love is. Jamie, on the other hand, is her childhoos best friend with his blue eyes and kind smile. They’re both such perfect people, and exactly the supportive, kind people that Kiko needed and I fell in love with them too.
A lyrical, gorgeously written, poignant diverse book about loving yourself, growing up and first love.
5 stars and I COULD NOT RECOMMEND IT MORE.