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Starfish Hardcover – September 26, 2017
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“In an empowering novel that will speak to many mixed-race teens, debut author Bowman has created a cast of realistically complex and conflicted characters. . . . Through art, Kiko gains a voice and finally understands that she is worthy, desirable, and talented.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Bowman evokes Kiko’s quiet hurt, pain, and frustration with breathtaking clarity, all the while reinforcing the narrative with love and hope. The story will resonate deeply with readers who have experienced abuse of any kind, or who have been held back by social anxiety. Starfish is a stunningly beautiful, highly nuanced debut.” —Booklist, starred review
“A deep and engaging story that will not only entertain but also may encourage readers to live their best lives.” —School Library Journal
“Moving.” —Kirkus Reviews
“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
“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. 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.
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Top customer reviews
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Kiko is a half-Japanese/half-white seventeen-year-old living in Midwest suburbia. I can't even find the right words to truly express how much I wish I had this book as a teenager, and how I believe Starfish will help so many teens, especially Asian-Americans, right now. I'm half-Filipino/half-Mexican and I grew up in Midwest suburbia - most of my classmates were white and it was brutal growing up wishing I had blonde hair and blue eyes. It took me over 20 years before I embraced my heritage and reading Kiko's story completely broke me because I was where she was.
She's struggling with her self-esteem, identity, and so much more (no spoilers). There are so many factors that go beyond her struggles like her relationships with her friend(s) and especially her family. Everything about Kiko's life was relatable because all of our struggles do stem from different aspects of our lives. School, work, friendships, family - everything. And that's what we get from Kiko's story. We dig into all of her issues with everything in her life and how they have shaped who she is and where she ends up.
You'll feel Kiko's loneliness but you'll also feel her hope. I cried on more than one occasion while reading because she's such a real character that you instantly feel connected to her. You want her to find her strength at the end of the story as if she was you.
All of the characters bring something to the story - you'll love some and you'll hate others. Jamie + the romance throughout the story was the icing on the cake. It was sweet, romantic, and reminded me of falling in love for the first time. <3
I can't believe this is a debut because Akemi Dawn Bowman's writing is stunning. She pulls at your heartstrings but fills you up with so much hope. I'm looking forward to all of her future work!
If you're looking for a great diverse, coming-of-age story then I can't recommend Starfish enough. It's absolutely beautiful and everyone needs to read it.
I've wanted to get my hands on a copy of STARFISH since I saw that INCREDIBLE cover (also one of my favorite covers of the year!!!), and I jumped at the chance to read an ARC this month. I started it at 10:30 the other night, which was a colossal mistake, since I could easily have devoured STARFISH in one sitting if I'd had the time! Bowman's debut is lyrical, gorgeous, emotionally intense, life-affirming, and hope-filled. Her characters are so wonderful, and her portrait of a protagonist with social anxiety and PTSD is so incredibly nuanced and realistic. My absolute favorite part of the book, though, is the art woven through it—Bowman does a truly astounding job of using words to describe visual art in such a way that I could totally see it as I read, which is a rare gift! The notes about Kiko's artwork throughout the book add such richness, depth, mystery, and beauty, and the evolution of her art as the book goes on is really wonderful.
If you're a fan of stunningly-written contemporary that deals with deep issues, definitely pick up a copy of STARFISH when it comes out next month! (However, it does need a trigger warning; it deals with sexual abuse as well as really intense psychological abuse, and probably isn't one I'd recommend to somebody who has difficulty with such narratives.)
Let me first say that this book handles a lot of difficult topics. Kiko was sexually abused as a child, her mom is racist and emotionally abusive towards her children, and Kiko of course also deals with social anxiety. There’s also a character who attempts to commit suicide. It’s pretty obvious there’s a lot of stuff here that might be upsetting or triggering, so PLEASE be aware of that!
But if you can handle reading about these subjects, please, please, please pick up this book. Like I mentioned, I was originally interested in it because the main character, Kiko, has social anxiety and as a socially anxious person, I’m always looking for more books that talk about it or represent it in any way. Starfish did not disappoint at all. There were so many things about Kiko’s anxiety that were relatable. Plus, a lot of her anxiety is a result of her abusive mother and while I have a great mom, I could still relate because a lot of it was similar to a horrible (probably abusive) friendship from when I was a kid. There was just so much that I could relate to with her – the situations that make her uncomfortable, her aversion to confrontation, other people’s comments about her anxiety – I could go on forever. It was so comforting to read about a character that I had so much in common with. I have mixed feelings about how the improvements in her social anxiety happen towards the end of the book, but my thoughts on it are kind of a jumbled mess so I don’t really want to put them in my official review. The short version is: I loved that Kiko is shown taking a hold of her mental illness and consciously trying to make improvements to her mental health, but I’m not sure that the improvements we see in the book are entirely realistic. It seemed a little too easy for Kiko at times. But like I said, my thoughts on it are messy.
As I mentioned, Kiko’s mom is abusive. And man, she was infuriating to read about. While Kiko’s dad is Japanese, her mom is white and really racist! Her mom constantly points out that Kiko isn’t “beautiful” according to American/European beauty ideals and she discourages her children from exploring Japanese culture (movies, books, food, etc.). She’s also ridiculously self-centered. No matter what happens, she finds a way to make it about herself and how she’s somehow a victim. Oh and there’s also the lovely (THAT’S SARCASM BTW) fact that she doesn’t care that her brother sexually abused Kiko. In fact, she tells Kiko that she’s not sure she’s telling the truth and that she could just be making it up. Great, right?! She was just the worst and I wanted to personally fight her.
The best part of this book was seeing Kiko’s growth. As the story goes on, she tries to push herself out of her comfort zone and try new things, be more independent, etc. Because of her anxiety, it can be very difficult for her, but she does it anyway. She also learns that she needs to start sticking up for herself and that she shouldn’t have to sit there and take the crap from her mom just because she wants to avoid a fight. She realizes that she shouldn’t blame herself for her mother’s insecurities, problems, and faults. I loved seeing her learn these things and actually stick with it, too. She’s so brave, strong, and inspirational. I love her and am officially starting a #ProtectKiko group (even though she probably doesn’t need it because she’s badass, BUT I’M DOING IT ANYWAY because her mother sucks and she needs someone, okay?).
I was pleasantly surprised by how well-rounded the book was, too. Based on the synopsis, I thought it was going to focus pretty exclusively on Kiko’s budding romance with her childhood friend, Jamie. While that is a major storyline, I’d honestly say it kind of takes a back seat to Kiko’s self-acceptance and growth. That’s not to say the romance isn’t present, though. Their relationship was really cute and I loved that it was a friends to lovers romance because those are always super sweet. Jamie was a wonderfully real character, too. He tries his best to be supportive and understanding for Kiko (especially with her social anxiety), but he’s still flawed. There are times where he doesn’t understand what she’s going through or experiencing, times where he can be a little short-tempered, etc. I didn’t see this as a negative thing though because it just made him that much more real.
One last thing: I LOVED how much Starfish incorporated art. Kiko loves to draw and paint and Jamie is a photographer. Even though Kiko is rejected from her dream program/school, she doesn’t let that stop her; in fact, after she takes some time to work through her disappointment, it becomes motivation for her to work on her skills to become better than ever. She ends up with a mentor who helps her channel her emotions into her art and I loved seeing how much art means to her and helps her get through difficult times. Honestly, there were so many times when I was reading this that I wanted to work on my own art skills, even though I do not consider myself artistic at all.
Starfish is yet another fantastic new release this year and I really encourage you to pick it up, as long as you’ll be okay reading about all of the difficult subjects that come up. Kiko is not only relatable but inspiring and you’ll surely enjoy seeing how much she grows. I seriously cannot recommend this enough. If you like YA contemporary, this is a must-read.
I volunteered to read and honestly review an early copy sent to me by the publisher.
Most recent customer reviews
THIS.BOOK. Where do I even begin.
Though not immediately obvious, and maybe not exactly the “central theme”, Starfish celebrates beauty – of...Read more
Starfish was one of my most anticipated books of the year.Read more