ARC Review – Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Since I read so much, there are very few books that truly stay with me. A lot of times I’ll continue to think about things when I’m done reading, but that punched-in-the-gut feeling? It’s a lot rarer for me now than it used to be. I think it’s a side effect of over-saturation. Or, as H would say, TOO MANY BOOKS (which I don’t think is a thing). In any case, Starfish is sticking with me, and I’m not sure how long it’s going to take for me to shake it. I’m also not sure I want to shake it. But this ache? It’s making me feel both worn down and weightless at the same time.

Let me explain.

Kiko Himura knows she needs to get away from home. Her mother is emotionally abusive, she’s terrified of her uncle, and her brothers don’t talk to her much. She’s shy and suffers from crippling social anxiety – all she wants is to do her art. She applied to Prism, a prestigious art school in New York City… but she didn’t get in. With that, her dreams of art school start falling away.

Then her uncle moves back into their house. I’m not going to say anything more about that, but it’s Kiko’s tipping point.

The only upside is that Jamie is back in town for the summer. Jamie Merrick was her former best friend who moved away when they were in middle school, and he didn’t keep in touch, but she’s always missed him. At first, it’s kind of awkward, but they eventually fall back into what they used to be. Only Kiko isn’t the same person she was when Jamie left. She’s been broken down, slowly and steadily, by her own mother.

This story is about Kiko coming into her own. And it was one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read.


3 Things I Loved (Plus a Bonus 4th!)

  1. Kiko’s growth. When we meet Kiko, she’s afraid of almost everything. She has one friend (who is lovely, but mostly absent in the book) who is good to her, who drags her out to be with people, who loves her through everything, but that’s it. And then her friend leaves. Throughout the book, we see Kiko start to realize that she uses people as her crutches to get through things, and she wants to change that about herself. She has to find an inner strength. And I loved watching her grow.
  2. JAMIE. Even though he messes up pretty majorly in the book, I still found myself loving Jamie, and I don’t necessarily agree with all of Kiko’s thoughts regarding him. In any case, Jamie is swoon-worthy in his adoration of Kiko, and I loved that. She needed it. She needed someone to love her for who she is, and even if she thinks she’s using him as a crutch, he opened her eyes to her own liberation. Jamie is just the best.
  3. The use of descriptions of art on the page. Most of the chapters end with what kind of art Kiko does based on what is happening in her life, and I LOVED it. It was a visual representation of the feelings she wasn’t able to express aloud. So so good.
  4. The way being stuck between two cultures was addressed. Kiko is half-white and half-Japanese, but she was mostly raised by an abusive white mother who believed Japanese culture was lesser. This is a theme throughout the book and throughout Kiko’s journey of discovering who she really is. I liked that it was addressed head on, that it was a theme of the book, that Kiko discovering her own heritage was part of her journey. I could relate to that in many ways, and I felt the author did a wonderful job of tackling something so difficult to pin down for those of us raised in two cultures. You never quite feel like you completely fit in on either side. Finding that middle ground? It’s the most difficult part of finding identity.

Anything Problematic?

I didn’t come across anything overtly problematic in this book. There are some content warnings that should be made known, though. There is a TON of examples of emotional abuse throughout the book on the part of Kiko’s mother. Packed inside that, there is also some racism, which probably hurt the most to read, because it’s coming from Kiko’s mom when she’s talking to and about Kiko, her dad, and her brothers. That stuff broke my heart. There are also some allusions to sexual assault, although there aren’t any instances on the page. These things could definitely be triggering for some. I, personally, just found them heartbreaking.


A reminder of the rating scale:

  • Red = DNF, I hated everything
  • Orange = Ugh, no thank you
  • Yellow = I mean, I’ve read worse, but there were problems
  • Green = This was good, but not something I’d reread
  • Blue = Oh my gosh, everyone should be reading this book
  • Purple = This is the unicorn of books and I will be rereading it until the binding falls apart

This book is beautiful. It’s necessary and it captures social anxiety better than any book I’ve ever read. It’s just so good. So, I’m going to give Starfish a BLUISH-PURPLE rating, only because, with the content warnings, I don’t know that it’s for everyone. But I’ll be purchasing a copy and rereading, for sure.

A very special thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinions in any way. This book will be released on September 26, 2017.

Happy reading!



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