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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.
ARC received for review purposes in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Poignant and heart-breaking, Akemi Dawn Bowman’s winning debut novel tells the story of a half-Japanese half-white teen girl struggling with her identity, anxiety, art and family. It’s a story that shines from every page and stands out among other YA contemporaries. The book world is in for some spectacular books if Starfish is just a glimpse at Akemi Dawn Bowman’s elegant writing.
Social anxiety-ridden Kiko has one dream – to attend the prestigious art institute, Prism, to pursue her dream career. Bonus, it will also help her escape her narcissistic mother, whose only impact has been to embed a deep lack of self-confidence in her daughter. Starfish is the emotional journey she goes on as she experiences rejection from her dream school, and decides to get out of her toxic home life with the aid of a friend. It’s a journey that is necessary for her growth, and one that helps her understand her self-value. Kiko is a protagonist who will speak to many teen girls, especially mixed-raced teen girls, who often struggle with their identity, and the gross stereotypes they face from both sides. The subtle racism and the constant “othering” she faces both in her social sphere as well as her own home is infuriating, but painfully realistic. This undeniably affects her at a very core level, and she struggles throughout Starfish to see herself as someone beautiful, and important in the world. You feel for Kiko as she clashes with her insecurities, but you also find yourself rooting for her to finally see her self-worth. The journey to that version of Kiko is not an obstacle-free one, but it is written beautifully and fills your heart with happiness and pride as she begins to take small steps towards her happiness.
Relationships are also at the core of Starfish. Particularly, Kiko’s complicated relationship with her mother. It’s a relationship that makes you wish there was some kind of test to-be parents have to take in order to be able to have children, because it breaks your heart with how toxic it is. Kiko’s mother is not a good mother. Though she provides for them financially, emotionally, she’s a complete wreck, often times making situations all about herself, as well as emotionally manipulating her children. When Kiko finally breaks free from her hold, I felt like I could finally breathe in peace. Though her mother is an obvious negative energy in her life, her father isn’t. Kiko’s dad is a man who obviously cares very deeply about his children. It’s not initially clear why he didn’t get their custody at the time of divorce, that part of the story untangles by the end. Their relationship, while flawed, is sweet and strong in many ways.
Kiko’s friend that provides her with the motivation to escape to California is Jamie, an old friend who moved away from her life ages ago. Jamie is a sweetheart, who holds her best interest at heart. He constantly pushes her out of her comfort zone for her own good, and helps her achieve her dreams one step at a time. He is understanding, kind, and sympathetic, and does not try to turn Kiko into someone’s she’s not. There is a romance that develops between the two that romance-lovers will adore. The great thing about their relationship is how Kiko understands that she needs to take care and save herself on her own before starting anything with him, and Jamie understands that too. For most of the book, he’s just there to lend her support. In California, Kiko also finds an art mentor and a new family in the form of Hiroshi, who embrace her for who she is, and help her fuel her rejection from Prism into spectacular art works. The description of her artworks at the end of each chapter were a stunning addition, and mirror her growth and struggles throughout the book.
Truly, Starfish is an absolute work of art that needs to be put in every teen’s hands. Akemi Dawn Bowman is evidently a passionate author, one every YA reader should keep an eye on.
Are you excited to red Starfish? What is the most memorable book you have read this year?
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