A Gorgeous & Memorable Book Every Teen Should Read: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

A Gorgeous & Memorable Book Every Teen Should Read: Starfish by Akemi Dawn BowmanStarfish
by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Release Date: September 26th 2017
Published by Simon Pulse
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, YA
Format: eARC
Pages: 320
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Source: ARC received for review purposes

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.

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Trigger warnings: View Spoiler »

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?
Let me know in the comments below!

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  • A new blog header! It looks great! This book sounds pretty amazing. But a tough read too. So glad you loved it. I am going to make sure I order this for the libraries. It’s funny the cover has a jellyfish on it, though, and not a sea star.

    • Thanks! We wanted to freshen things up around here! 🙂
      Ah that’s actually explained in the book! 🙂

  • This sounds absolutely amazing. I mean, it sounds like it has a whole lot going on but it seems like it’s one of those reads which just hits the mark in every way. It will definitely speak to a lot of people who have struggled with their identity and the struggle of not fitting in due to race and how it makes them seem so ‘other’. It may not seem like the easiest read but it’s one I’m glad has been written. Your review has convinced me I need to read this.

    • Yeah, it tackles some tough themes, but the book is also hopeful, which makes it even more impactful, in my opinion.

  • Ohhh I do not even recognize the place! Nice 😀 *just read the other post*

    Oh and the book sounds good too!

    • Ha! Thanks! 🙂

  • Love the cover, and I like that this is all about relationships, even the toxic ones. I will add this to my list for sure, thanks, Nick.

    • It’s a must-read, Heidi!

  • Another rave! I really want to read this. I know it will be real emotional, but from what you say here, it sounds hopeful. Great review!

    • You should most definitely read the book!

  • Wow this sounds fantastic! How have I never heard of this one before??? Great review!

  • Thanks for recommending. I have not heard of this book before, but it sounds amazing. Your review definitely convinced me to add it to my TBR.


  • Great review, Nick. This book is definitely going on my wishlist. It sounds like a great read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • I’ve seen this book around Goodreads a lot but I didn’t have any clue as to what it was about, but that cover always caught my eye. I think it’s so gorgeous. I’m not sure if this is a book for me or not, but I’m glad that you loved it so much. I may have to make an exception for this one some day and pick it up. Your review makes me want to give it a chance. Wonderful review!

  • sarabara081 @ Forever 17 Books

    I love books that focus on relationships of all sorts so I’d probably enjoy this one too!

  • Sounds cool, illustrations of the artworks would’ve been a wonderful addition to the story.

  • This sounds fantastic. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Great review.

  • A Novel Glimpse

    I’ve been hearing great things about this book, and you just confirmed them. Now, I’m putting it on my TBR!

  • You keep making me add books to my tbr pile. This book sounds incredible and I really feel I can relate to Kiko with regards to her lack of self-worth. To this day I still struggle with this notion so I’m excited to follow her journey in finding her self worth. I also like that the romance doesn’t take over Kiko’s own development and that she takes the time to nurture herself before entering a relationship with him. I need this book in my life.

  • This sounds beautiful Nick. I love complex and flawed characters. I love that it explores racial identity, there’s been quite a few protagonists of late with mixed race heritage but most authors tend to skim over the struggle of that sense of self and belonging. I’ve just added it to my TBR and looking forward to nabbing a copy once it’s released. Absolutely beautiful review Nick <3 <3

  • Sounds like a winner NIck and it wasn’t even in my radar. Also sounds deep and heartbreaking. Adding it to my TBR list.

  • Yesss I agree so much! The first thing I did when I finished was yell at Val and Holly (who had told me I HAD to start this book ASAP- which I did, and finished in 2 hours!) “I NEED A JAMIE”. Because yes. And I loved how Kiko knew that she was like, relying on him and needed to get herself together first. LOVED. Such a great message.

    Ohhhh the mother. I was so MAD. Like, it’s a wonder Kiko wasn’t in worse shape, tbh. That woman was so. awful. Great review, I am so glad you loved it too!

  • Yay I’m glad you loved this as much as I did Nick! (And yes I pushed Shannon to read this hahah). I really loved how realistic the portrayal of Kiko was, especially her relationship with her mother. WHO I HATED TOO.

    Awesome review Nick! I think Starfish is my all time favorite 2017 read.