Warning: Toxic maternal relationship, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, suicide attempt by a minor character
Synopsis by Goodreads
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.
I’m going to try my best to put my feelings for this book into words, but right now I feel like I have Owen Wilson saying WOW on a constant loop inside my head.
Akemi’s debut novel Starfish is just an amazing read. Kiko feels so realistic and honest. I love how there has been such amazing female characters coming out from contemporary YA that I found so easy to connect. Didn’t took me long to realise the reason behind that is because they are being written by women.
When it comes to Kiko as a young adult girl, Akemi gets our thoughts and insecurities just right. Even though I’m not bi-racial myself, you can still understand her struggle in finding her place. I had a few bi-racial friends and I remember their struggle to understand where they belonged. How they felt that they weren’t white enough or black enough, and just wish they fit in somewhere. This struggle for acceptance is captured brilliantly in Kiko, when she feels that she isn’t white enough or Japanese enough.
At first, I couldn’t understand why I was connecting on such a personal level with this book. It took until half way through the book to realise two things. First, I did had very bad social anxiety when I was younger, which for years I just dismissed as being shy. Secondly, it was the realisation that my grandma is a Starfish.
This book not only gives an amazing representation of how social anxiety can be, but also shows how most people do act around someone who has it. It’s so refreshing to see that the thoughts Kiko had in certain situations was what I was thinking in similar encounters. It’s so good to know that you are not a weirdo, it’s just a thing called social anxiety.
Kiko’s mum it’s what brings me too close to home, because that same toxic relationship was what I saw between my mum and her mum. It can really make you feel worthless, but also makes you want their approval more. Reading about Kiko and her mum was like I was reading about mine and hers. It’s heartbreaking when people are only happy seeing others unhappy. When they crave so much for attention that not even your kids are worth of your love.
If you love contemporary books that deal with mental health, and real life young adult issues, struggles and relationships this is just the perfect read. Akemi’s writing is so beautiful and honest that I promise you that you will love this book as much as I did.
This is a book that enters your mind and stays in your heart. I will forever have Kiko in mine and will hope that her future brought her the stars.
Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman is available in paperback and you can get it now on Amazon(affiliated link).
Thanks Ink Road and Lina Langlee for sending me a paperback copy of Starfish in exchange for my honest review.
Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish. She’s a proud 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, Nevada, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix, with plans to relocate to Scotland.