by Akemi Dawn Bowman
read in April 2018
This review contains minor spoilers!
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 received an e-ARC from Black & White Publishing through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!
Starfish has been on my TBR since the end of 2016, almost a year before it was released! Especially since so many of my friends adore this novel, I had expected to love it as well. Sadly, that was not the case. I wish I could be more optimistic, but I won’t lie: I didn’t enjoy reading this book.
The main character and I have quite a bit in common: I have anxiety and my parents divorced because one of them cheated. Nevertheless, Starfish wasn’t as relatable as I had hoped. There were relatable moments, but I mostly felt disinterested while reading. I can certainly still enjoy books even when I can’t relate to the characters, but in this novel, it mostly lead to frustration.
The biracial (Japanese and white) and social anxiety representation are #OwnVoices. I have a generalized anxiety disorder and while reading, I thought Kiko was supposed to have anxiety in general as well, not only social anxiety. So I couldn’t at all relate to her when she would for example travel across the country without looking for places to sleep beforehand.
Naturally this is merely my personal opinion. There are plenty of people who related to the anxiety representation much more than I did, so I’m definitely not claiming it’s rubbish.
That said, apparently changes have been made to remove ableism from the book, but I didn’t notice that while reading this new e-ARC. When Kiko and her best friend are talking about her mother, they’re making fun of medication as if it’s an insult to be told you might need it. As someone who takes medication for their mental illness, I really didn’t appreciate this.
Additionally, I have to agree with other reviewers that the way Kiko’s mother is portrayed is problematic. First of all, it’s very black-and-white: Kiko’s father can do no wrong, whereas her mother is absolutely awful. Kiko tells her “she needs therapy because there is something wrong with her”. It is assumed that her mother must be mentally ill, otherwise, she would not be as abusive/selfish/etc.
Because the side characters were almost caricatures, I didn’t find this book very realistic. I’m absolutely not saying abuse isn’t realistic, I’m just saying that abusers are usually very good at manipulating people. If they’re horrible 100% of the time, their victims wouldn’t be as forgiving or invent excuses for their behaviour. (Here are two reviews that further explain my issues with this novel: C.T. Callahan‘s review and Elise (TheBookishActress)‘s review )
Talking about realism: these teenagers have a ton of money! I’m also starting to hate it when everything works out well in a book. It’s great for the character, but no way someone would ever offer me a job AND a place to live.
Not surprisingly, I wasn’t a fan of the romance either. The love interest annoyed me so much! Apparently he was supposed to be really good for her, but he’d tell her she shouldn’t worry so much and I’m sitting there like “ANXIETY DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY!”.
content and trigger warning for sexual abuse/paedophilia, panic attacks, social anxiety, racism, ableist language (e.g. sociopath; unchallenged), anti-fat remarks, suicide attempt
Like I said, I had expected to love Starfish, so I’m disappointed I didn’t. Ultimately, I was bored while reading this novel. I don’t think I’ll read any more of this author’s work since I felt worse afterwards instead of feeling uplifted.
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