Sunday, 22 April 2018

Starfish // a beautiful ray of sunlight

Starfish is a painfully beautiful contemporary about one girl's journey into self confidence and freedom. It captures a full spectrum of emotions with intense colour and detail, and every page is filled with so much raw truth that it still has its fishhooks in my heart.

The book tells the story of a young artist trying to restart her life. Kiko Himura doesn't just want art school, she needs it. Because without art, she is nothing. And she wants to be seen as something, particularly in front of her mother. So when she doesn't get into her dream school, Kiko and her childhood friend leave her small town to look at new options, and with the help of a mentor who truly sees her, she begins to feel hope for her future again.

Akemi Dawn Bowman deals with the serious themes of her debut eloquently. Kiko experiences a lot of neglect from her mother, and it shapes how she perceives herself. Her mother's abuse is complex, but the more their relationship is explored, the more I grew to utterly despise Kiko's mother and how she constantly undermined her passions, emotions, and trauma. Family, race, and identity are prominent themes in this book, and it was heartbreaking to see a girl feel like an outsider in her own home and town despite feeling the same as everyone else. I desperately wanted her to escape the life she was trapped in, and the way in which Kiko emerges from these experiences was incredibly powerful.

"being around Mom is like swimming in poison. It kills your soul, slowly, bit by bit."

I felt such a strong emotional connection to Kiko. The author really captures the weights-on-your-chest feeling of anxiety, and it felt very true to me. But it didn't feel as though Kiko's anxiety was exclusively a result of her family life. There was definitely a connection, but I liked that the Bowman didn't present the two as inseparable, or that love had to be the cure.

I adored Starfish's art focus. Almost every chapter ends with a description of what Kiko has drawn that day, and each one feels more vivid than the last whilst also leaving so much up to the imagination. Her art also becomes increasingly personal, which was a beautiful way in which to see the character grow. She begins as someone afraid to express her truth in her art - someone who doesn't even know how. Honesty is terrifying, especially when expressing it through what you're passionate about, because it requires you to be honest with yourself too, and I deeply related to Kiko's struggle for self-acceptance with her art and her identity.

"As an artist, you have to know what's inside you if you want to get it out on the canvas."

I cried three times whilst reading Starfish, but not over the sad parts. I cried over how genuine it was, and for those turning points of understanding oneself. This book shines a ray of sunlight in a darkened room, and I am so grateful to have read it.

"you can't spend your life trying to make a starfish happy, because no matter what you do, it will never be enough. They will always find a way to make themselves the centre of attention, because it's the only way they know how to live."

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me an ebook copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


YA Contemporary


biracial (Japanese-American) protagonist with social anxiety

sexual abuse, child abuse, emotional abuse, parental neglect, anxiety/panic attacks, racism, attempted suicide 

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