Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman | Book Review

If I’m being honest, it has been a couple of months since I’ve actually read Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman. However, I wanted to talk about this book since I read it before I started my blog. I love this book a lot, and it was probably my favorite book that I read in 2020. I actually read this book for free on Riveted, and then I bought a physical copy because I loved the story so much. I’m extremely happy that Riveted temporarily had Starfish available to read because I wouldn’t have picked it up for a while otherwise. I was very intrigued by the Asian representation, but I wasn’t totally sold on the plot based off of the book summary.

Book Summary:

A half-Japanese teen grapples with social anxiety and her narcissist mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school in this debut novel.

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.

But I didn’t write this story for the people who need to be convinced.

I wrote it for the people who needed to see their own experiences brought to life. I wrote it to give them a voice—a mirror. I wrote it for the people who already know.

Akemi Dawn Bowman

I absolutely adore Kiko because I’ve related to her more than any other book character. I swear, we think so much alike. I did a presentation on this book to my English class, and I told them, “If you ever wonder why I think the way I do, read this book.” I don’t highlight a lot, but this novel has color everywhere because I kept marking relatable text. Kiko and I both have a similar foundation, and being creative is how we both keep ourselves sane in this complicated world. She’s way more artistic, and I’m more musical, but our hearts are in the same place. Although Kiko has a Japanese father, and I’m adopted from South Korea, we both have little knowledge of our Asian roots and culture. People expect us to be more connected to our Asian side because of the way we look. Even though in reality, we’re the exact opposite. Kiko shares some memories of her childhood, and what it was like to live in a small town where she was one of the very few Asian kids in school. Living in the Midwest, I connected with this on a deep level.

Two things both Kiko and I struggle with are our beauty standards and mental health. Growing up in a small town with mainly white people, finding that special someone became more of an “if” than a “when” scenario. I’ve definitely doubted if I was someone’s type, not because of our interests or personalities, but because I wasn’t sure if they liked Asian girls. It’s also extremely terrifying to get close to someone because it hurts more to lose them. We’re both not fond of pictures that include ourselves. Our distaste for the spotlight may be because of our social anxiety and tendency to overthink. This causes us to feel utterly alone in this vast world.

I want to feel like I’m part of a world that wants me back.

-Kiko Himura

Aside from the characters, I also loved the writing style of this story. These two kind of go hand-in-hand though because the novel is told from Kiko’s perspective. This book isn’t afraid to be emotional and deep and honest, but it also has those everyday teenage moments that we’ve all been through. That’s what makes it so relatable. I connect with Kiko’s worries and doubts caused by anxiety just as much as I relate to her sending Pokemon gifs to her childhood friend, Jamie. Something interesting and different about this book is the end of each chapter. Even though Kiko narrates each chapter, she still has a tough time putting her feelings into words. The way she truly expresses herself is through art. At the end of every chapter, there’s a short description of a piece she drew or painted that captures the essence of her feelings in that chapter.

I loved the concept of this book way more than I thought I would. Besides from the racial aspect, this story also included some discussions about sexual and emotional abuse, and suicide attempts. It also shows how people deal with situations in different ways. The novel is centered around Kiko, but the author wanted to show how other people may react to the same situation through Kiko’s siblings. Kiko slowly understands that she’ll always want to please her mom because it’s her mom, but she knows that there are some people that you just can’t change and have to let go of. Her older brother, Taro, likes to joke around and always has a smile on his face–it’s his shield. Then there’s her little brother, Shoji, who has done the opposite, and he doesn’t really speak to anyone more than he has to. It does make me sad that Kiko’s family is still not in the best place when the story ends, but it’s another example of some people’s realities.

The romance between Kiko and Jamie was super cute, and I love them very much. I think they’re a really nice match because they’re not perfect. Jamie doesn’t always understand Kiko’s anxiety, and Kiko doesn’t always know how to communicate to Jamie. Being soulmates doesn’t mean that they’ll never fight, but it means that they’ll make an effort towards understanding the other at the end of the day. However, I understood Kiko’s decision to find herself first. She knew she couldn’t rely on Jamie all the time, and she needed to become strong enough to rely on herself. I’m not exactly sure what will happen between them in the future, but I wish them the best.

As one of my new top favorite books (and books covers), Starfish has taught me a lot. This novel did exactly what the author set out to do–it made me feel heard. It’s a reminder that I’m not alone. Beauty is more than what’s on the outside, but everyone’s outside is still beautiful. I live in a small Dutch town, and I’ve come to learn that it’s okay to not have blonde hair and big blue eyes. It’s okay to be anxious and nervous and just a plain mess. Everything will be okay as long as I’m me.

Rating: 9.6/10

Thank you all for reading my book review! I know this book may not be for everyone, but I highly recommend trying it out. I hope y’all enjoyed reading this blog. Tell me down in the comments your thoughts on Starfish. What are you currently reading? See y’all in the next blog!

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