Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for giving me the opportunity to review this book in exchange for an honest review.
Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Publication Date: September 26, 2017
Bio: 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.
My Thoughts: If you were to ask me what piqued my interest about Starfish, my answer would be both the social anxiety representation and the Japanese representation. I have never read a book that had a Japanese character, so better late than never to get a jump start on this type of specific diverse read! If you know me well, you know I love reading books with a mental health theme, so it is no surprise that the social anxiety rep in this book caught my eye. Kudos to the author, Akemi Dawn Bowman, because she created and wrote both themes very well! (Well, the social anxiety at least- I can’t personally speak for the Japanese rep, but to the best of my knowledge she wrote it well.) It is always reassuring when you just know that the author has the understanding and knowledge of what she is writing about; it was evident throughout the book that the author knows first handedly or has done her research about what it is like to be biracial or suffer from social anxiety. Thank you, Akemi!
I felt a lot of STRONG emotions toward three of the main characters: Kiko, her mom, and Jamie.
Kiko’s mom… aka, the worst mom I have ever encountered in a YA book. There is not one single good quality about her: she is a narcissistic, narrow minded, and unfeeling character. Some of the things she did to Kiko and her brothers rose my blood pressure while getting my blood boiling. When you feel such strong emotions toward a character, you know the author is doing his/her job successfully. Few characters have angered me like she did, which I believe was the purpose of the character,
Kiko is just a beautiful little soul who I just wanna hug and reassure her how worthy and lovable she is. Her dedication towards her art left me inspired for the creative work I do (writing, blogging, drawing, etc.) Meaning, I wanna be as talented and cool as Kiko. I relate on a personal level to the social anxiety she experiences, so this left me feeling empathetic toward her struggles with her mental illness. The fact that she finds her happy ending in the epilogue of the book will leave me satisfied for the rest of my life… that may sound dramatic, but oh my god it is so true.
Jamie…oh, my heart. It has been a while since I had a book character crush, because lately the male characters in my book just have been annoying and incorrigible. However, if I had to pick a boy for my friend Kiko to love, it would be Jamie. He is gentle, dorky, goofy, handsome, and compassionate. He was always helpful and understanding of her anxiety. I appreciated how the author depicted Jamie as a perfect guy for Kiko to date, but gave Kiko the awareness that she can not solely rely on Jamie to make her happy. I want a real-life Jamie, please.
The plot itself was fairly fast-paced and kept me eagerly flipping each page, which is not a commonality in my reading. I grew connected with the characters and storyline enough that I never wanted to put the book down. The author had several plot twists that kept me reading past my bedtime. (Again- not a commonality in my reading!) The last few chapters in the book left me on the edge of my seat because so much stuff happened!
This will be one of those books I will recommend to each and every reader out there, especially if they are interested in books centering around mental illness because this book depicts mental illness with a more positive outcome. Kiko works towards overcoming social anxiety and fully understands that the capability to “conquer” her fears is within herself. Even though Jamie is absolutely wonderful and helps Kiko, Kiko is aware that it is still within herself to successfully overcome the hurdles she faces. I personally believe this is something each and every person should understand.
The author does a beautiful job with the story telling and character building in this novel and I look forward to reading more of her work! If you are looking for a riveting, fast-paced, and diverse read, this is the book for you.