I’d been looking forward to starting Starfish for a while and I am so, so glad I’ve read it now! It is absolutely amazing and brought me out of a bit of a reading slump. I think I needed something with heavier themes as I’ve been reading a lot of light stories lately and I wanted something with a bit more to it. This is Akemi Dawn Bowman’s first novel and honestly, what a debut to have. I can’t wait to read her future books.
Starfish follows Kiko, a very introverted and troubled girl, as she tries to get into Prism, an established art school in New York, to pursue her dreams and escape her traumatic home life. She ends up bumping into her old childhood friend, Jamie, and their close bond blossoms again. The story is very much centred around how Kiko is affected by those around her and the abuse she suffers from her mother and uncle.
I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever read a book this raw with emotion. I’m not just talking about the amount because I’ve read emotional books before, but the way it’s written feels so real and the words sink into your skin and you really, really empathise with Kiko. Even if you don’t have experience of what she is feeling or gone through, you feel so close to her because of the brilliantly intricate writing.
The writing truly is beautiful, due to both realism of it and because the way Bowman phrases things is wonderful. The inclusivity is great and I don’t believe I’ve read a book which explores being mixed race in such detail (I need to read more, for sure). It was fascinating and insightful to read about Kiko’s feelings towards her background. Her mum who is white, is very toxic for both Kiko and her brothers, especially in her hatred for their Japanese features. She often undermines Kiko and insults her because she doesn’t look like her and criticises the way she looks which affects her self esteem. Kiko is very conflicted about her dad and her Japanese roots. She feels alienated and like she doesn’t fit in anywhere and the way she deals with this in comparison to her brothers is very interesting.
The mental health representation is excellent. I related to so much of it and even bits I don’t struggle with, I still empathised and felt like I understood. And I think that’s what good books do. They help you to understand things. Be that something new or something familiar. That doesn’t necessarily mean you know the full picture at all – but you can greatly empathise and have more compassion and more well-rounded views or knowledge.
I 100% recommend this book to everyone and anyone. Of course, be aware that there may be triggers for abuse if that is something that may affect you. However, it is an important book and I know it will stick with me for a long, long time.