Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Firstly, thanks to Black & White Publishing for this review copy <3

Date Read: March 22 - 24 2018
Date Released: April 5th 2018
Publisher: Ink Road
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Contemporary
My Rating:

"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."


Starfish had great biracial and mental health representation and I found it to be an important contemporary overall that tackled difficult issues.

Oh boy was Kiko a hard character to read from. She’s going through so much – but it wasn’t her social anxiety, the abuse she suffered at an early age, or the fact that her mother is a horrible human being that made Starfish so hard to read (those factors definitely contribute). It was the fact that she was going through all this and she didn’t have anybody to help her. This was BLEAK. And it was an honest portrayal of what many teens are going through. I thought Kiko’s social anxiety was very well done. I could definitely relate to a lot of the situations she was in: not being to express what she was thinking and not wanting to because of the position it would put her in. Hating the spotlight, not wanting to go out because there are PEOPLE and it’s hella awkward and you kind of know people aren’t looking at you, but your brain is saying they are so you’re hella self-conscious and just NOPE take me home. She’s such a brave character, basically taking the brunt of everything because she feels like she has to but at the same time it was ruining her inside. Her character definitely grows a lot throughout her journey, being away from her family helps A LOT. I LOVED that at the end, her social anxiety isn’t ‘fixed’ because you just can’t fix some things, but she feels better and surer about herself.

I thought Bowman’s portrayal of relationships and interactions was very accurate. It’s hard for Kiko to communicate with others and they understandably get frustrated or don’t understand why she’s ‘shy’. I liked the way her best friend Emery really tried to be understanding, was patient and stuck by Kiko. Kiko’s family though, wow what a messy home life. I really wish Kiko’s father had tried harder with Kiko and her siblings knowing their mother (we’ll get to her soon) and it broke my heart that parents, who are the ones that are meant to be always there for us, were the biggest failures here. And it also hurt to Kiko’s older brother escaping and leaving Kiko to deal with their mother and shield her younger brother. I found it cowardly and weak that he didn’t really try to see if his younger siblings were ok. At the same time, I could understand that Kiko didn’t know how to reach out, her family were quite disconnected especially as her parents had divorced when she was young so everybody kind of did their own thing.

The romance was cute af. Jamie’s a lovely human being and it really helped Kiko to have him back. He saw most of her, but he wasn’t perfect – he didn’t completely understand her anxiety. I loved that he tried, cared, was so sweet but at the end of the day, love doesn’t make everything better. He definitely had his own demons to deal with, and things would have been much better if he communicated with Kiko instead of trying to deal with everything on his own. Ah the importance of communication and being open and honest.

Where this book fell apart for me was Kiko’s mother. I know there are definitely people out there like her, but what I didn’t understand was how nobody around her made her stop and assess herself? She’s an absolutely horrible person. I mean what woman doesn’t believe her own daughter when she comes to you crying about something as serious as abuse? She clearly needed therapy/help for the way she psychologically and emotionally abused the people around her. The people around her saw it. Kiko’s father clearly knew but he left. Kiko and her siblings are left to deal with her. This part was just unbelievable. Why? Well, Kiko’s home life isn’t actually bad, her mother aside. Her mother can clearly provide for 3 children without trouble. In all her verbal abuse she doesn’t actually complain about financial hardship. She can afford for Kiko’s younger brother to go to taekwando lessons, afford to redecorate the house which can easily house 5 people. All these social constructs imply a stable and good paying job. Not to mention she cares about her appearance, wears makeup and seems to buy nice clothes. Now, with a personality like that you can only fake being ‘nice’ for so long. There’s a short mention of Kiko’s mother having an argument with someone at work but otherwise she doesn’t have trouble at work. There’s also no mention of her going between jobs. My scepticism arises with how her mother can be horrible at home, so manipulative but not display a single bit of this at work? There is only so much that can be faked long-term before the cracks begin to show. I get this is a work of fiction but it didn’t make sense to me that Kiko’s mother could have gone on so long unchecked. Stuff like this eventually bleeds into work life.

Ok rant about Kiko’s mother over we can go back to all the awesome stuff about this book. I loved how California and being away from her mother helped Kiko see the world clearly. Being immersed in art and exposure to good, wholesome people does wonders for a person’s psyche. Loved the art descriptions and the exploration of artistic places around Cali. Despite being half-Japanese, Kiko was never exposed to her Japanese side as a result of her racist mother. Her first ever visit to Chinatown and being amongst other East Asians was a real eye-opened. Manga, boba, Asian food, it felt like home for Bowman to write about these things.

Despite my issues with Kiko’s mother, I enjoyed Starfish for its accurate representation of mental health and exploration of Japanese culture, friendship and art.

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