Title: Starfish (standalone)
Author:Akemi Dawn Bowman
Blurb: 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.
Review:I’ve had STARFISH since its publication, but put off reading it because I couldn’t bear to be disappointed by another poor representation of biracial characters. Until I’d read STARFISH, I’d never read a novel that accurately captured the biracial experience; it’s far too easy to tell when the author isn’t biracial and/or a character is biracial just to score diversity points. But Bowman articulates the pain, beauty, inner conflict, and identity crisis of being half-Asian so poignantly. When I finished reading STARFISH, I just clutched the book to my chest and wept. This is the kind of story that could only have been written by someone who is half-Asian. Bowman also handles Kiko’s anxiety and the way Kiko has been abused so delicately and purposefully. I loved seeing how Kiko grew and found her own voice and independence. After I finished weeping, I immediately ordered additional copies for friends and family. This is one of those stories that everyone must read, and one I’ll certainly be keeping on my shelf for forevermore.
Characters/Voice: You’ll immediately be drawn into Kiko’s story. She’s a different sort of heroine; quiet, reserved, socially anxious, and a victim of years of abuse, but one who is deeply relatable and one who should be celebrated along with the bold, fearless, and outspoken. Kiko is an artist, and her artistic eye is weaved into the narrative beautifully. She grows gracefully and gains her independence in such a way that you will cheer her on through every moment.
Pacing: The story moves quickly. I never felt there was a moment where the plot got boring—and there’s no saggy middle. The novel is comprised of generally short chapters, but something new and intriguing is always revealed, so it’s easy to sit down with the intention of only reading a few chapters and find yourself at the end.
Plot: Thoughtfully constructed and executed. Everything is unveiled at the right moment. The significance of the title is brilliant. Stays true to the story presented in the blurb. JUST READ IT.
Setting: STARFISH takes place in the USA; in Nebraska and California, with a bit of a road trip in between. The settings are described well. You won’t come across any references that make you think the story takes place in a different country.
Themes: This story deals with all sorts of universal themes, like identity, weakness vs. strength, overcoming disappointments and challenges, finding family, and self-acceptance.
Trigger warnings: racism, sexual abuse, mental and emotional abuse, toxic family relationships
Jessica, signing off.