Starfish; by Akemi Dawn Bowman

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.

Thank you to Ink Road Books for the early copy to review. 

This story follows Kiko who struggles with self-doubt and anxiety. Her family situation isn’t perfect and she is different from the rest of those in her town. With a half-Japanese heritage she struggles to discover who she while fighting against her demons and being trod on by her mother. Initially I believed that this would be a story about the pressure parents put onto their children and although this features to an extent, it wasn’t the kind of pressure for perfection I believed it would be. Rather, it was the pressure to be the person you know you can be and not the person that you are forced into being.

Kiko is an artist and her art reflects her mental position throughout the book. At the beginning she lacks confidence in her abilities and instead shows work that she isn’t proud of. This stems partly from her social anxiety which is very well portrayed throughout the book with her friend knowing how far to push her in social situations. When compared to Jamie, he struggles initially with making sure his childhood friend is comfortable in situations – he doesn’t know how to deal with anxiety. I found that this worked well as it is a representative look at how friends of those who suffer from anxiety are not always able to react correctly to the situation.

Jamie is a character whose friendship with Kiko is sweet although some of the revelations through the book with sour this slightly. However, this character flaw ensures that he isn’t simply the perfect pretty boy. Their relationship comes across as natural and evolves well with the book. 

Kiko’s family is another thread throughout the book. She has two brothers who handle the psychological abuse they receive from their mother differently. Their mother is simply described as manipulative and evil – so evil that you wonder how Kiko can justify her actions. I believe this stems from the fact that Kiko knows no better, this behaviour is seen as normal for her as it is all she has ever known. The events that bring her home to the end of the book is a position that no child should ever feel is their only option. 

I enjoyed this read, it has emotion threaded throughout making you happy then sad all in one chapter. The writing is beautifully done with a story full of heartbreak and redemption. 

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