I read this in two hours on a Saturday morning. I started crying within the first few chapters and I Did. Not. Stop. As a Korean-American adoptee who has dealt with social anxiety and low self-esteem my entire life, I honestly I don’t know if I can accurately describe how much Starfish meant to me, but I’m going to do my best.
Kiko has always had a hard time with her identity due to the fact that she is half-Japanese—she doesn’t feel completely accepted by white society, yet doesn’t feel ready to embrace her Japanese heritage. Her parents are divorced, leaving her and two brothers with their narcissistic mother. Her only reprieve is her art, and her dream of attending the Prism art school in New York City. After her dreams are dashed, she’s left to pick up the pieces, as well as deal with the reappearance of her childhood best friend, Jamie.
I don’t know if I’ve ever connected more with a written character than Kiko Himura. I grew up in mostly white Iowa and was almost always the odd duck out. This, in addition to my natural inclination to be self-deprecating, has led to me feeling inferior and ugly for being Asian. And I’ve felt this way my entire life. Reading Kiko’s thoughts about herself, her eyes, her skin tone, was like taking a look at my diary.
Her relationship with Jamie made my poor little heart so happy. As kids, we don’t see colors. Kids are just kids. Friends are just friends. And Jamie leaving when she started realizing that she looked different just reinforced Kiko’s belief that there is something wrong with her Asian features. My love life is practically nonexistent, partly because it’s never been a priority for me, but also because one of my deepest fears is being rejected for being Asian. There’s a scene involving Kiko at a party that is pretty much my worst nightmare personified. At the end of “Starfish,” Kiko isn’t magically cured of her anxiety or 100 percent accepting of herself, but she’s on the right path. And that gave/gives me hope.
And Akemi Dawn Bowman, you’ve found a fan for life. I can’t wait for your forthcoming novel.
5 / 5
Starfish is available now. Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster for sending me an advanced digital copy. I was truly touched—I cannot stop singing its praises.