I found this as a free read on Riveted Lit and was immediately hooked. The cover is beautiful, the storyline is compelling, and the writing style is unique.
A half-Japanese teen grapples with social anxiety and her narcissist mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school in this debut novel.
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.
Let’s start with this: the summary does not do this book justice.
Kiko doesn’t just deal with social anxiety, she struggles with it in almost every social situation no matter how many people might be involved. I sometimes get uncomfortable in very populated situations, but that is absolutely nothing compared to Kiko. This book introduced me to a new aspect of anxiety that I didn’t really know much about.
Kiko’s social anxiety had a lot to do with her relationship with her mom. Her mom has undiagnosed narcissistic personality disorder, which makes Kiko and her siblings feel unloved, inconsequential, and unimportant. Kiko doubts her relationships with her friends and strangers because of it, constantly worrying she is upsetting them, giving them a bad look, or generally doing something wrong.
I’m not going to lie, Kiko’s constant questioning of herself got a bit tiring. I just wanted her to see that she was worth more than she thought and that she could pursue her dreams and not feel some unwarranted obligation to her mother. But I know the self-doubt was a representation of her anxiety, and I just wanted her to find her happy ending as soon as possible. In short, it was more my impatience acting up here than a fault with the book.
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know I’m kind of a sucker for romance. However, this book was different: I actually didn’t really care about the romance or the romantic interest. In fact, I think the book would have been better without it. Jamie was a fine character but I was really rooting for Kiko to find her voice and her confidence by herself. She does grow throughout the book, but I think the romantic element took away some of Kiko’s credit.
Art played a huge role in Kiko’s life and throughout the book. I loved Kiko’s mentor and his family, and I loved that Kiko learned to see her “failures” as lessons instead. The sentence of what Kiko drew or painted at the end of each chapter helped to plot her emotions throughout the book and let us better visualize her character development.
Despite all the things I loved about this book, I can’t commit to 5/5 stars. The book is beautiful and deals with a lot of heavy problems (mental health, sexual abuse, suicide, cultural identity) but it just didn’t completely click with me. It feels like there was something missing for me, and it isn’t one of those books I can’t stop thinking about. I couldn’t really relate to the characters on a personal level, and I’m thinking that’s why something was missing for me.
That being said, I would definitely recommend giving Starfish a try. Most of the “problems” I had with the book come from my personal tastes and not the book itself. The issues it deals with are real and need to be talked about more, and the overall writing is very well-done. There are a lot of readers that could benefit from this book and relate to it more than I did because of their own personal experiences. Let me know what you think of it on Goodreads or in the comments!