Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book


Rate this book
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.

A William C. Morris Award Finalist; A New York Public Library Best Book for Teens of 2017; A Junior Library Guild Selection

353 pages, Kindle Edition

First published September 26, 2017

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Akemi Dawn Bowman

13 books1,346 followers
Akemi Dawn Bowman is a critically-acclaimed author who writes across genres. Her novels have received multiple accolades and award nominations, and her debut novel, STARFISH, was a William C. Morris Award Finalist. She has a BA in social sciences from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and currently lives in Scotland with her family. She overthinks everything, including this bio. You can find Akemi on Instagram @AkemiDawnBowman.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
5,038 (47%)
4 stars
3,625 (33%)
3 stars
1,393 (13%)
2 stars
406 (3%)
1 star
226 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,217 reviews
Profile Image for Akemi Dawn Bowman.
Author 13 books1,346 followers
October 6, 2017
Hi, author here. People often ask me why I chose to write this book, and usually I tell them it's because this is the story I needed most as a teen. That's the short answer. Here's the long one:

Starfish is a book about family, and identity, and finding hope in a world that often makes it difficult. But it’s also a story about how necessary the truth can be.

I know what it feels like to be afraid to tell your story, and what it feels like to keep your fears bottled up in your heart. I know how lonely it can be to be surrounded by people who see you, but don’t really see you. And I know what it feels like to be worried that after finding the courage to open up to people, there’s still the risk that they might not believe you.

My hope is that people will read Kiko’s story and feel like someone knows what they’re going through—what they’ve been through. I hope they feel more understood—more hopeful. And I hope they feel like they’re not so alone in the world, and that there’s someone else out there who “gets it” too.

A reader once wrote to tell me how Starfish helped them to heal, and that they hoped writing it had helped me to heal, too.

I stared at those words for a long time, wondering how they could possibly know something about me without knowing my own story.

But then I understood: I didn’t have to tell them. They just knew, the way I did. And maybe when you share experiences—when you see a mirror reflecting your story—you recognize the place it must come from.

And I guess even though I wrote this book to help readers feel seen, it allowed some people to see a part of me, too. I’ll never be able to find the right words to explain what that felt like, but maybe I won’t have to. Maybe the people who read Starfish—the people who need this book the most—will know exactly what it means to have a mirror. Maybe they’ll understand what it means to have someone know your truth.

I know there will be people who might not understand this story. Maybe they won’t understand Kiko’s social anxiety, or what it means to feel too Asian or too white but also never enough of either. They might not have experienced emotional abuse from a loved one. Or maybe they won’t think Kiko’s story fits into their own idea of realistic, because it isn’t a mirror of their own experiences.

But I didn’t write this story for the people who need to be convinced.

I wrote it for the people who needed to see their own experiences brought to life. I wrote it to give them a voice—a mirror. I wrote it for the people who already know.

Sometimes villains exist in quiet, unsuspecting places. Sometimes they’re loud. Sometimes they live inside you, and sometimes they live in your reflection. And sometimes they exist in the memories and secrets you live with every day.

If you live with anxiety or you’re a survivor of abuse, you don’t have to explain anything to me. I don’t need to be convinced what the villains in your world look like. I don’t need you to make me understand why they’re real.

I believe you. Your story is believable.

I hope you find a friend in Kiko. I hope Starfish helps you to heal.

And most of all, I hope you feel seen.

"Truths and Mirrors" was originally written as a guest post for Diversity in YA
Profile Image for chloe.
246 reviews28.5k followers
March 30, 2022
2nd read: march 2022

1st read: april 2020
this truly meant everything to me

tw: racism, sexual & emotional abuse, parental abuse, suicide attempt
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,096 reviews17.7k followers
July 18, 2019
I have approximately 400000000000 feelings about this, but unfortunately the vast majority are (in a very personal, very conflicted way) negative.

Okay, let’s start with some positives. First of all, Kiko’s struggle with self hatred feels super personal and authentic and relatable. I loved the "what I wanted to say" and "what I actually said" dichotomies [and how they translate at the ending? you know it's coming, but it still hits home]. I loved the art mentions at the end of every chapter; they give the audience a connection to Kiko's art that would not have existed before. I loved the sensuous, gorgeous writing. I adored the relationship between Kiko and an art mentor she finds. I loved the emphasis on Kiko learning to accept her worth while being biracial [Japanese and white]. I liked her relationship with one of her brothers. I really love and connect to Kiko in general and I think - I know - many, many readers will as well. Starfish is nowhere near being a vapid or bland read - you will get something out of this pretty much no matter what. There are many, many, many fantastic #ownvoices reviews on this page by readers who saw themselves in the text, including my good friends May and Ju.

Unfortunately that was not in any way my experience.

So... the thing about this book is that it was always going to be way more personal a reading experience for me than it ever was trying to be. Parental abuse is a topic that hits home for me. It is not a topic I can in any way look at objectively. And when a book like Starfish comes along, and I've seen so many amazing things, and I'm expecting it to be That Book and work perfectly for me, and then it gets so many things right, and then it hits just a little bit off in all the places I'm hypersensitive about, it gets bad for me really quickly.

Nothing in this review is in any way a value judgement on Akemi Dawn Bowman's experience with parental abuse; it is a judgement on the way the text read to me personally and how it made me feel.

→healing love and abuse←
I feel, very strongly, that Kiko's main arc in this book occurs due to a romance, and it fails narratively by weakening her character arc and falling uncomfortably close to the love-curing trope. While it’s framed somewhat well within the narrative of the book, the fact that Kiko is essentially saved from her mother’s house by a romantic relationship – seriously, the entire plot is incited by romance – set off so many alarm bells with me that I just could not get past it. This is a narrative we see all the time. This kind of romance is always. here. And unfortunately, not everyone gets a shiny perfect boy to save them from their abusive parent. So... this is a really alienating narrative, and that doesn't necessarily make it bad in its use here, but. I felt it.
"They don’t expect me to be—" I let out a breath.
"A human being?” Jamie blinks at me.
I feel my entire body getting hot. I feel like I’m being interrogated. I feel offended.

I also feel that as the love interest and a character who's kind of framed as the best person in Kiko's life, Jamie's ignorance is often not really criticized by the narrative? Lines like this made me uncomfortable due to their framing of normalcy as something apart from Kiko's anxiety, and that's something the book never really figures out how to subvert. I think the intent was to eventually have Kiko realize the degree to which her anxiety affects her life, but in context stuff like this reads a bit victim-blame-y, and it hurt.

→that one really awful victim blaming sentence←
It's been six months, and I keep thinking about this book, and thinking I don't know why I reacted so badly to it, and then I think about this fucking sentence about Kiko’s sexual assault:
“Upsetting dad wouldn’t help anything. Giving him something extra to worry about when he has two little babies isn’t an option. I won’t make him unhappy just for the sake of needing someone on my side. I won’t be like mom.”

I won't be like mom. I won't be like mom.

Okay, listen, this wouldn’t bother me as a part of Kiko’s arc that she questions later on. Wanting to avoid being a burden is a huge part of abuse. That’s fine. But this quote is itself occurs at a key part of the story around 30 pages from the end, and the framing felt as if the author almost agrees. And… holy shit, guys, this is the worst thing I have ever read. Her dad can fucking handle being unhappy to deal with his only daughter’s sexual assault. It is not Kiko's responsibility to make a grown ass man feel better about something that is happening TO HER. Her fucking molester is living in her fucking house and we want to talk about how reporting this shit to her dad makes her like her mom?

guys, I know this is just one line and maybe it is meant to be looked at as a factor of Kiko's unreliable narration - although being able to tell might be nice for, ya know, kids who actually think this way!! - but. this. implies. reporting. literal. molestation. to. her. father. would. be. narcissistic. That is not good.

→show-not-tell & abuser portrayal←
So… okay. I like - well, I don't like, obviously, but appreciate - that this is a story about a completely unsympathetic abusive parent. I also appreciate that the book explores how Kiko's mom is kind of motivated by racism, and is very stark and unflinching in portraying her.

But I think in her efforts to make Kiko‘s mom unsympathetic, Kiko’s mom comes off so blatantly evil that Kiko’s reaction to her feels inauthentic. Kiko’s mom is so consistently and obviously terrible that Kiko is given no reason to even remotely believe in her. Every single thing that comes out of her mouth is utter trash, and we're kind of told-and-not-shown that sometimes she can be nice. Which doesn't feel fully authentic. One of the worst things about abuse is the hot-and-cold aspect - the mood swings, the moments of sweetness that make you think staying is a good idea and you won’t be hurt again. And while we got the sense from Kiko’s narration that her mother’s changing mood is a part of her reality, the hot-and-cold is kind of absent on page - her good moods feel so ridiculously fake on page I’m shocked her nose didn’t grow.

I don’t know, I almost felt as if the sympathetic moments were removed because there would have been those Four Awful Reviewers who decided a lesser situation would’ve not been abusive. Which I understand. I mean, god, guys, I got ten pages into this book and wanted her to die a painful death. Along with every abuser in the world. Kidding. But I guess as a statement about abuse lit in general, I would love to see more sympathetic moments and how that makes the lead feel, because right now, it's as if YA thinks making an abusive character anything but consistently terrible will invalidate the abusive things they do.

→abuser portrayal and mental illness←
...split-personality, narcissistic, psychopathic mom.

Kiko's mom is a terrible person. She is self-absorbed and she is evil and she is so, so awful. And I don't even think untreated narcissistic personality disorder is necessarily a total bullshit theory. But the fact that most insults to her in this book revolve around her alleged mental illness bothers me. And even worse, there is absolutely nothing in this book to imply she suffers from BPD, yet allegations of split personality are tossed around a lot. And though Kiko’s anxiety rep made me feel slightly better, it felt gross that mental illness is associated with such a demonic character. Thankfully, in future editions of the book, this is being changed.

→shock value←
Okay, here's the big one, and the thing that kind of ruined the book for me. Kiko's mom started to feel like she was being used for shock value. And not in a “this is lazy” way. “I cannot imagine how I would have gotten through this book last year” type of way. In a “how is anyone who needs this book going to read this book” kind of way.

and it kind of made me feel like throwing up. which is absolutely a personal problem. it absolutely, absolutely is. "this was too fucking hard for me to read and I couldn't read it" is not a quality judgement and it's not going to be everyone's experience and that's totally fine and totally valid. but I also kind of feel like if a book is written for abuse survivors and they can’t handle reading it, it’s not working.

As the author has made clear via twitter, this book was not written for me, as a white abuse survivor. Which is... okay. This is a genuinely unpopular opinion and I am so glad it is. I am so glad I am the minority opinion and so many other people saw themselves in this. This is a book that reflects some of my experiences and didn't work well for some of my other experiences. There were deeply personal experiences going into my feelings about this book and how awful it made me feel, just as there were in Bowman's writing of this book. And this is how I felt about it and why.

Blog | Goodreads | Twitter | Youtube
Profile Image for may ➹.
494 reviews2,069 followers
April 29, 2018
I read this book in September, and wrote my review at the same time. Then I rewrote my review in February. It’s been two months since I rewrote my review, but I couldn’t bring myself to ever post it before now.

And I’m not exactly sure why?

I think it’s because this book means a. lot. to me, and writing my review was hard, because I found so much of myself in Kiko that it hurt. Because Kiko is a character who struggles for so long to find herself worthy or beautiful… and her thoughts hit too close to home for me.

I don’t think I’ve ever put trigger warnings for my own reviews but uh: There’s a lot of internalized racism talked about in this review. So yeah.


Kiko is a biracial Japanese-American girl with anxiety who loves to make art. She’s honestly… such a well-written character? I can’t remember much since I read this a couple of months ago, but I remember that she was just a soft, kind girl. I just related to so SO much of her and she’ll always have a special place in my heart. I literally feel all kinds of fuzzy warmness whenever I think of her.

(I can’t speak about the biracial rep, but from other ownvoices reviews I’ve read, it seems pretty good! The biracial rep is also ownvoices.)

Jamie is a character I’m really mixed on. On one hand, he’s a very sweet guy who loves Kiko a lot. (And their relationship is slowburn friends-to-lovers whicH IS MY FAVORITE.) On the other hand, he kind of seemed way too perfect and REALLY REALLY close to being a cure for Kiko. It definitely was not a “love cures all” thing, but it could have been, and that makes me feel a little iffy.

Kiko’s mom is Kiko’s abuser, and she says some horribly harmful and racist things that actually make me want to choke her, especially being a part of the group of people she’s being racist to. There were some issues with her being written as if she were mentally ill, which is pretty problematic (along with other things that I’ll later talk about).

The other side characters were fantastic. I loved seeing the healthy female friendship between Kiko and Emy, and I also loved the mentor-student relationship between Hiroshi and Kiko! I wish I could’ve seen more from the side characters, especially in how they played into Kiko’s healing, but I think what we saw from them was really great.


This book has a very character-driven plot, but I was super engaged the entire time. It really, to me, is about Kiko trying to heal from her mother’s abuse and find herself—discover her identity. There was something so poignant about Kiko’s story in trying to find who she was and learn that she was beautiful in her own way, and doing all this while recovering from the effects of someone who told her that who she was really wasn’t worth it or beautiful.


The writing KILLED ME. Something about Bowman’s writing is so lyrical and beautiful and draws me in. There were some lines, especially the ones that were describing Kiko’s art that were just absolutely gorgeous and actually made me pause and reread the lines.

I draw five humans and one skeleton, and it doesn’t matter that the skeleton has all the right bones and joints—he will never be the same as the others because he doesn’t have the right skin.

I don’t want to need him anymore. I want to stand on my own two feet. I want control of my own life and my own emotions. I don’t want to be a branch in someone else’s life anymore—I want to be the tree on my own.

I draw a girl with arms that reach up to the clouds, but all the clouds avoid her because she’s made of night and not day.

I am SO!! IN!! LOVE!! WITH!! HER!! WRITING!!!!

🌷 REPRESENTATION (a really long and super personal rant)

All right, here we go.

What makes this book so so incredibly important to me is the Asian rep. This book is literally THE best representation of myself as an Asian that I’ve read before, and it captures so much of what it means, to me, to be Asian in a white society. And I’m not even Japanese or biracial like Kiko.

It talks about how Kiko feels like she can’t be pretty because she isn’t white (enough). It talks about how beauty has been molded by her mother into something that can only belong to her if she isn’t Asian. These ideas that an Asian person (or any person of color) has to be white to be deemed beautiful are messed up, not true at all, and horribly harmful. But they’re things I’ve thought. And it hurts so much, because I KNOW I’ve thought these things, and still continue to think them. I recognize so many times in the past where I’ve caught myself thinking “it’d be better if I was white” or “I wish I was white” or “I’d be prettier if I was white”. But I never actually… thought they were harmful??? Which kind of makes me want to cry.

And I think that’s the part that hits me the most with the Asian rep: These thoughts that Kiko have about beauty—they’re the thoughts I’ve had, the thoughts I continue to have, despite knowing they’re not true and hurtful things to be thinking. And reading this book was putting words to something I was unable to say. It was recognizing the harm I’d been unintentionally doing to myself, influenced by other people, but it was knowing that I wasn’t the only one to struggle through it. Kiko was literally ABUSED for not being white (enough), and gradually healed to think herself as beautiful, and that is so, SO empowering.

Beauty is such a subjective matter, and a pretty superficial matter, but it’s extremely important in our society today. And when you don’t fit into the conventional standards of beauty and everyone around you who is deemed pretty doesn’t look like you, you can’t really think of yourself as “beautiful”. And that’s exactly what resonates with me and makes this book one of my favorites. Because these kind of things—not fitting in, the people you see versus the person you are, and how it all affects self-esteem—make up the basis of not being white in a society where white is the norm, and this book tackles it perfectly.

I even face different beauty standards in my own race!! East Asians, who are the people who most think of when seeing or hearing the word “Asians”, value light skin over darker skin. I’m from Thailand, which is in Southeast Asia, and I have darker skin than what East Asians have. My skin tone is literally viewed as not as beautiful in my own race!!! Not being white is bad enough, but some people of my own race thinking that I am not “as beautiful” because of the shade of my skin? It sucks. (Not to mention that I still don’t really fit in with either Southeast Asians or East Asians skin-color-wise because I’m somewhere in between that light and dark skin tone.)

Being a person of color in a society where white is what’s socially accepted is so… difficult. People will always be prejudiced towards me, and every Asian, and every person of color. Even in certain cultures were Asian is the norm, people will still be prejudiced towards me. But this book shows us all that we are all beautiful, even if it’s hard to believe, even if you are told otherwise, even if everyone societally deemed “pretty” doesn’t look even similar to you. And that’s why this book is so empowering for every Asian and every person of color.

(Of course, there were other aspects of the rep that I found well-done, but this was what meant the most to me.)

(And I know it sounds kind of cliche or superficial to say “we’re all beautiful!!!!” but Western beauty standards made and STILL make me have low self-esteem so ???)

(Another note: Most of what I was talking about above referred to Southeast/East Asians, since that’s how I identify as. If West or South Asians—or any POC, actually, since we’re all affected by Western beauty standards—can find themselves represented in this book, that’s amazing!!! But this review is just talking about my personal experiences as a Southeast Asian.)

In addition to the BEAUTIFUL Asian rep, this book also had amazing anxiety rep, also some of the best I’ve read. Kiko’s anxiety was portrayed very realistically and I related so much to it. This rep is ownvoices as well!

I also want to mention that there were quite a few problems with the abuse rep that I will fully admit to completely missing when I read this. I can’t speak for how the abuse was portrayed, but there were definitely unquestionably problematic aspects, which Elise explains in a fantastically written review, so please please read her review! (Note: The abuse rep was ownvoices.)

This book is a book that’s extremely close to my heart. It of course has amazing characters and writing and is such a compelling, beautiful story. But most of all, it has the best portrayal of an (East) Asian character I’ve ever read, and it made me realize things about myself that I knew existed but never really recognized. And that means the world to me.

:: rep :: biracial Japanese-American socially anxious female MC (abuse survivor), other biracial Japanese-American siblings, Japanese art mentor

:: content warning :: parental emotional abuse, sexual abuse, suicide attempt, racism

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for generously providing me with a beautiful review copy! This did not affect my opinion in any way.

All quotes were taken from an advanced copy and may differ in the final publication.
Profile Image for destiny ♡ howling libraries.
1,743 reviews5,291 followers
October 10, 2017
But some people are just starfish - they need everyone to fill the roles that they assign.

Kiko's story is so tough to read at points - not only due to her childhood trauma, but also due to her struggles as a biracial young woman in a rural town. Her father is Japanese and her mother is white, and her mother has spent Kiko's entire life shaming her half-Asian appearance, name, and culture.

She once told me she wished she had given me and my brothers more "traditional" names because she was "kind of over the Japanese thing." You know, because being Asian is a trend or something.

On top of growing up with a narcissistic mother who has essentially ruined any chance at self-esteem Kiko ever had, she is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and suffers from extreme social anxiety. As someone who has suffered from severe anxiety my entire life, Kiko's mental health struggles are portrayed in a way that I related so hard to.

Normal people don't need to prepare for social interactions. Normal people don't panic at the sight of strangers. Normal people don't want to cry because the plan they've processed in their head is suddenly not the plan that's going to happen.

While I will say that this book comes with serious content warnings for childhood sexual abuse, familiar abuse/neglect, and mental health illnesses, the story is simultaneously just as touching as it is heartbreaking. I spent the entire story rooting for Kiko because I wanted so badly to see her heal and move forward in life. Akemi drew such a beautiful story, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA contemporaries and is not going to be too upset by the aforementioned triggers.

While this book does also involve a romance subplot, I was pleased to find that it rarely felt like the forefront of the story; first and foremost, Starfish is the progression of an incredible young woman learning how to accept herself for the first time.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

You can find this review (and more) on my blog here!
Profile Image for Warda.
1,209 reviews19.7k followers
April 5, 2018
Trigger warnings for emotional and sexual abuse, incredibly toxic relationship, suicidide attempt.

This is definitely a story that will stay with me. I remember reading the blurb and immediately wanting to dive into the book.
It sounded like something I could relate to and I did. It brought me back to my high school and college days. Heck, even uni. The anxiety, the insecurity, not being someone that is social, but so desperately wanting to fix that about yourself because people kept pointing it out about you. It all hit a bit close to home.

The family aspect in this book is hard to read. It is toxic in every sense of the word and this really shapes the mentality of our main character. She's half-white, half-Japanese, and being a teenager, you already tend to suffer from a identity crisis. Add an unstable home to that and you are in for a mental state that is unhealthy to the fullest.

The author really did an amazing job at bringing those aspects to life, of what it means to be a teenager and trying to find yourself. It was painful to be in Kiko's head.

A whole range of topics are discussed; social anxiety, being Asian but not fully knowing your roots, being picked on for your looks, race, parenting, standards of beauty and fighting and following your dreams.

I wish it was longer. I do wish some aspects were even more developed. Not that anything was missing, but I just felt the need to have more as I was enjoying the book so much and it would've felt even more fulfilling.

I highly recommend this book and I can't wait for the author to release more.

Thank you to Black and White Publishing House for sending me a review copy.
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
720 reviews1,116 followers
September 1, 2021
“Some people are just starfish…they need the world to sit around them, pointing at them and validating their feelings. They will always find a way to make themselves the centre of attention.”

What a beautiful story 🥰
This book was so damn quotable I can’t even.

Kiko has always struggled to fit in, she is half Japanese, half American and has always felt ‘different.’ The casual racism from most of her peers along with her social anxiety makes for a tough combination.

Throw in her emotionally abusive mother and uncle and we quickly see why Kiko is so intent on escaping to art school in New York.

However, when she receives a rejection letter she begins to spiral. She has no back up plan, and she cannot possibly stay with her mother. When an opportunity with a childhood friend comes up for her to visit California and look at some alternative art schools, how can she refuse?

“Because sometimes when the world doesn’t make sense, it just feels better if there’s someone around to make it a little less lonely.”

Bowman’s writing is beautiful, and she portrays Kiko’s anxiety really well. (Me giving Fangirl the side eye because honestly nope.)

I loved how Kiko’s art portrayed what she was feeling and I loved how she tried to tackle her anxiety. Particularly knowing how she becomes dependent on others so she tries to create that distance for herself.

Overall, Bowman is definitely on my must read list.

“I draw five humans and one skeleton, and it doesn’t matter that the skeleton has all the right bones and joints - he will never be the same as the others because he doesn’t have the right skin.”
Profile Image for ♛ may.
806 reviews3,838 followers
November 4, 2017
Let’s all just pretend I came up with some good, clean, coherent introduction that summarizes my thoughts on this book bc we all know that im not capable of doing that

So instead we list


- This was amazing
- This was fantastic
- This was so real I was just screaming for hours on end
- Idk how but the author uses words SOOOOOOOOO well to describe how suffocating and irrational but totally REAL anxiety can be and how IT LITERALLY CAN HAPPEN FOR NO REASON and that just like :| makes everything worse ya know
- But kiko handled it like a boss and it was just so amazing to see wow relate so hard

The Mother
- This woman
- Is a monster
- Someone cage her up bc she shouldn’t be allowed to interact with humans
- She’s so effing self-centered I literally wanted to punch myself in the face everytime she opened her mouth
- Like its less painful to step on a lego (I went there) than listen to this woman talk
- she THINKS EVERYONE CARES ABOUT EVERY SECOND OF HER LIFE and in reality we’re all like um honey you got issues plz book an appointment to the therapist asap
- description
- But at the same time, the book never mentions why the mother is such an a*shole like it is completely devoid of giving any reason to her b*tchyness and honestly I was really hoping we would find the reason for her actions
- But nope, soz my good sir
- And I kinda found that unrealistic bc there’s usually a reason why someone is such a butthead
- Like maybe their parents dropped them on their head as a baby or something
- Just….i need an explanation

The Art Talk
- Art talk is the only talk I need in my life bc it literally gives me butterflies and chills
- Like there was so much passion and love surrounding art in this book and it made my little artist heart very overjoyed
- Kiko is everything I aspire to be :’)

- Kiko is half Japanese, half white and she really struggles with her identity (73% of this is to blame bc her mother is a poophead)
- It’s just REALLY AMAZING TO SEE how kiko grows as a character
- And how she learns more about her japanese side and the traditions and little cute quirks incorporated into the culture and its just really sweet

- Guys if everything I mentioned doesn’t sound great to you
- Then im telling you
- Just fricken buy the book for the single fact that the last sentences of each chapter will kill your being (in a good way)
- Some examples….
- I draw the sun teaching the moon how to shine.
- I draw a boy with a flashlight searching for hope in the dark.
- I draw a girl shrinking into the grass until she’s hidden by a bed of flowers that are all so much prettier than she is.
- They just, they make my heart hurt, I love them so much

- The romance is pretty adorbs
- Nothing tooooooo crazy special
- But they got some squeal worthy moments
- The friendship to lovers trope is always adorbs okay im a sap leave me alone
- Jaime’s a cutie

- I really liked the family dynamics this book offered
- Okay kiko’s family life might have been crap but there was a lot of development in all the side and lots of sacrifices
- And lots of other families that were beautiful and kind and annoying (like all families are)
- Good book man, good book

- Kiko herself was a pretty great main character
- I found a lot of myself in her (the people pleaser wow I feel attacked)
- But she also does a lot of irrational things
- Shes a sweet baby
- And shes an artist *_*

Okay im done

4 stars!!
Profile Image for Mel.
113 reviews11.9k followers
August 8, 2021
the writing was beautiful and made me emotional at times but i have a lot of thoughts… (will come back with a full review later).

tw: racism, sexual abuse, emotional and parental abuse, suicide attempt.
Profile Image for Korrina  (OwlCrate).
193 reviews4,558 followers
December 27, 2017
Really beautiful and heartbreaking story. I thought the anxiety rep was really great. Be warned - this story is brutal and hard to read at times. There’s a lot of heavy subject matter (most prominently child abuse and sexual abuse). But if you’re okay with reading about those topics, I definitely think this book is worth picking up. It also really opened my eyes to racial issues I hadn’t thought about in depth (in regards to Kiko’s struggles with being biracial in a small town, and with a parent who shames her culture). I’d never read a character like Kiko before, and I’ll never forget her journey.
Profile Image for Charmel.
183 reviews424 followers
June 7, 2022
Starfish is art. With its wonderful writing, amazing characters, and thoughtful representation – this is legitimately a beautifully crafted art.

An art that I would gaze at for hours. An art that I wouldn't want to stop thinking about before I sleep. An art that broke me and also brought me together piece by piece. An art that I love with its flaws and all.

“Beauty isn’t a single thing. Beauty is dreaming—it’s different for everyone, and there are so many versions of it that you mostly have no control over how you see it.”

TW: racism, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, attempted suicide.

Some parts were somewhat hard for me to read, especially the family aspect of it and the parental emotional abuse Kiko was constantly receiving. It was so painful and heartbreaking. The author did an incredible job at discussing and bringing it - the anxiety, insecurity, and some heavy problems - in a very good way. Reading this left me so emotional and I really really bawled my eyes out like a baby.

“But some people are just starfish--they need everyone to fill the roles that they assign. They need the world to sit around them, pointing at them and validating their feelings. But you can't spend your life trying to make a starfish happy, because no matter what you do, it will never be enough. They will always find a way to make themselves the center of attention, because it's the only way they know how to live.”

This book talks about so much, about knowing who you are and accepting who you are no matter what race, color, or face. This is a story about friendship, chasing your dreams, doing your thing, and not letting people tell you what you're capable and not capable of.

This book is an art. An art that stays in my mind and my heart forever.

”I draw five humans and one skeleton, and it doesn’t matter that the skeleton has all the right bones and joints—he will never be the same as the others because he doesn’t have the right skin.“

“It feels like a big step, doing things on my own. It’s scary, but it makes me feel stronger, somehow. I feel like my feet are heavier than I realized and if the wind blows I won’t be knocked over. Except it’s not my feet that feel strong; it’s my heart.”
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,520 reviews9,007 followers
December 9, 2018
This book hit close to home for me, as my own mother most likely has undiagnosed narcissistic personality disorder. I feel grateful to Akemi Dawn Bowman for tackling such a difficult topic - having an abusive parent with a serious mental illness - in conjunction with crafting a main character, Kiko, who is half-Japanese and has social anxiety. Bowman gives each of Kiko's dimensions ample room to develop, so they all felt real and raw and meaningful. Her descriptions of Kiko's mother got me so emotional, at times I felt my heart speed up at certain scenes that reminded me of how my own mother treated me. Finally, I loved how Kiko cultivated healing through art and found support through her art mentor, Hiroshi.

My only slight constructive criticism centered on Kiko's relationship with Jamie. On one hand, their relationship was healthy, and it seemed like Kiko did realize that she cannot depend on Jamie to fix her. However, I felt the book focused a bit much on their relationship as opposed to Kiko's internal healing process. Like, in the epilogue, I would have loved a scene where she goes to therapy, or processes something through art, or reunites with Emery.

Overall, a great book I would recommend to fans of YA realistic fiction. I am so here for more Asian protagonists and books that address the complexity of the Asian American experience. This book's heartrending portrayal of abuse reminded me of the stellar Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin, and Kiko's use of art to heal reminded me of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Yay for YA still contributing so much to fiction.
Profile Image for Hamad.
1,048 reviews1,383 followers
February 11, 2019
This review and other non-spoilery reviews can be found @The Book Prescription

Actual Rating: 3.75 stars

“We all have to dream our own dreams. We only get one life to live—live it for yourself, not anyone else.”

🌟 I have heard a lot of good things about Akemi’s writing style and after finishing this book I can understand why now! I will definitely read her other works.

🌟 Akemi’s prose is wonderful and is addicting. The story deals with many heavy objects and I think the writing was appropriate for this. I specially liked the drawing descriptions at the end of each chapter that reflected the psychological status of the MC.

“I draw a girl without a face, drawing somebody else’s face onto her own reflection.”

🌟 I also liked that it had 60 short chapters. I am just a big fan of short chapters and I think they help keeping the pace right and they help in keeping me thrilled from start to finish.

🌟 My only problem with this book is that it dealt with too many topics at once; there was a narcissistic character, racism, social anxiety, suicidal attempt, an affair, child abuse and sexual abuse. I like a book that tries to deal with a heavy topic and that tries to deliver a message. But I felt that this one was dealing with many subjects. So beware that this is not a light read although it is a fast one. I know some readers can be triggered so I mentioned these!

🌟 The characters were well written and I felt that they were realistic. I just wasn’t comfortable reading about Kiki’s mom because she was bad. There are people like her IRL and I am sorry for all of those who had to deal with such mothers! I was just confused by what she had: Was it a narcissistic personality or was she psychopathic or did she have a split personality?? Until one point when Kiki EXACTLY described her as having all of these which was a bit too much.

🌟 Summary: Starfish was a good book with such a good writing and good representation. It dealt with a little bit too many heavy subjects so read it with care. It was a positive experience after all and I am willing to give the author’s other books a chance.
Profile Image for ✨    jami   ✨.
681 reviews3,951 followers
January 2, 2018
"But some people are just starfish. They need everyone to fill the roles they assign


this is genuinely one of the most woefully underrated books I've ever read. I literally feel stressed about how few reviews this book has, because it's beyond incredible Akemi Dawn Bowman writes a story thats authentic, simultaneously hopeful and harrowing.

Starfish follows Kiko Hiruma, a Japanese/American biracial teen who dreams of going to Prism art school, but struggles to show her emotionally abusive mother this is a worthy pursuit. The subject matter of this book is tough, and often hard to read, but what I really liked about it is that despite the incredible hardship Kiko faces, she goes on such an emotional and complex development journey and watching her flourish and succeed outside of a toxic environment was for me, the highlight of this book.

Kiko's development is honestly amazing to watch, it made me tear up a little. And I loved the way that relationships played into that development, whether they be positive or negative. On one hand, Kiko's relationship with her white mother is incredibly toxic. Her mother emotionally abuses her, puts her in harmful situations, gaslights her and perpetuates racist ideals onto Kiko. But on the other hand are characters like Jamie and Hiroshi. Jamie, the LI, is patient and kind with Kiko, and helps her with her social anxiety. Hiroshi was my favourite character beside Kiko. He's an artist who decides to mentor Kiko, and I loved the way he took her under his wing and helped her develop as an artist and person. It was a really important relationship, and that mentor relationship is something I'd love to see more of. I loved reading that.

Starfish is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read, inside and out. The cover is beyond stunning, and the words on the inside feel like a love song. A love song to all the lost girls, and the girls in hard places. The people's who've struggled to survive, the people overcoming their own personal battles.

This book is so disgustingly slept on ! please read it ! I genuinely think it's comparable to contemporary favourites like The Hate U Give. It's pure emotive energy, thoughtfulness, and tender depiction of a biracial Japanese/American girl and her life made me fall absolutely in love with it in the first fifty pages.

Starfish is raw and painful at times, but it's authentic and honest, and it portrays a woman who's magnificent in her complexities and struggles. I honestly loved following Kiko so much and being a part of her growth.

This book for me is such a gem, from the amazing representation, to the fun characters, to the beautiful descriptions of art and what art means to people. Please read it, I'm literally begging you to embrace such a truly hidden gem.

I draw a girl with arms that reach up to the clouds, but all the clouds avoid her because she’s made of night and not day.

TWs: racism, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, parental abuse, suicide attempt.
Profile Image for Schizanthus Nerd.
1,193 reviews248 followers
September 3, 2019
I live my life in the small place between “uncomfortable” and “awkward.”

I don’t know how to even begin to explain how I feel about Starfish so I’ll start with something easy. That cover!!! Sarah Creech has created one of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen! This artist must be an author’s dream come true. The colours, the layout, the design, the awesomeness of it all combined!

I need this cover image available as a print so I can frame it and admire it every day. I also need Sarah commissioned to create artwork of all of the paintings and drawings described in the book because I really, really need a special limited edition illustrated version of Starfish signed by the author and illustrator in my life. Me, me, me, me, me! Argh! I’m a starfish! Moving on …

I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced such a deep bookish connection with a main character before. I felt my name could have been transposed with Kiko’s so many times and yet there were parts of her story that I’ll never understand.

Kiko’s experience of social anxiety is the most honest and realistic portrayal I have ever come across. I would have been right with her attempting to melt into the wall at a party if I’d had the courage to go in the first place. I was impressed by her ability to push through her fear to be in the vicinity of more than one other person at a time sometimes, even though her successes in that area seemed to be fuelled mostly by her need for approval.

People terrify me. I’d probably spend the whole night wishing I had the superpower to make myself invisible. I don’t know how to be any other way.

Her constant feeling of being out of place, weird and different to everyone else hit home for me, as did her pathological need to be ‘enough’ for a person whose expectations are both unrealistic and impossible to meet. I loved her introspection and keen insights into the actions of those around her and her own feelings and behaviour.

I loved that Kiko has a Japanese father and caucasian mother. I desperately wanted her to learn more about her Japanese heritage. I wished that I had siblings but didn’t envy their relationship. I wanted to be friends with Kiko and Emery. I loved Jamie so much that even though I’m anti-romance I wanted Kiko and Jamie to become a couple.

I’ve always felt like I desperately needed to say my feelings out loud - to form the words and get them out of me, because they’ve always felt like dark clouds in my head that contaminate everything around them.

The long term effects of childhood sexual abuse were handled sensitively. The lingering self doubt, guilt and shame were realistic, as were the character’s experiences and internal dialogue as a result of way this trauma was handled by the people they should have been able to trust to protect them.

The physical abandonment by one parent and the emotional abandonment by the other had me getting pretty imaginative with the voodoo doll depiction in my head of Kiko’s mother. Kiko’s fear of abandonment, rejection and of never being enough were all logical but heartbreaking responses to really dysfunctional family dynamics.

I draw a dragon breaking free from its grave and finally seeing what its wings and fire are for.

Kiko finds her voice through her art and the more she explored her feelings through painting and drawing the more I wished I had the ability to translate images in my head to paper and canvas in that way. I’m one of those people who can sort of draw a fairly decent stick figure sometimes as long as they’re just standing there. I loved the use of art as therapy although I did think that the ending was a bit too easy.

I know there were struggles, anguish and angst along the way but Kiko must be made of stronger stuff than I am. If Kiko’s story was my story I am pretty certain there’d be an epilogue that mentioned how well my therapy was going. There was a point in the book where I had to stop reading for a while because some of the responses Kiko experienced were hitting a bit too close to home. If I had to nitpick I’d point out that

I felt for sure that Kiko would remain my favourite character but then I met Hiroshi. My candidate for both Father of the Year and Best Mentor Ever, Hiroshi is wise, sensitive, accepting, vulnerable, loving and adorable! I wanted to hug him, take art classes from him and simply sit and listen to him talk about his life and the world for the rest of my life. Hiroshi is one of those people that you meet and hope they’ll adopt you into their family. Everything about him reminded me that family is not defined by blood.

“I want you to tell me a story. Tell me anger. Tell me sorrow. Tell me happiness. Just tell me something that matters to you.”

Akemi Dawn Bowman’s writing is so beautiful and the translation of Kiko’s feelings to artwork was poetic and stunning. I felt a deep connection with so many characters and didn’t want to finish reading because I wanted to continue to hang out with Kiko and Hiroshi. I saw people in my own life in some of the characters I didn’t connect with and gained some insights into their toxicity, which became some of my favourite lightbulb moments in the book. My favourite passage was the story of the sun goddess, Amaterasu.

Content warnings include abandonment, rejection, toxic family relationships, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, racism, divorce, suicide attempt and mental health.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Ink Road, an imprint of Black & White Publishing, for the opportunity to read this incredible debut novel. I cannot wait for this author’s next book to be released.
Profile Image for Karlita | Tale Out Loud.
109 reviews79 followers
April 16, 2019
It’s strange — hope can make you forget so much, so quickly. That’s why hoping is so dangerous.
Kiko Himura’s relationship with Angeline, her mother, was emotionally draining and noxious. She knew that her love for art was her one-way ticket to get into Prism Art School in New York — her chance to get away from her mother, the memories she wanted to forget and the constant guilt she always has.

I understand why she felt alone given that his father chose the easy way out and leave, while living with her brothers who were practically like strangers living under the same roof because she has a mother who is emotionally incapable of love. She was desperate for her to care and listen.

While all she ever saw was Kiko not being good enough, Angeline didn’t care or even notice her own children. She didn’t exactly had a relationship with them but played pretend that she’d sacrificed a lot or guise as an angel so that everyone will see how great of a mother she was. She only let people see what she wanted them to see but the truth was, she’s self-absorbed, narcissistic and an emotionally abusive mother.

Married young and had three kids, she saw Kiko and her brothers being half-Japanese was a reminder, a mistake of her blissful youth who lived too much at the moment without knowing the concept of forever. She blamed them for not achieving her dreams and what mess of a life she has. She was blinded by her own selfishness that she wanted to suck all the light around her to have everyone’s attention without giving a minute of her day to look out for her children the way a mother supposed to.

That’s one of the many reasons why Kiko had so many insecurities and felt she didn’t belong or looked normal like everyone else. Even having Emery as her best friend, Kiko has a social fear (that obviously started at home, within her own family) of talking to people or not fitting in because she was worried about her being half-Japanese and wondered if guys would still like her because of her race ­— an Asian girl who looked like her.

It was rooted from her mother, who should be the first person to accept her but instead robbed her confidence and made sure that she felt weird, awkward and uncomfortable. She was scared of rejection, so she had the need to make everyone happy even to the extent of losing her own happiness; she felt it firsthand with her own mother.

When Jamie Merrick came back to Kiko’s life and helped her find other art schools in California while being away from her mother for two weeks, Kiko met people along the way like Hiroshi Matsumoto. I absolutely love his character because he understands Kiko more than anyone does: he had the same experience.

He is a wise, kind man who will bare your heart and soul because he sees through you. He's been there done that, and that’s what made him a great mentor to Kiko. Not having a great relationship with his father who also sought for approval and acceptance, Hiroshi made sure to make it up with his own daughters and taught Kiko to live for her own self.

For me, their relationship was my favorite as he and Kiko shared a unique bond of friendship and heritage. Hiroshi filled a void Kiko never realized she had and found a family in him with Mayumi, Akane, and Rei.

I like the way Kiko’s character changed and grew all throughout the story as she finally learned that being guilt free, she has to forgive herself first: she has to heal for her heart to be whole again. She also realized that she don’t have to be someone else’s idea of pretty but being unique, having a different skin color is beautiful, all she has to do is embrace it — seeing the beauty in who she is and where she comes from.

Kiko’s story may sound unrealistic and overly dramatic to some or most will not fully understand her and what she had gone through — the abuse, anxiety, rejection and the toxic maternal relationship, but Bowman made sure that Starfish will pulled your heart strings and feel what you needed to feel.

You don’t necessarily have to be Kiko to understand because you could be a someone in this kind of story. Someone like Shoji who found a world where his mother is not a part of, taking comfort and escape in reading his Manga books or Taro who wore an armor and not letting the sadness in; he offends before he can be offended and laughs before his feelings get hurt.

Some will also definitely relate to Akane or Emery and Jamie, or even Kiko’s drawings and paintings that were intense, painful and stunning all at once, resonating an impactful event to anyone’s reading it.

As I consider this as an ownvoices, the author seriously captured an impressive Asian representation in YA discussing important major points about biracial with content warnings on issues like society’s perception of beauty, racism, sexual abuse and suicide attempt which was also handled and written with care by the author.

Bowman has also written complex and difficult characters, villains like Angeline that everyone might think only existed on fantasy novels but believe me when I say, she’s real lingering in someone else’s life and not just some kind of mythical creature like goblin or bogle. 

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman is a dazzling, honest debut about dreams, acceptance, family, and identity — a mirror to one’s soul. It was the very first book that left me in awe not just because it was brilliant but because it felt like it was written to voice out my own story.

I never had an interconnection to a book’s main character before like I have with Kiko and even before I read this, I knew that I’m in charge on how I would finish the fight in the battlefield, but Starfish will much make you feel less alone because someone knows, someone understands.
Other people occasionally visit, but they don’t stay forever, because we are the creators. We make the rules.
***Thank you to NetGalley, Lina Langlee of Black and White Publishing – Ink Road, and Akemi Dawn Bowman for providing me an eARC in exchange for a fair and honest review!

Full Review at Tale Out Loud | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Tale Out Loud
Profile Image for chloe ♡.
394 reviews269 followers
October 18, 2020

This book is so freaking good - I couldn't put it down! I was supposed to study for tests + a dictation during the weekend, buuuuuut... I procrastinated. I kept reading this. When my mom gave me suspicious looks, I pretended to go to the bathroom and continued reading. (Mom, if you're reading this, I'm sorry :P) AND WHEN I FINISHED READING THE BOOK, I WANTED TO KICK A TREE. BECAUSE I WANT MORE. I NEED MORE. AND THERE ISN'T MORE.

(Dear Akemi Dawn Bowman, please please please write another book about Kiko & friends. Pretty please with a cherry on top? No, make that pretty please with two cherries on top.)


I requested for it on Netgalley, but they didn't give me a response. I kept seeing people saying they received an eARC of this in exchange for an honest review, and ugghhh I felt like crap. I wanted to read it so bad, but it wasn't released yet. Then... in September it finally got released but I was trying to read all the blog tour review copies I had to finish reading. Soo yeah. I didn't really have time. A few days ago, I realized I'd finished a crap ton of review copies so I decided to reward myself by reading Starfish!

The cover is sosososo beautiful.

At first I was kinda confused because hello? The name of the book is Starfish, isn't it? But there aren't any starfishes (yes, that's grammatically correct!) on the cover? Only other random marine creatures like jellyfish and turtles? I'm really confused???

But still, it's a masterpiece. The galaxy background and the line art AAH 😍 IT'S SO GORGEOUS AND I LOVE IT SO MUCH!

ASIAN REP! So-called "minority race" rep!

Story time:

Once upon a time, a little girl named Chloe dreamed of traveling to a wonderful place called America.

Expectation: awesome food + awesome books + awesome people + awesome weather + TARGET!!!!!

Reality: teenagers who refused to speak to her because they assumed she didn't know English since "she's Asian" + people who cringed when she mentioned where she's from + kinda awful overall but there were some nice people

People always think Kiko's different because she's half Japanese. Some of them think she's not pretty because their definition of pretty = blond hair + blue eyes. Kiko felt like she didn't fit in - I could really relate to her. I remember when I went to Disney World, other people refused to have a conversation with me because I "look Chinese". I'm an extrovert and I usually have no trouble socializing, but the other teenagers made me feel small and insignificant and I had no idea what to say to them.

At last, Kiko understands that there are many kinds of beauty, and stops listening to what other people say. <3

Kiko. Everything about Kiko. + Jamie (sweet, considerate Jamie!!!) + Emery <3 (basically all of the characters [excluding Kiko's mom])

Kiko's (half) Asian, a passionate artist and kinda awkward when meeting new people. So relatable. I JUST WANT TO BAKE HER COOKIES AND TALK ABOUT ART WITH HER AND TELL HER EVERYTHING'S GOING TO BE OKAY.

Can I order a Jamie Merrick from Amazon please? He's so sweet and considerate and OMG when he tells Kiko he loves her!!! I think I'm going to melt into a emotional puddle. And every time Kiko mentions his blue eyes! *swoon

Emery is so amazing - she's always there for Kiko. Even when she leaves her and goes to Indiana, she still looks out for her and it's so heartwarming! Also I love how she designs her own tattoos!!!

Prism Art School is fictional, unfortunately.

Aaaaahh I fell in love with Prism Art School when I was reading about it - located in New York, with colorful interior design + amazing artists? AWESOME! I immediately Googled it for details but there were no results! :( How disappointing!


She's such a shallow bish! Ughhh. I crossed my fingers and hoped that at last she'll finally understand Kiko and everything will be okay. But she continues being super annoying and OMG I HATE HER SO MUCH! She's so pessimistic and fake and ruins everything. Also she's the worst mom on the planet. She makes Kiko feel small and insecure and I WANT TO HIT HER IN THE FACE. I can't believe she's related to Kiko - they're so different!

Kiko + Jamie = ❤

Wowowow I love how Jamie's always super accepting and supportive. EVERY TIME HE TELLS KIKO HE LOVES HER, I DIED A LITTLE INSIDE BECAUSE HOW SWEET IS THAT??? When I was reading the part where Kiko meets Jamie at the party, the little voice inside my brain kept on saying shiiiiiiiiip. They are so perfect together and aaaahhh I was waiting for them to kiss and when they finally do fireworks went off in my brain!

The Japanese artist (I forgot his name?) and his family are amazing people.

Kiko doesn't really have a loving family. Her parents are divorced, her dad has a new family and her mom, well, is being a terrible bish as usual. She isn't close with her brothers, so she doesn't really have family members who are always there for her. The Japanese artist guides Kiko and gives her good advice. He treats her like a daughter and that is so lovely!
July 30, 2018

Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest

I think I went into this book with elevated expectations because so many people were singing its praises. I get that I might not be the "ideal" person to review this, but I also think that I have some valid criticisms as a somewhat experienced reviewer who has read a great deal of books (both good and bad), and also has some firsthand experience with social anxiety. There were some really good things in this book, and there were also some things that I really did not like. I'm going to talk about both, in detail, and I'm not going to couch my words in platitudes. If that offends you (I'm not being facetious - the words "sacrilege" and "appalling" were both used the other day for one of my other YA reviews), I'm not sure why you're still following me at this point unless you're a glutton for punishment, but if you find yourself unable to resist commenting on here with something rude, don't .

Things I liked:

The way cultural and ethnic identity were approached. We're getting an influx of  #OwnVoices reads lately, especially in YA, which is great. However, a lot of them are being approached from the same angle, in which cultural and ethnic identity are synonymous and the characters in question are fully immersed in their culture. Here, Bowman explores the "gap" that can occur between the two, particularly in an interracial relationship, with the main character, Kiko, being utterly isolated from her Japanese heritage in large part due to her mother's distaste for it. She doesn't look like white people, but she doesn't feel Asian, so she often feels adrift and isolated, and watching her rediscover herself and learn to appreciate Asian food, Asian culture, and Asian language was really nice. I think a lot of people probably feel like they aren't "enough" when the portrayal of people of color always shows them being very connected to their cultural roots, so it was refreshing to see a character who wasn't born connected to her cultural and experiencing it for the first time; it made me feel really happy because I feel like there's probably a lot of kids who feel similarly and need this rep.

The way sexual abuse was approached. We know from the beginning that Kiko was abused, but we don't know what happened. When we find out what did, it's a bit shocking because it seems "like no big deal" as Kiko describes it, dismissively, at one point, in order to hide about how much it bothered her. I actually liked that the author didn't choose something "extreme" because you know what, all forms of abuse are bad, and it shouldn't have to be something really graphic and disgusting in order to make people sit up and shout, "This is wrong!" It says a lot about our culture, in my opinion, that we treat abuse like it's heat on a spectrum, acting like some are more comfortable than others. No. So, after meditating on the author's reasons for doing what she did, I found that I really appreciated this.

Problematic microaggressions. There are a number in here, some of them done in innocence, some of them deliberately harmful. At one point, someone tells Kiko that they aren't "into Asian girls." Her friend, trying to cheer her up, tells her that people love exotic looks. On the one instance her mom tries to be nice and give her makeup tips, all of the tips are for white people with fair complexions and blue eyes. There was another one, actually committed by the love interest, which I'm not even sure was intentional by the author: he expresses surprise that she'd never been to Chinatown, which I know a lot of my friends would probably be offended by if asked, especially if they were Japanese, as Kiko was (because, as that stupid stereotype goes, all Asian cultures are interchangeable).

Things I didn't like:

Kiko's mother. I know I wasn't supposed to like her, but her character was just so over-the-top and the emotional abuse was just a constant barrage. I think it's going to be really triggering for people who have ever experienced emotional abuse, because the way her mother twisted words and always made everything about herself was pretty well done, even if her character was not. The author was effective in making her a despicable character, but she comes across as grotesque stereotype, a blonde "Mommie Dearest" who is about a phrase away from screaming "No more wire hangers!" I saw another reviewer who said that it felt like her characterization was done the way it was for shock value, and I agree. After a while, I just felt resigned whenever she appeared and steeled myself for more self-absorbed rants about how unappreciated/beautiful/special she was. Whatever.

The way Kiko's mother expressed her racist thoughts. This was ridiculous. I couldn't understand how she married a Japanese man if she hated Asian culture so much. Wouldn't this have come up while they were dating? (People are really bad at hiding their racist thoughts after more than a few dates, or whenever they start feeling "comfortable") What made Kiko's father go out with this woman for so many times without wising up to her attitude? She was such a racist, it was almost cartoonish. But then I reminded myself that we have enough racists in this country that Donald Trump "won" the presidency, so maybe her attitude wasn't that far off, I don't know. I feel like there's a lot that I, as a white person, will never understand about racism, because I don't experience it the same way that many people of color in my country - and others - do on a daily basis, so I feel funny criticizing something like this in a book, especially where it seems like it might be valid. I would have liked more insight into the relationship between Kiko's parents. It was utterly bizarre.

The social anxiety rep. When I was younger, someone said to me something like, "People who are depressed are such deep, caring people, and part of the reason they're so upset all the time is because they feel everything so deeply." This person was trying to help but actually made me feel worse, because at the time I felt very selfish spending so much time inside my own head, so I couldn't help thinking to myself, "Okay, so not only am I really sad, I'm the wrong kind of sad. Great." Her words actually made me feel like literal garbage for a week. I've noticed this mythos in a lot of YA books about mental illness and neurodivergence where they are portrayed as sensitive, wronged people who aren't appreciated by the people around them, and that really bothers me, because I feel like it creates this mindset where you don't need to change, you just need to find people who can fix you by thinking about you the way you want to be thought about. Kiko lives in this weird fantasy world where she thinks everything will be better if she can get into Prism and she uses her friends as crutches (she literally calls them her "crutch friends" or something like that). This is the absolutely wrong mindset to have, because as tempting as it is to think, "My life will be perfect if only I could have X," that isn't the case. You have to decide to change, as scary and awful as that can be. I didn't want to change when I was anxious, because change was scary and uncomfortable. I had to learn to want it, and I learned to want it by starting small and feeling that rush of learning that I had more agency and power than I dreamed. Kiko sort of goes through this eventually, but the opportunity is handed to her in the form of a beautiful (and white) love interest who looks like a European model (or so she describes him) and a shiny art mentor and scholarship, both handed to her on a silver platter. It isn't this easy for most people, and I think perpetuating this mentality of "learned helplessness" by telling teens to rely on external things to solve their problems (which only works for as long as those external things are around) is harmful and dangerous. When Kiko finds out she didn't get her scholarship at first, she literally falls apart. She has no idea what to do, because she put all her hopes and dreams and expectations in that one basket.

I actually wondered about the title because at one point, it's revealed that Kiko's mentor, a Japanese artist, calls selfish people "starfishes" because they have multiple legs that all point inward. Kiko thinks of her mother as a starfish, because I mean, obviously. But I also kind of wondered if the title of the book was supposed to refer to Kiko as well, since she spends so much time thinking of herself and what other people are thinking of her, and even though she doesn't appear to have narcissistic personality disorder (which her mother appears to have), her anxiety does make her selfish in a way because she's constantly thinking about what others are thinking of her, and how much people disappoint her by forcing her into the wrong choices, and this whole litany of other stuff. At the end of the book, she finally learns to be independent and get out of her own head, so part of me wondered if the title STARFISH was actually a decoy, referring secretly to Kiko learning to get out of her own head and learn other, healthier ways of thinking about herself and her life.

There are other things in this book that are triggering, like suicide and adultery, but I'm not going to talk about those things because they involve spoilers and because I feel like this review has become enough of a downer-fest. I do think that people with triggers should take care while reading this book, although I imagine that some will find it really useful and relatable. I didn't like it that much, for the reasons I mentioned before, but it wasn't a terrible book and even though I really did not like Kiko's character, I didn't want to throw this book into a furnace like I did with ~other~ mental health books. It was actually thought-provoking and interesting, and I liked the relationship between art and feelings; it reminded me a lot about SPEAK, which was the first time I'd ever read a book about someone with anxiety/depression, and was exactly what I needed when I was fourteen. I hope that this book ends up being that same useful tool for someone else, even if it wasn't for me.

2.5 to 3 stars
Profile Image for l..
490 reviews2,137 followers
January 11, 2022


I totally forgot to add this to my currently-reading shelf, because I was busy relating to the Asian & anxiety rep, and tearing up over things.
Profile Image for Frank-Intergalactic Bookdragon.
576 reviews228 followers
May 19, 2020
Reread May 2020
"Beauty is dreaming."

Yep, still my favorite. I cried multiple times on this read and Kiko is still the character I relate to the most in any work of fiction I've read or watched. If anything I related to her more on this read!

First read September 2018
I've never related to a book as much as this one.

Trigger warnings: sexual abuse and pedophilia, attempted suicide (non graphic), and emotional child abuse.

Yes, I'm rewriting this review. My reasons are a) I feel I shared too much of a personal story and I found the review triggering to read and b) it wasn't the quality I wanted because I wrote it literally the day after I finished the book. And although I read this almost an entire year ago, I feel I still remember enough to write a review.

This book deals with a lot of themes but I feel narcissism is the main one, narcissism is (literally) an old friend of mine. I grew up with a narcissistic aunt who's behavior was so toxic and vial me and my family haven't spoken to her in over two years. The main character's mother exhibited practically all my aunt's behavior and I found it to be done extremely well.

However, that wasn't the only reason I related to this so much. The main character Kiko is someone I saw myself in. Not just in her interest and hobbies but in her thought processing and emotional struggles. She's very shy and anxious and is scarred from toxic relationships. Reading Her story felt like someone saying "I see you and I understand" even if we didn't have the same situations. Her arc was done in a way I found very realistic and powerful.

Besides the characters the plot is slow yet captivating. The road trip mentioned in the synopsis doesn't happen until halfway into the book, but I can see why they mentioned it because it is the point where the plot fully starts. I was never bored because of the characters and the beautiful writing style.

I might reread this in the next few months and add more to this review, but I want to close this by saying Starfish is currently my favorite book, and I believe it will be for quite awhile.
Profile Image for Abbie (boneseasonofglass).
293 reviews351 followers
March 3, 2018
Ohhhh booooy was this book intense! It was such an emotional rollercoaster tbh. I would just like to say that Kiko's mum is absolutely the worst person i've read about, I just hate her so much. Starfish indeed.

I really loved Kiko, and watching her grow, and watching her learn to love herself and escape and learn who she was as a person as well as learning what real love is, whether romantic, platonic or familial love.

I especially like at the end of chapters, where Kiko would draw something to reflect her mood, it just was such a great way to get to know her more too.

I just don't even know what else to say tbh haha, except prepare yourself emotionally before reading this book, because it is so raw and emotional and intense, that you need to be ready

Tbh I would've liked it to maybe be a little bit longer at the end though

Trigger Warnings for emotional abuse, sexual abuse and suicide attempt
Profile Image for Masooma.
69 reviews132 followers
April 15, 2018
Starfish is a novel of love and loss. Love comes in its typical form, a guy that a teenager meets and falls head over heels for. Loss, however, doesn’t come in its cliché form. Instead, it comes in the form of loss of confidence, which, in my view, is momentous and needed to be covered in a novel.

Kiko Himura is a quiet teenager who remains wrapped in her bubble of social anxiety. It’s hard for her to deal with people or indulge in interactions without her social crutch, her best friend. Her anxiety has deep roots that run into her childhood, mainly surfacing due to her divorced parents and a narcissist mother.

Top this up with Kiko’s half-Japanese heritage and you have racism kicking into the picture as well. There’s a lot that Kiko hasn’t explored about her culture and norms. In fact, she’s color and culture-conscious due to her mother.

Hence, the plot unfolds Kiko’s struggle with social anxiety, her complicated relationship with her mother who basically plants the chief seeds of racism in the book, and her passion for art.The novel adopts a steady pace, with each chapter unveiling bits of details that add up to the full picture at the end.

Akemi Dawn Bowman covers multiple themes at once and it is safe to say that either the theme she introduces is new or is an old one that is executed really well. The primary pillars of the book are a socially anxious girl who by no means is outgoing, a broken family that has divorced parents and an awkward sibling relationship, racism, sexual abuse, parental neglect, and art.

Kiko loves art, therefore, each chapter ends with a painting or a sketch. It turns out that I was always looking forward to getting to the end of a chapter to find out what the central character will be painting at the end, those were brilliant ideas.

The description of art was good enough though not as excellent as the love of art that was portrayed in I'll Give You the Sun. All the other characters were made up pretty well, you could easily connect with each one of them or understand their positioning.

Kiko is a character that keeps to herself. She doesn’t have many friends or an active social life. So, be prepared for a somewhat-whiny character who isn’t necessarily full of flaws but sees several in herself nonetheless. If you’ve zero tolerance for such characters than the book isn’t for you. However, if you have been on the edge of parental neglect or social anxiety in a phase or two of your life, you might be able to quickly connect with her.

The one character that was remarkably unbelievable was Kiko’s mother. I literally hated her, which simply translates into the fact that she was sketched so well that I ended up abhorring and kept waiting that at some point, the motherly instincts would come. Turns out, the woman only wants attention! So, she’s a character anyone will definitely enjoy.

As far as the racism is concerned, it was also conducted pretty well. I didn’t know that Asians were also subject to such strict racism, at times, which only means that it was extremely important for this book to be born and end up in our hands.

All in all, Starfish is a good read that discusses some pretty important themes. It’s not the sort of book you should neglect.
Profile Image for Hilly &#x1f390;.
709 reviews1,325 followers
May 6, 2020
“My parents told me art was what lazy people did when they just wanted to work on the side of the street. They wanted me to be a doctor. So when I had two daughters, I told them they could be anything they wanted, even if it was a painter on the side of the street. And do you know what? One of them is in medical school and the other wants to be a surfer.” He laughs. “We all have to dream our own dreams. We only get one life to live—live it for yourself, not anyone else. Because when you’re on your death bed, you’re going to be wishing you had. When everyone else is on theirs, I guarantee they aren’t going to be thinking about your life.”

This book really hit home. I felt so represented and I kept nodding at everything I read. And it’s just so difficult to write a review about the deep feelings I had for this book.
There was good representation of everything I could have asked:
- social anxiety
- it showed me what it means to be biracial
- being awkward and having zero confidence
- desperately wanting to flee home
- sexual abuse and calling it exactly that
- a cold relationship with siblings.

I don’t know how other people do it—don’t they ever feel like they need to recharge? Doesn’t talking to people for so long wear them out?

I particularly liked that the book was centered on the relationship daughter/mother, even if I was so annoyed with that monster of a mother that I wanted to enter the book and strangle her myself. She did horrible things like making Kiko feel alien in her skin and not American or pretty enough, but the most disgusting one was No. Nope. NO FREAKING WAY.

Looking out at the ocean, I don’t know how anyone could be anything but lonely. There’s nothing out there to see—just water and space. But it feels good. If lonely can ever be something good, this is it. This is Kiko at peace with the world. This is Kiko not in the middle of a raging war with her mother. This is Kiko just being Kiko.

The writing is pure poetry. Reading those metaphors made me feel like I was surrounded by stars while floating in space or swimming at the bottom of the ocean. Same with the descriptions of the drawings and paintings. The theme of art gave such a delicate atmosphere to this book and since I love mentor-student stories so much, I also loved the relationship between Hiroshi and Kiko. He was like a second father to her but he also let her know about her Japanese heritage in a caring way which I found heartwarming.

I really liked Kiko’s growth, mostly because it was realistic: she has severe social anxiety at the beginning, then she gains more and more confidence, but at the end she still has anxiety, it doesn’t magically disappear.
Jamie, instead, is such a cutie: I want more love interests that are just sweet and supporting like him.

Lastly, I really enjoyed the representation of Japanese culture and Chinatown <3

I will be the person I need. I will be the one I can depend on, the one who has the power to make my life better or worse.
I’ll still panic when I’m in a crowd. I’ll still question whether people mean something different from what they say. And I’ll probably always feel my heart thump when I think someone is criticizing me.
But I can live with that.
I accept myself.
Profile Image for alice.
270 reviews335 followers
July 28, 2017
God, this was so fucking beautiful. This was everything I didn't know I wanted and more. RTC
Profile Image for Cam (justabookeater).
141 reviews274 followers
August 11, 2017
A copy was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

TWs: racism, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, parental abuse, suicide attempt.

I really need to stop expecting less out of contemporary novels because they always end up destroying my soul every single time.

Starfish narrates the story of an artist named Kiko who gets the chance to reconnect with her childhood best friend after years of not seeing or contacting him. I thought we would be limited lo their romance but in the end I got so much more than I expected. With Kiko we face her struggles with internalized racism, social anxiety and her narcissistic, emotionally abusive mother.

In Starfish, we see Kiko grow slowly but surely into a person that knows what she wants. It’s a beautiful and incredibly relatable process especially for teens with all sorts of anxiety. Her discussions with her mother hit a little too close to home but in a way, that’s a good thing. It made the book even more real for me.

I wish we had gotten to see a bit more of her relationship with her Dad and her two brothers; and maybe a redemption scene concerning her disgusting uncle but sometimes, not everything gets solved easily. That’s just real life. I want to see more characters like Kiko in books; girl with insecurities and weaknesses and growth.

I look forward to reading more of Akemi’s raw writing while bracing my heart for a bit of pain before the endless joy.
Profile Image for Joce (squibblesreads).
237 reviews4,888 followers
March 24, 2018
3.5-3.75 stars, I think. I loved the dynamics and the bones of the story but some characters were too one dimensional to be effective and there were SO MANY DASHES used haphazardly. I’m talking like 3-7 per PAGE. In some places it made sense for a dash to be used and in others, it was clear that a period, or conjunction + clause would be appropriate. Dashes cause and imply a deliberate pause to interject, and in some places, the following phrase/clause wasn’t an interjection at all and was just simply a new sentence. Normally I wouldn’t be this picky but it was making my reading more frustrating and difficult to ignore. Overall could be refined more but really hit home in some places.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,217 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.