I've always loved books about art, and Starfish is no different. Art, in every form, is so shared and personal at the same time, which makes it perfect to write about. A character’s journey can be tracked by what they create, and their passion is always so visible.
Kiko Himura is dependent on her application to Prism, an NYC art school, to get out of her town in Nebraska and away from her home environment. When she doesn’t get in, Kiko accepts an invitation from her childhood best friend to tour art schools in California while she figures out her next steps.
I loved reading about Kiko’s desire to discover her own identity, brushing off the one that her mother chose for her. She was so strong, while at the same time having crushing anxiety. This portrayal, by the way, was incredibly realistic instead of falling back on mental health stereotypes. I have some anxiety, so I loved seeing that seen as adding to Kiko’s character as an individual instead of something to be strictly overcome.
Another identity Kiko got to explore was her heritage. She is half-Japanese, and although her mother treats this as a terrible fault every time she can, Kiko gets to learn more about her culture and choose to see herself as beautiful and worthy of the world through all the microaggressions thrown at her. I’m Indian, and I also grew up in a place where I’m a minority, so I saw myself in Kiko at times, and that hit me hard.
There was a bit of romance later in the story, and it was adorable, but what I appreciated most about it was the emphasis on self-healing. Kiko explicitly stated that she didn’t want her love for Jamie to be the thing that “fixed” her, it had to be her own strength and willpower. This is too often glossed over in contemporary novels, so having it said in-text means so much to me.
I think the only thing I can say about Kiko’s mother is that she’s despicable. I hated everything she said to Kiko, and how obvious it was that she knew exactly what she was doing to her daughter. I hate manipulative parents, especially narcissistic ones, since absolutely no child deserves to grow up thinking they are not the most important thing in the world to their parents. I hate that some kids have to grow up this way, and I’m glad that Kiko found ways to stand up to her mother even though she felt crushed inside.
What I dislike most, though, is her mother’s absolute unwillingness to stand by Kiko. She invites Kiko’s maternal uncle to stay with them, knowing full well he had abused Kiko during her childhood. She suggests that the memory was made up, and that maybe Kiko ought to forgive her uncle, even though he abused her. This, to me, is the worst a parent can get. Again, returning to the point where parents are supposed to listen to their children and value them.
Despite all the heavy topics, some things that happened to Kiko made me squeal out loud. There was her aforementioned romance with Jamie, who was sweet, supportive, and *added bonus*, her childhood best friend! She also has the opportunity to work with a Japanese American artist, who becomes her role model and mentor. Kiko gets to see herself as a whole individual outside of her family’s cage, and it was amazing to watch her grow into her new experiences.
Bowman’s writing is absolutely magical, and I couldn’t get enough. She expressed Kiko’s art in such a lyrical way that I could picture it all, and her descriptions made me itch to pick up my pens and try my hand at drawing. Each chapter ended with a few lines of what Kiko had worked on, and I found myself looking forward to those. They were always so imaginative, always so original.
Overall, Starfish is beyond worthy of five stars, for being a captivating story of self-discovery and creativity. I loved spending time with Kiko, getting to know her, and I definitely recommend this book for anyone and everyone.
Hey, I'm Shreya! I love to read, write, travel, and drink coffee.
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