Published: 26 September 2017
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Category: Contemporary/Young Adult
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.
Rating: 5 Stars
TW: emotional abuse by a parent, childhood sexual abuse, anxiety/panic attacks, racism.
I have to admit, reading some of this book was hard work because of how closely Kiko and her mother’s relationship mirrors that one I had growing up. Being belittled, even when that person doesn’t realize it and especially when they do, makes it difficult to survive sometimes. I had some flashbacks when Kiko’s mother was being narcissitic and petty, reminding me of the past. I will say that as painful as those moments were, and I’d caution those with emotional abuse in their past when reading Starfish, Akemi Dawn Bowman wrote them very authentically.
It’s easy to see the affect that Kiko’s mother’s treatment of her has on her everyday life, particularly one moment when she’s at a fair with Jamie, a childhood friend. He’s a photography major who’s practicing and, when she looks at a picture he takes of her that night, all she can see is the things “wrong” with her face: the shape of her nose, the shade of her hair, etc. She can’t not pick herself apart, even thinking about how it’s no wonder her mother has been telling her she’s going through a “funky” stage. These moments hurt and strike home with each page how badly things have gone in Kiko’s past and present.
The relationship that develops between Kiko and Jaime was a good one in that a) it didn’t feel like insta-love and b) it didn’t magically make Kiko’s problems go away. There have been some mental illness books and movies that make it seem like falling in love will make everything better, but Kiko doesn’t do that. She actually recognizes, when she’s with Jamie and considering the future that she’s be really dependent on him because of how he makes her feel and, while she believes she might love him, doesn’t want their love to be based on him taking care of her. It’s a hard choice for her to make, but she makes the decision to take care of herself first. There’s a RuPaul quote that’s perfect for this moment, I think:
Things aren’t magically better at the end with Kiko’s mother either and that was a powerful statement because things don’t always get better. You can try and reach out, but there are people that just can’t be helped. I really felt for Kiko when she kept trying to reach out to her mother, trying to get her to care about Kiko and her art, hoping that maybe this time will be different. Being able to break away from a toxic environment like that can be insanely hard, but she does it and starts moving forward.
I was happy for the epilogue wherein there was more closure than I was expecting. It gives a glimpse into the life that Kiko is creating on her own now. Learning to accept help, learning to love herself, and recognizing that doing all that doesn’t mean that her anxiety, the pressure she feels to please others and say sorry, will go away and that’s okay. It’s a one day at a time thing and she’s taking those steps.
To celebrate the release of Starfish and the blog tour, there is a giveaway for a signed and personalized copy of the book from author Akemi Dawn Bowman. See the Rafflecopter link below for more details.
And now for the playlist! There were a few songs that really stood out to be as being appropriate for the themes of this novel. Some I had to search for and found, though I was a bit sad listening to them again because they brought to mind the feelings that I imagined the characters as having, particularly Kiko, Jamie, and Shugo.
Some of the songs have to do with abuse of one form or another. The instrumental pieces I thought blended well with lyrics of the others, in particular because they made me think that they might be songs that Kiko would listen to while painting or drawing.
- Jesus of Suburbia by Vitamin String Quartet
- Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) by Josh Groban
- Take Flight by Lindsey Stirling
- Dinner at Eight by Rufus Wainwright
- Pensiero notturno by Fabrizio Paterlini
- Andy Warhol – Live by David Bowie
- Piano Concerto in F: II. Adagio by George Gershwin
- One More Light by Linkin Park
- The Arena by Lindsey Stirling
- Follow Your Arrow by Kasey Musgraves
The last song might seem a bit out of place as it’s the only country song on the list, but the lyrics really sealed it for me. As Kiko starts her life as an adult, finding her art and moving away from toxic influences, she’s following her own path. Her own arrow, if you will.
If you have a Spotify account, the link will take you right to the playlist. I’ve included the tracklist if you’d prefer to find the videos/lyrics/use-an-alternative-music-source yourself.
Blog Tour Schedule
Be sure to check out the variety of other posts celebrating the release of Starfish!
September 22, 2017
September 23, 2017
Morgan + Allison
September 24, 2017
Between the Pages
September 25, 2017
Bri’s Book Blog
Audeamus. Let us dare.
September 26, 2017
Rooted in Fiction
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley/Rich in Variety Tours in exchange for an honest review.