Starfish by Akemi Dawn BowmanStarfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman


byAkemi Dawn Bowman

Hardcover | September 26, 2017

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A William C. Morris Award Finalist
A New York Public Library 2017 Best Book for Teens

“Dazzling.” —Bustle
“One of the most compelling reads of the year.” —Paste Magazine
“This book is a gem.” —BookRiot

A gorgeous and emotionally resonant debut novel about a half-Japanese teen who grapples with social anxiety and her narcissist mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school.

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.
Title:StarfishFormat:HardcoverProduct dimensions:352 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 1.1 inShipping dimensions:8.25 × 5.5 × 1.1 inPublished:September 26, 2017Publisher:Simon PulseLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1481487728

ISBN - 13:9781481487726

Appropriate for ages: 12


Rated 5 out of 5 by from "I drew the sun teaching the moon how to shine." Some books you just can't put down. Some books bring you to tears and have laughter bubbling up out of your soul in the same chapter. Akemi Dawn Bowman's Starfish does this for me. Starfish is beautifully heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. And can I just say - the cover art of this book is BEAUTIFUL! Starfish stars Kiko, a half Japanese/half caucasian artist, who comes to term with the unfairness of life and learns to stand on her own two feet. She finds her voice, and finds that sometimes her voice is saying nothing at all. Sometimes, your voice is paints splashed across canvas and a family you choose. Representation matters, and the first person narrative of Kiko's crippling anxiety sounds an awful lot like my own inner monologue. Mental health, unrealistic beauty standards, abuse, broken families, and suicide are not romanticized in Bowman's Starfish - and while the prose is beautiful and haunting, there are no rose coloured glasses to look through in this book. I especially enjoy early on in the book where Kiko questions why she is called half-Japanese and not half-white, as if her Asian-ness is the "other". Kiko's Asian-ness is not played as a token POC character or something she needs to overcome, but as a part of who she is and who she is trying to become. Kiko's Japanese heritage is not the most important thing about Kiko, but is an integral part of her characterization and journey. Furthermore, the white characters, such as Jamie and Emery, do not play the role of the "white saviour" but serve as supports for Kiko to save herself. (Can we just talk about all the amazing POC representation this year? Keep it up world!) Starfish was truly a captivating read, and I personally cannot wait to get my hands on Summer Bird Blue next. Bowman has expertly drawn on real life struggles of young adults and did not shy away from hard topics (take notes 13 Reasons Why). I am stoked to give this book a second read and dive in deeper! Give Starfish a read - you won't be disappointed!
Date published: 2018-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is one of my top favourites this year!! I cannot contain my love for this book. I don't usually read YA contemporary and yet this book sucked me in and I'm convinced that even though there's no magic in the story, Akemi wove actual magic into the words. It's a breathtaking, heartbreaking book that deserves way more attention and love!! So happy it's been named a finalist for the Morris Award! I'll be buying a copy as a Christmas gift for a friend.
Date published: 2017-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from no words can describe how amazing this book is Finally, a novel talking about real problems teenagers face today and a male lead who I can appreciate. It's not your typical YA novel about some naive socially awkward teenage girl who falls in love with some popular hot guy at her school. This book is so much more than that. This book covered a lot of heavy subjects like sexual abuse, mental illness, and racism but Akemi delivered it in such a beautiful way. I really hope that more people would read this book and I look forward to more of Akemi's work. It's been years since I've found a book that made me feel all the emotions Starfish did.
Date published: 2017-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lyrical, Diverse, Poignant There are some books out there that you just connect with on every level, and Akemi Dawn Bowan’s Starfish was one of those for me. Before I begin, I would like to that the Cover Gods for coming up with the ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL Starfish cover because everything about this cover works for this book and AAH. It’s just so pleasing to look at. “I draw a girl on a plane, leaving her heart on the runway.” There was absolutely nothing I didn’t like about this book, so let’s talk about all the things I did love: 1. Our Biracial Protagonist: Kiko is half American, half Japanese and from the very first page you can see her struggling with the image of beauty that her mother has drilled into her. She struggles to fall in love with the person she sees in the mirror, she struggles with anxiety, she struggles with her heritage versus just wanting to be “normal” which as an Indian is SO RELATABLE to me. I connected with Kiko, and fell for her instantly because her voice is raw, honest and most importantly, real. “I draw water and fire, forgetting all the rules and morphing into something new.” 2. THE ART: I don’t talk about it one the internet much, but I’m also an artist. I’m nowhere near as talented as Kiko, but I can paint. When I feel like it. The words used by Akemi Bowan to describe Kiko’s art brought it to life in a way I’ve never seen done before. All the quotes are Akemi bringing to life her imaginings of Kiko’s art, because I thought you should see how BEAUTIFUL it was to read for me. “I draw a thousand fairies circling around a girl so she can finally fly away.” 3. THE CHARACTER GROWTH: Three chapters into this book, I felt like I knew Kiko. I understood what it was like to be her, socially awkward and all. I loved how she blossomed and started gambling on herself more as the book progressed and by the end, she actually said out loud what she kept inside before. It was like a caterpillar learning to become a butterfly and I LOVED IT. “I draw five Japanese women with very different faces, but all of them are equally beautiful because beauty is not just one thing.” 4. HIROSHI AND JAMIE: Now, they’re not love interests, this book DOESN’T HAVE a love triangle, but they’re both such SPECTACULAR characters. Hiroshi is an artist who takes Kiko under his wing, introduces her to his Japanese family and shows her what unconditional love is. Jamie, on the other hand, is her childhoos best friend with his blue eyes and kind smile. They’re both such perfect people, and exactly the supportive, kind people that Kiko needed and I fell in love with them too. A lyrical, gorgeously written, poignant diverse book about loving yourself, growing up and first love. 5 stars and I COULD NOT RECOMMEND IT MORE.
Date published: 2017-10-29

Read from the Book

Starfish CHAPTER ONE Mom doesn’t show up. I shouldn’t be surprised—she never shows up—but I can’t get rid of the empty, twisted feeling in my stomach. Emery always says that being alone isn’t the same thing as being lonely, but sometimes it feels like they’re exactly the same thing. My mermaid teapot is sitting on the shelf in front of me. I flick my finger against the purple ribbon dangling from its spout. When I made it in ceramics class two months ago, it looked vibrant and smooth. Now all I can think about is how the blue glaze looks more gray than cerulean, how the torso is so unrealistically long, and how bad of an idea it was to make a mermaid teapot at all. It doesn’t matter that the ribbon says “Honorable Mention.” All I see is “Not good enough to get into Prism.” All Mom would see is “Not good enough.” Maybe I should be happy she isn’t here. I pull the ribbon from the spout and shove it into my bag, burying it beneath a graveyard of almost-used-up pencils, a sketchbook, and a pack of cinnamon chewing gum. When I hear laughter, I look up to see Susan Chang—the only other half-Asian girl in our school—clutching a blue and gold ribbon like she’s afraid she might lose it. Her mother’s hand is wrapped around her shoulder, and her father is pointing at her acrylic painting—an image of a house on a lake, with several geese dipping their toes into the water. It’s a sensible piece. It has mass appeal. Not like my stupid mermaid teapot. If I could feel anything other than sorry for myself right now, I’d feel happy for her. I’ve always felt a weird connection to Susan, even though we aren’t friends and even though the only things we have in common are our part Asian-ness and a love of art. I guess I always thought we could be friends, if either of us had bothered to try. It’s not that I’m desperate for friends or anything. I mean, I do have friends. I have Emery Webber, who rescued me from having to eat lunch by myself on the first day of freshman year. And there’s Gemma and Cassidy, who are technically Emery’s friends, but we all sit at the same lunch table so I think they count. I had a best friend once too. The kind you see in movies or read about in books. We lived in a different world than everyone else—a world that always made sense, even when everything around us didn’t. We were like two halves of a snowflake—we matched. But he moved away, and I’ve been half of a snowflake ever since. The truth is I’m not really good at talking to new people. I’m not really good at talking to people, period. And anyway, it isn’t a friend that I need. Not right now, when I prefer painting to trying to fit in. I need a mom who doesn’t look at me like I’m a worn-out piece of furniture that doesn’t match the rest of her house. I need a fresh start. I need a real life. I need Prism. But a purple ribbon isn’t going to get me admission to Prism Art School in New York. And it’s certainly not going to make my mother proud. My chest feels heavy, and I try to think of what I’m going to say to her when I get home. • • • Mom is sitting on the couch painting her nails bright red with a gossip magazine propped against her knees. She isn’t looking at me, and she definitely isn’t looking at the teapot in my hands. “How was school?” Mom asks from a thousand miles away. “Fine,” I say. I tighten my bag over my shoulder. Maybe she forgot about my art show, even if I did remind her this morning. And yesterday. And every day before that for three weeks. But maybe she was busy and it slipped her mind. Maybe something came up. She brushes another layer of candy-apple red over her toenail. I feel my stomach knot over and over and over again. My older brother, Taro, steps into the kitchen. He’s wearing a gray and red shirt with a University of Nebraska logo printed on the front and oversized glasses, even though the lenses aren’t prescription. There’s half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich wedged in his left hand. “Mom, there’s nothing to eat in this house.” His voice is gruff because he doesn’t know any other way to speak. Mom wipes a blond curl away with the back of her hand, her eyes narrowed with amusement. “There’s a grocery store around the corner. You know how to drive.” Taro makes a noise like a disgruntled cow, and then he looks at me. “Where have you been?” Mom turns away. I feel like it’s on purpose. “My art show,” I say, loud enough for Mom to hear. I could lie. I could tell her I won first place—I could make my award sound a lot better than it is. Maybe she’d pay attention. Maybe she’d listen. “I won something.” Taro looks at Mom, then at me, then back at Mom. He looks as awkward as I feel. “That’s cool,” he mumbles, chewing his sandwich and moving toward the refrigerator. I think of my ribbon, buried at the bottom of my bag. She’d never see it. She’d never even ask to see it. Why not just tell her it’s blue and gold? I sigh. I can’t lie to her, even if I desperately want her to care. It wouldn’t work anyway. Mom doesn’t look at me the way Susan Chang’s parents look at her—she looks at me like I don’t belong. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because I look nothing like her. I have dark hair and a wide jaw and stumpy legs; Mom has loose blond curls, a narrow chin, and legs like a supermodel. We’re just different, like we exist on different spectrums. If I lived on an iceberg, Mom would live inside a volcano. That kind of thing. But most of the time she looks at me like she doesn’t want me to belong. Maybe it’s because of what happened with Dad. I think I’ll always feel guilty about that part, even if Mom should’ve listened to me. Why, after seventeen years, do I still crave her approval so much? I have no idea. It’s stupid, but I can’t help it. Whoever programmed my personality made me overly accommodating. Whoever programmed Mom made her—well, I haven’t figured that part out yet. And then, because Taro can’t help himself, he says from over his shoulder, “Mom, did you see Kiko’s teapot?” Sometimes I don’t know if he thinks confrontation is hilarious, or if he thinks he’s helping in his own pushy way. He’s not helping. Mom hates being called out. She looks up and flashes her peroxide-infused teeth. “Well, what did you win?” She didn’t forget about my art show, but she’s also not going to acknowledge that she didn’t want to go. She’s going to pretend like it isn’t a big deal, even though to me it’s a huge deal. Heat radiates across my face. “Just a ribbon,” I say. A crack appears in her glass smile. “What, like a participation ribbon? You know that’s not a real award, right?” She doesn’t ask to see it; she laughs like it’s a harmless joke—like I’m supposed to be in on the joke. Except Mom doesn’t laugh like a normal person. She laughs like she’s secretly mocking the entire world. That’s her “tell.” It’s how I know she means everything she’s saying. I tighten my mouth. Maybe I should’ve listened to Mr. Miller and entered one of my paintings in the art show. Maybe then I’d have won first place instead of Susan Chang. I swallow the lump in my throat. I could never enter a painting into a school competition for everyone to see. They’re too precious to me. I consider them actual, physical pieces of my soul. Taro closes the refrigerator door and groans. “Seriously, is anyone going to make anything for dinner? I’m starving.” “You’re graduating from college next year; why don’t you cook a meal for a change?” she points out, twisting the cap back onto her bottle of nail polish. “It would be nice if someone would cook for me once in a while.” WHAT I WANT TO SAY: “I’ve literally been cooking dinner at least twice a week every week for the last year. How can that possibly go unnoticed?” WHAT I ACTUALLY SAY: “I just made spaghetti a few days ago.” She laughs. “I hardly call boiling some noodles in a pot ‘cooking.’?” She makes a face at Taro as if to ask if he agrees with her. Uninterested in Mom, me, and the teapot he’s all but forgotten about, Taro stuffs the rest of his sandwich into his mouth, swallows the lump of bread, and says, “Forget it. I’m not hungry.” “You guys are so lazy.” Mom rolls her eyes. Mine feel like someone has thrown salt in them. It doesn’t matter that I’ve had straight A’s since the seventh grade, a nearly full-time job at the bookstore, or the fact that I’ve been actively building an art portfolio to help me get into Prism. I’m never doing enough to keep Mom happy. She never notices how hard I try, how much I care, or that maybe I just need to be noticed every now and then. And not just when it’s convenient for her. “I’m going upstairs. I’ve got work in an hour.” I mutter the last part under my breath. “Do you want a piece of cake before you go? I bought a pound cake from the grocery store. Isn’t that your favorite?” Mom’s voice drips with something sickly sweet. I flinch, pausing before I reach the first step. Something tugs inside my chest, like there’s a hook pierced into my heart and Mom’s words are reeling me back to her. “I’m not hungry. But thanks.” “Okay. Well, I’ll save a slice for you and you can have it when you get home.” She smiles so naturally, as if she’s like this all the time. She’s not, but sometimes she makes it so hard to remember. • • • I paint a girl with white hair, blending into a forest of white trees, with stars exploding in the sky above them like shattering glass. If you don’t know where to look for her, you might not see her at all.

Editorial Reviews

A 2018 William C. Morris Award Finalist A New York Public Library 2017 Best Book for Teens A Junior Library Guild Selection “An empowering novel that will speak to many mixed-race teens.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review “A stunningly beautiful, highly nuanced debut.” —Booklist, starred review “Readers living with anxiety or depression will immediately identify with Kiko. . . . a deep and engaging story that will not only entertain but also may encourage readers to live their best lives.” —School Library Journal “Vividly captures the identity struggles of a biracial young adult searching to find her place in two worlds.” —BCCB “Bowman gives a powerful voice to silenced victims of sexual abuse through Kiko, whose transformation from meek and afraid into powerful and strong is incredibly moving.” —VOYA “Dazzling.” —Bustle “One of the most compelling reads of the year.” —Paste Magazine “This book is a gem.” —BookRiot “A vibrant, complex and heartfelt story about finding your place in a sharp-edged world that never makes it easy.” —Kelly Loy Gilbert, author of Conviction and Picture Us in the Light “Akemi Dawn Bowman’s quietly dazzling debut novel gave me the sensation of looking into a mirror. This story is a knockout, at once an incisive portrait of family dysfunction, a nuanced depiction of Asian-American adolescence, and an artist's vibrant coming-of-age—a story so specific as to be universal. Brimming with confessional intimacy and the furious strength of empowerment, Starfish feels like the ache of being lost and the relief of finding home.” —Riley Redgate, author of Seven Ways We Lie and Noteworthy