Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: 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.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Sometimes difficult books are the easiest to read. Most of the topics Starfish covers are not easy ones, but I breezed right through the book and enjoyed every minute of it.
I loved, loved, loved Kiko talking about her art and the positive influence of Hiroshi and his family. Every chapter (or almost every chapter) ended with a line about what Kiko drew in her sketchbook, and it was so poetic. I loved Kiko exploring Asian culture - Japanese and Chinese especially. I loved the little moments we got with her younger brother, Shoji, and her dad and his new family. Several characters got on my nerves at time, but they all felt so realistic. I really liked Jamie, too. He, like the other characters, never felt too stiff and two-dimensional. He made mistakes, but he honestly tried. And like I said, there were topics covered (addressed in my trigger warning at the end of this review) that were not easy to read about, even for someone like me who hasn't experienced those things. However, I think Ms. Bowman did an excellent job writing those plot points because they felt so realistic and made me so uncomfortable.
The trip to California felt a bit stereotypical at its beginning; it happened too fast, in my opinion. I also think the history behind Jamie and Kiko's friendship needed a little more fleshing out. But they worked well together. I also wanted just a little more of Emery once Kiko was in California; even texts or phone calls would've sufficed.
I didn't notice a lot of foul language. Maybe one or two s-words and f-words.
Trigger warnings: There is vague description and then concrete description of sexual abuse. There is also emotional abuse from a parent. (Both these things are alluded at in the cover copy, so this isn't a spoiler.)
The Verdict: If you can handle the tough topics, Starfish is well worth the read.
Will I be adding this book to my library?: Oh, yeah, definitely at some point in the near future.