‘Starfish’ by Akemi Dawn Bowman

From the blurb:

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 as 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 transformative truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

A luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.

Published by Ink Road in the UK – 5th April 2018

There haven’t been many books I’ve read in my life where I have felt so connected to a main character and so invested in their story.  There haven’t been many books where I’ve seen so much of myself in what is written between those pages.  That’s why I have such a special place in my heart for ‘Starfish’ by Akemi Dawn Bowman.

I was kindly sent a copy of this for review from Ink Road, an imprint of Black & White Publishing.  Of course, the first thing that drew me into the book was the cover – how stunning is the use of colour alongside those intriguing line drawings of sea creatures?  To be honest, the premise sounded pretty okay, and I thought I would definitely enjoy the story at least.

However, this was so much more than just enjoyment.  There is really good commentary in here on social anxiety – Kiko spends so much of her time silent, worrying that what will come out of her mouth either won’t matter to most people or will be the wrong thing to say.  She is the very definition of awkward, but at the same time has this amazing spirit that makes you want to root for her the whole way through.  And this is where my connection with her character came in – so much of what she is going through, I went through.  I always felt like the wallflower, or the tag-along, or the one who never had anything cool to say.  I’m sure my friends saw me in a different light from how I saw myself, as Kiko’s friends do, but I had zero self-confidence when it came to social situations.  I still find meeting new people hard, but I’ve become a lot more confident at striking up conversations – this is me, love me or leave me.

Kiko’s life, though, is very different to mine when it comes to her family situation and some of the things that have happened to her.  Her parents divorced quite recently, and she lives with a mother who is the very definition of emotional abuse.  Kiko is also Japanese-American and doesn’t really know what her Japanese heritage is and how it could define her.

But it’s Kiko’s art that does define her, it’s what she lives for every day and what she hopes to study at college.  I loved the italicised sentences at the end of each chapter that explained what Kiko had drawn on that day or after that particular scenario.  They were really clever and gave you a good insight into Kiko’s thoughts and feelings along the way.

There was also a lot of wisdom in here – lines that you read and want to put up on your wall to remind you of the power of language, for example:

Don’t live to please the starfish, especially when their happiness is at the expense of yours… There’s an entire ocean out there, Kiko–swim in it.

And also:

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 deathbed, 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.

There were many more poignant sentences and paragraphs, but to include them here would be to spoil the pleasure of reading the book.  And I want you all to experience that pleasure.

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t fit in, or you’ve been baffled by the rules of conversation, or your anxiety has held you back from saying those things that you wanted to say, you need to read this book.  But even if those things don’t apply to you, read this book for the beauty of language, great characters and a charming story.

If my review intrigued you and you want to pick up a copy of this book for yourself, you can do so here.  If you use my link I’ll receive a small commission – thank you in advance if you do!


  1. Derby
    April 22, 2018 / 8:29 pm

    It sounds like the book is as stunning as the cover. I absolutely relate to the experience of having social anxiety. It makes my heart smile that you have grown into your personality and don’t feel that way as much anymore. I’ve been working on that myself in the past few years xoxo

    • admin
      April 23, 2018 / 5:25 pm

      It’s taken me a long time to feel as comfortable in myself. That’s why this book was just so relatable. You should definitely give it a go…

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