Review// Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

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

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.

This review contains no spoilers.

This book was bought with my own money.

Trigger warnings// domestic abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, toxic relationship, suicide attempt, hostile divorce. Please inform me if I have missed something and I will update this section.

Sometimes while reading a book you find yourself falling in love more and more with it with the turn of every page. That was Starfish for me. When I closed the book after finishing it, my first reacting was ‘wow’. I was speechless and even a bit teary, and that almost never happens to me with a book.

In the beginning I had a bit of trouble with understanding Kiko, but as soon as I got to know Kiko and her sitiuation better, it all started to make perfect sense. A big part of this story is about Kiko’s struggle of being half-American half-Japanese, and while that’s not something I can relate to, I could imagine (as far as that’s possible) why she felt that way. The feelings in this book felt so real while reading them, I guess that is why. This book helped me understand better what it feels like to be struggling with your identity.

Other parts of this book focussed on working on yourself, loving yourself, speaking up and following your dreams. That is what really spoke to me in this book. I saw a lot of my own personality in Kiko’s and that was sometimes confronting, but also inspiring. Kiko has amazing character development throughout the book. I also love how it is emphasized love doesn’t fix things; it’s up to you. But, it is also shown in this book that it is important to surround yourself with people that believe in you and support you, and it is not a bad thing to get away from those who don’t. Another thing that felt really reassuring was that when Kiko didn’t get accepted into her dream school, it turned out not to be the end of the world and there are always other ways to reach your goal, as long as you work hard and (start to) believe in yourself.

I also had very strong feelings, both bad and good, about the other characters, especially Kiko’s mother and Jamie. Every character felt very real. The story was sometimes difficult to read. The relationship Kiko has with her mom is very toxic and this book is definitely not a light read. But there were also enough fun moments or neutral moments in this book, especialy in the second half.

The (social) anxiety rep was pretty accurate in my opinion and that was amazing. I haven’t read a book before that has captured it in such a natural way. There are lots of different kinds of anxiety, and the kind Kiko has was quite relatable. The ‘what I wanted to say’ and ‘what I actually said’ parts that sometimes made an appearance in the story really added to portraying anxiety. There were also ‘I drew…’ parts in the story. This provided an even better look inside Kiko’s head and it also made a lot of sense to incorporate drawings since art is Kiko her passion.


I totally recommend this book if you’re into some heavier and inspirational contemporary. Especially if you’re dealing with anxiety/family problems/finding your identity/your dreams. Yeah, I can’t say anything else other than that I loved it.



  1. January 4, 2019 / 12:04 am

    I’ve been eyeing this book for a while based on the cover. Shame on me, for judging a book by its cover, I know, but CAN YOU BLAME ME? It’s so beautiful. I’m really intrigued to read it now, though. Great review.

    • sophies99
      January 4, 2019 / 4:40 pm

      I really can’t blame you! I hadn’t heard of it before I saw it at Waterstones and the cover made me buy it, haha. And thank you! 😊💕

  2. Daniel Postlethwaite
    January 4, 2019 / 8:34 am

    Great review, it doesn’t seem like something I’d read but I’d love to see a film about this story 🙂

    • sophies99
      January 4, 2019 / 4:41 pm

      Thank you!! Oh, a film would be great!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:

Looking for Something?