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Akemi Dawn Bowman’s debut novel, STARFISH, completely blew me out of the water (no pun intended) with a story that will pull on your heart strings and make your emotions go wild.

Kiko Himura has always been into art and she is very excited to get away from her toxic home life and attend a fabulous art school in New York. Her plans are squashed, however, when she gets rejected and to make things worse, her abusive uncle suddenly moves back in with her family. So when an old friend comes into the picture, lighting up a brighter path for her future, Kiko jumps at the opportunity to tour colleges in California. No longer surrounded by the constricting walls in her home, Kiko discovers things about herself and her past that could change her life for the better.

"I would honestly change nothing about this book....All the aspects of the novel, including beautiful mentions of art and wonderful friendships, made for a terrific read that will always stick in my mind."

STARFISH was a novel that, once I started, I couldn’t bear to put down. I seriously regret starting this in the middle of a school-week and having to later go through the frustration of not being able to drop everything and devour it. That said, it made for such a fast read! The storyline was so enrapturing and everything that was mentioned made complete sense to the story. There were no irrelevant scenes that could have been done without or boring sections I had to push through. Each moment of the book was a blessing that I will definitely be rereading time and time again.

Not only were the events captured in this book engaging, but so were the characters. Kiko was such a lovely character that made all her choices through her heart, not her head (which may have been the reason some of the outcomes were so heartbreaking). You could definitely tell that she cared deeply for everyone she met and tried to see the good in people. It did get frustrating when she would think of something she wanted to say and would go with the nicer approach, but in actuality it made her even more of a relatable character.

There were other people along the way that were always there to pick her up when she fell and made sure that she saw herself for the amazing girl she is. Without the side characters, I think the story would have been very dark and depressing so I’m glad they were there to illuminate the somber parts.

Speaking of somber parts, Kiko’s mother was a character I couldn’t help but hate. I’m sure anyone who reads this book would also agree with me and I won’t go into too detail but, wow, this woman makes the evil step-mother from Cinderella look bad. She is completely self-absorbed and wouldn’t even acknowledge the awful sexual abuse Kiko’s uncle imposed on her when she was just a child. Scenes with Kiko’s mom literally made me cry from frustration and hope that no one ever has to have a relative like that.

I would honestly change nothing about this book because, quite frankly, I thought it was pretty much perfection. All the aspects of the novel, including beautiful mentions of art and wonderful friendships, made for a terrific read that will always stick in my mind.

I would recommend STARFISH to anyone who is also interested in HOW TO MAKE A WISH by Ashley Herring Blake (both have amazing character development after a toxic mother-daughter relationship) and to anyone else who may be into contemporaries that aren’t so light and fluffy but still make for a heart-wrenching yet unforgettable read.

Reviewed by Taylor F., Teen Board Member on September 15, 2017

by Akemi Dawn Bowman