Starfish // The Best Anxiety Rep I’ve Ever Read

Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Genre: Contemporary //  YA
Goodreads rating: 4.12
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐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.Disclaimer: I was given an copy of this book by Netgalley and the publisher (thank you!) in return for an honest review

Where do I even start? Starfish has been one of my most anticipated reads for a while now, and boy it did not disappoint in the slightest. In fact I think it went beyond my expectations.

I’ve been having trouble writing this post for weeks now, because putting my love for this book into words?

It’s been a while since I read a book that I loved this much, plus a lot of it hit me personally, making it even harder to write this review. While I haven’t gone through exactly the same thing as Kiko, her relationship with her mother really reminded me of mine with my father, something I haven’t really talked about on here. While of course there are differences between Kiko’s mom and my father, there were a lot of similarities and I’m just so happy to see this represented so well in ya fiction. Because I’m lucky to know that things weren’t okay, so I know that it’s okay to choose to not have a relationship with my father now, but there are so many kids and teens out there that don’t, that think they just have to accept the way it is because they’re family. 

She can’t be the villain if she’s the victim.

Starfish shows us that it’s not okay, not in the slightest, and never tries to normalise her mom’s behaviour or get us to symphatise with her.

One quote that hit me really hard, because I’ve heard pretty much the exact words (except in Dutch of course) were: ”I’m not some evil dictator.” Her mom constantly played the victim, made it all about herself, constantly looked down on Kiko, and meanwhile Kiko badly tries to be perfect as to please her mom. I still have issues trying to do everything perfectly because of my father, so I related to Kiko so much.

Kiko’s anxiety definitely stems from her mother’s abuse, but it also stems from (TRIGGER WARNING: sexual abuse. Yes, this is a spoiler, but I want to mention this so that people know what to expect going in) her uncle sexually abusing her when she was a kid. This only made her mother’s abuse worse, as she doesn’t believe her. Thankfully I haven’t experienced any sexual abuse, but I definitely got my anxiety from my father’s abuse, making me feel a lot more represented in this book than others that deal with anxiety.

That’s not to say that other books I’ve read don’t have great anxiety rep! One of the reasons I loved Queens of Geek and The Upside of Unrequited so much is because of their great anxiety rep, but Starfish? Starfish is so on point. It touched upon things that I haven’t seen before in YA (that’s not to say it isn’t there! I just personally haven’t read it or my memory is failing me once again) and it made me think about my own WIP, as these things Kiko felt and experienced are just so normal to me that I didn’t even think about including them in my own WIP that also deals with anxiety.

I loved the inclusions of what Kiko actually wanted to say, and what she really ended up saying, because same? Not being good at talking to people, hating parties and loud music*, not being able to have fun when there are people you don’t feel comfortable around**, needing someone to hide behind/to talk for you/just be there with you in new situations, quickly worrying that you said the wrong thing and upset someone just because they’re not immediately responding… and just so much more. Starfish captured anxiety so well – anxiety is different for everyone, so there were differences between me and Taylor (Queens of Geek) and Molly (The Upside of Unrequited), but Starfish is the first book that when it came to my anxiety I just felt fully represented in.

Normal people don’t need to prepare for social interactions. Normal people don’t panic at the sight of strangers. Normal people don’t want to cry because the plan they’ve processed in their head is suddenly not the plan that’s going to happen.

* Fun fact: when I was still in my mother’s womb and my mother would go somewhere with loud music I would protest by moving around and kicking until she left lmao sorry mom so yeah that’s something I probably wouldn’t like even if I didn’t end up with anxiety, but now it can be really hard for me to handle?
** Like it didn’t matter I had my friends at school parties I did NOT feel comfortable at all with all the other people around. During our senior trip in Barcelona our teachers surprised us by going to a club hahahaha thanks mates couldn’t you have warned a girl I had a panic attack :) bless the club for having wifi though so I could talk to my mom all evening

I loved how at the end of each chapter Kiko would describe what she drew or painted that day, which always reflected something she went through, felt or experienced during that chapter, and to see how she’d turn that into art. Sometimes it was heartbreaking, sometimes heartwarming, but it was always beautiful. The way Kiko’s written as an artist is something I aspire to write as one of my character is an artist as well. Plus as an art lover it was just fun to read about an artist!

I draw a woman wearing an elaborate dress, twirling like she’s made of light and sun. And then I draw a shriveled girl trapped within her shadow. She doesn’t want the light – she just wants her mom.

One of my favourite things in this book is her relationship with the artist Hiroshi, who doesn’t just take her under his wings as an apprentice, but welcomes her into his family. He gives her so much wisdom, love and kindess, and so did the rest of his family. I also loved that this way Kiko could reconnect with her Japanese roots, which is something she was missing. Speaking of the Japanese rep, I’m not Japanese, so I can’t speak for it, nor can I speak for her experience of looking Asian in a white society, as while I’m part Indonesian I’m very whitepassing. So far I have only seen positive reviews from Asian bloggers, but if there’s anything incorrect about the rep that you’ve mentioned in your review, please let me know so I can link to it!

Kiko’s development is incredible. In the beginning she can barely go out by herself (same girl), but in the end she does things outside of her comfort zone, despite her anxiety. She isn’t magically cured, she still suffers from her anxiety, but she learns how to live with it. And that my friends? Is the message I really needed right now as my anxiety has been pretty bad lately.

Starfish is an incredible read, and definitely my favourite of 2018. Of course it’s only May, but I just don’t see anything surpassing it. It has a great balance between heavy and light, but never downplaying the heavy elements. It tackles racism, abuse, family, belonging and so much more.

If you haven’t picked this up yet, I highly recommend it.Have you read Starfish yet? What did you think? Any other great anxiety YA books you’d recommend? What’s your favourite read of 2018 so far? Let me know in the comments!

40 thoughts on “Starfish // The Best Anxiety Rep I’ve Ever Read

  1. Holy Cow, that quote “Normal people don’t need to prepare for social interactions. Normal people don’t panic at the sight of strangers. Normal people don’t want to cry because the plan they’ve processed in their head is suddenly not the plan that’s going to happen” hit me hard. YAS. That is so true. So, so, so true. I struggle from anxiety. Mine’s not because of abuse or anything, but I still think I’ll really enjoy this story. The main character sounds pretty relatable. Awesome review!


    • Right?! There are SO many quotes in this book that resonated with me so so much it was hard to choose some for this review.
      Hope you’ll enjoy it if you do pick it up!
      Thank you :)

  2. Hello Michelle!
    That’s great to hear that you enjoyed this book. It’s a great feeling to be able to connect to a character, right? I’ve only heard good things about Starfish so far and it is definitely a book that I want to read. Great review :)

  3. This is such a lovely review, Michelle 🙂. I’m glad you were able to find representation in this book. It definitely sounds like a book I could relate to and enjoy—especially the whole not saying what you’re actually thinking. Spot on.

    • Thank you! :) Right?! It’s something I always do, but never thought of so I never thought of how no books that I read before Starfish that also deal with anxiety showed this. Hope you’ll enjoy it if you pick it up! :)

  4. I can’t agree with you enough Michelle!! One of my favorite things about Starfish is her relationship with the artist Hiroshi too. He was the dad she needed!! He helped her to blossom as the best of mentors should and do. Aww it was so good how much he pushed her to see her own potential. ❤️

  5. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about this book, and despite the circumstances, and glad you were able to find yourself in a book.

    Also, *hugs*, because bad anxiety sometimes just needs hugs. From… far away, so you can relax for today. :)

    • Yes I definitely recommend it! I don’t think I’ve seen anything negative about this either? I mean, I’m sure there are some negative reviews out there haha, but still :P

      Thank you! ❤️

  6. I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book and now I definitely feel like I should read it because of the anxiety rep. Another good anxiety rep book I’ve read recently is 10 THINGS I CAN SEE FROM HERE by Carrie Mac, if you’re interested.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and making this post so personal <3

  7. I AM SO PROUD OF YOU MICHELLE. I was waiting to read this review impatiently, as you know, and I’m so glad you finally published it. I’m so happy to hear you felt represented well in this book – but also sad to hear about how and why, with your father and everything. hugs. <3 – and I'm even more eager to read it – hopefully I will be able to soon! <3 <3

  8. You go for writing that review and making it such an amazing one at that! The representation in that book really seems spot on and I was really glad to hear you saw so much of your experience represented here especially. It’s always comforting in a way when that happens, at least for me, mostly because it’s not very often that it does happen.
    I am really eager to read that book myself one day!

  9. I loved this review! I’m definitely going to have to add this book to my reading list now! My anxiety has kind of thrown me for a loop lately too. Sending you a big hug! xx

  10. THIS IS SUCH A LONG AND DETAILED REVIEW! I agree, the anxiety rep iS AMAZING and the aisan rep, OH MY GOSH, I’m crying, so GOOD and beatiful!! And the story is just amazing, I love Kiko and her art and Jamie and AHHH it’s such a good book

      Yesss it’s just amazing all around like why did the hype for this one die down that’s not acceptable bring it back everyone needs to read this

  11. This is a wonderful review!💞I read Starfish I think in December, and it is one of my favorite books. I need to reread it soon because it’s already fading from my memory, but I do know that I loved it a lot!

    • Thank you! Ahhh I can definitely see myself rereading this at one point soon as well. It’s just so good?? It was super hyped last year but I feel like now it’s not talked about as much anymore which it does not deserve

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  13. “Normal people don’t need to prepare for social interactions. Normal people don’t panic at the sight of strangers. Normal people don’t want to cry because the plan they’ve processed in their head is suddenly not the plan that’s going to happen.” Well…I am not normal people either, because a lot of this hits right home, especially the latter. I learned to just expect disappointment because things never worked out the way I thought of them in my head. I don’t panic at the sight of strangers, because I learned how to perfect my social game face and prepare for interactions. I might have to check this out, but I know I find it hard to read about emotional abuse, because of my history with it. This sounds amazing though, and I’m so happy you found something that you can relate to ♥

    • Yeah that quote really hit me as well. I highlighted so many relatable quotes. Do be careful if it’s hard for you read about emotional abuse! There were a few things that were a bit triggering to me, but everyone has different experiences. Stay safe ❤️

      • I really want to give it a try, because even though it can be hard, reading about similar circumstances that are considered that is SO validating. It’s one of those things I can’t really talk about with everyone, because they don’t see it that way and it would just cause drama :\

      • Yeah exactly! Also the problem with anxiety rep for me is that I never know if it’s going to be triggering or not, because it differs all the time. Usually it’s vey validating, but Eliza and Her Monsters was incredibly triggering for me to the point that I felt horrible and sick, while others with anxiety had no problem at all. I hope that if you do give Starfish a try it won’t be triggering ♥

      • Yup. You never know so even if there’s a trigger warning for it (which is not to say they aren’t needed, which is an argument I have WAY more often than I like), because you never know what’s going to do it. This book sounds like it’s worth it to give it a try.

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  15. Oh, Michelle, I am so so happy you could find yourself in this book. Not happy that you had those experiences, but glad that Kiko was someone you could relate to and find comfort in relating to you know?? I think you know how much this book means to me so I just get SO excited and happy when I see other people loving this book as much as I did!! Your review is beautifully written and I love it. <3

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