Your story. Your soul. Now paint it – Akemi Dawn Bowman.
There are many books that I literally cannot put down, but very few that I complete in one sitting. Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman can proudly be added to that list. I opened the book and began to read, not fully knowing what I was letting myself in for. I knew that there were themes of identity crisis as well as an adoration of art. However, the immense impact of this character and all that followed her was something quite surprising. The rollercoaster of emotions and drama that flew out of the pages made me laugh and cry. Physical tears streamed down my cheeks as I read the final chapter and epilogue. Again, not many stories have the power to do this. That is a not-so-subtle hint of how fantastic this piece of writing is.
The story follows Kiko Himura, the girl who looks different from almost everyone she knows, even her mother. Struggling with her own identity, whilst never understanding a crucial part to her Japanese heritage, Kiko feels a little lost. She is planning for the day she can finally escape her own life and become somebody she was always supposed to be. That person is someone she does not know yet. The grand escape comes in the form of Prism, her dream art school in New York. There is nothing that compares to the place she has Googled until her eyes have turned square. And yet, life is about to offer her so much more.
The most incredible thing about this book is Kiko herself. Although the physical journey is short, lasting perhaps half a summer, Kiko’s emotional journey is huge. She starts as a girl who has little confidence, never says what she thinks, refuses to be sociable. She is hiding a very traumatic secret. Hints are dropped throughout the chapters, but until she finally speaks the words, we never really know how she is feeling. She always feels like she is in the shadow of somebody else; someone who is supposed to be the closest person to her. Even the title Starfish represents both characters in the book in such an incredible way that my English Literature head was spinning. The book is about Kiko, and yet it is not. Finally, through baby steps, she begins to be brave. She goes to places on her own. She stands up for herself. She makes her own choices. She becomes independent.
Akemi Dawn Bowman is an extremely talented writer. She brings together the stresses of teenage life, identity crisis and mental health. Seeing life through Kiko’s eyes taught me a lot as a reader who doesn’t suffer from social anxieties. This line of the story completely resonated with me in different, personal, ways that books and stories should strive to do. I saw the reasons why people would hate going parties when, to me it is the most natural thing in the world. I saw the reactions of being told one thing, and turning up to something different. I felt, through Kiko, the turbulent emotions of wanting to do something but having a person on the inside go against every movement. I learned a lot through Kiko, which is just the tip of the iceberg on reasons why young and old people should read this.
Alongside an incredible journey is a young love story. Jamie Merrick is Kiko’s long lost childhood friend. He is the boy that she climbed up trees with, played superhero games with and grew into an infatuation with. He is back in town after eight years, seemingly distant, and hiding his own torment. He is a welcome distraction from her dark home life.
Starfish is a beautiful debut novel that will make you think about the magic of oceans and the trauma and exhilaration of finally finding yourself. It is out today! You can buy it here.
Love, Faye xo
*Starfish was kindly gifted to me, by Ink Road Books, for the purpose of this review. All opinions – and admission of crying – are my own.