Book Reviews

STARFISH BY AKEMI DAWN BOWMAN // spoiler-free book review: stunning writing & brilliant social anxiety representation


It is I. The biggest failure of tbr followers. Lmao, what did I even say??

Anyways, yes I finally got around to reading this book which was been on many a tbr and though I didn’t ~love~ it as much as I expected to, I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Let’s get into this review. Which is smol but I wanted to chat with you anyways.

Title: Starfish
Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Page count: 352
Date published: 5 April 2018
Genre: Young Adult contemporary


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.


STAR RATING: (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Big thanks to Jonathan Ball Publishers for sending me a copy for review! All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Well… that was not what I was expecting. Not necessarily in a bad way however I didn’t love this one as much as I wanted to. It’s been on my tbr for AGES and it had 5-star feelings but there was just ~something~ that held it back.

First of all, I just want to cry over how accurate the social anxiety representation is, or rather how hard I related to Kiko. I don’t think I’ve EVER so deeply related to someone’s emotions. We’re not exactly the same but the way she fears disappointing people and sacrifices her own happiness sometimes can be ME and yo !!! SPOT ON. I’m more of an ambivert so I’m not always the same when it comes to speaking to people. But everything else was so me.

And wow the conversations held in this book were so so so important. And, I think, well-handled. I can’t speak for the biracial Japanese representation but I know it’s own-voices and other own-voices reviewers have high praise. They really hit hard and what Kiko went through was so heartbreaking. This book discusses racism and beauty standards surrounding and just ROUND OF APPLAUSE to Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Trigger warning for parental abuse, emotional & verbal abuse as well as sexual assault.

I rooted for Kiko this entire book. I wanted the very best for her and all the good things. The characters in this book were so well-written. I was ready to strangle one of them in particular. I literally vomited in my mouth like 12 pages in at another character. Kiko’s mom is LITERALLY THE WORST AND I AM READY TO FIGHT *shows hands*

I loved how art was used in this story. The descriptions at the end of each chapter were so stunning. Akemi has a wonderful writing style and I pictured them all so vividly.

However, I think what held back my enjoyment was sometimes I felt that certain parts of the book were shown and not told. I thought the metaphors and analogy were superb but sometimes they felt off?? Maybe it’s the first person narrative but I felt there was something off about the character development also. I had to read that she had grown, and I think it would have benefited the reading experience if it was rather shown, through actions for instance. If that makes sense? This in turn led to the other elements feeling off.

Also, I was not a big fan of the romance, or rather the execution thereof. I wanted them to be together but at the same time, I think it was far too rushed, and lingered on being insta-love. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE friends to lovers, especially childhood friends, however, the build-up was not there and I found the transition from old friends to more, moved far too quickly. This could otherwise not be a problem but I couldn’t overlook it as the book relies heavily on romance, especially later on. I liked Jamie but he wasn’t my favourite YA love interest, and I was not a fan of some of his reactions to Kiko’s social anxiety, which were rather off-putting. And there was also miscommunication between them, which I never like. The epilogue was sweet though.

Overall, it was definitely enjoyable. I couldn’t put it down for like a day straight and I know for sure that I’ll be picking up more from the author. Still, 100% recommend for a hard-hitting YA contemporary <3


“Beauty isn’t a single thing. Beauty is dreaming一it’s different for everyone, and there are so many versions of it that you mostly have no control over how you see it”

“But some people are just starfish–they need everyone to fill the roles that they assign. They need the world to sit around them, pointing at them and validating their feelings. But you can’t spend your life trying to make a starfish happy, because no matter what you do, it will never be enough. They will always find a way to make themselves the center of attention, because it’s the only way they know how to live.”

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

“I live my life in the small space between “uncomfortable and “awkward.”

“I draw a girl without a face, drawing somebody else’s face onto her own reflection.”

“You care too much about what other people think. I mean, so what if you fail? So what if it takes a few tries? You’re following your dreams. It shouldn’t matter to anyone else how long it takes you or what your journey is like–it should just matter to you.”

“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.”

“The painting isn’t about the starfish. It’s about the girl who wants to venture out into the ocean, away from the starfish, so she can feel like she matters.”

“And I decide, right there and then, that I don’t care if I’m not someone’s idea of pretty. I don’t care if my name might disappoint someone, or if my face might disappoint someone’s parents. Because that says so much more about them than it does about me.”

“The mother I’ve always wanted isn’t real; she’s a dream. And not every dream comes true.”

“When I look over my shoulder, I see Jamie watching me with the same adoring smile time he has from the first time I met him. Jamie is not a starfish. Not even close.”

“I draw a very small fish swimming in the ocean and realizing it’s filled with planets and stars.”

“Beauty isn’t a single thing. Beauty is dreaming–it’s different for everyone, and there are so many versions of it that you mostly have no control over how you see it.”

And that’s it my friends.

I hope you liked this review. I’m about 1000 years late so you’ve probably already read it but oh well.

You already know it’s always chaos on this book blog.


Happy reading




  • Olivia @ Purely Olivia

    Ahh! I read this book ages ago so I can’t remember that much about it except that I really liked it, and I’m so happy that you enjoyed it too even though it wasn’t a new favorite or anything. You got me wanting to reread it to see what my thoughts would be now!! Lovely review, Ruby💛

    • Ruby Rae Reads

      Hello again, as you can see I’m catching up with all your wonderful comments hehe.

      Agh I’m so behind because I should have read this book ages ago also *nervous laughter*. But ahh yes, that would be so interesting for you. It’s still amazing I think, just not exactly what I had expected. Maybe my expectations were too high idk.

      Anyways, thank youuuu <3<3

  • ahaana @ Windows to Worlds

    ahh you may be 1000 years late but i’m even later!! i haven’t read starfish *yet*, but it IS on my tbr!! i’ve heard so many great things about it, and i’m glad you liked it too!! i’m not so sure about the romance though but 100% reading it!! 💖💖

    • Ruby Rae Reads

      Hi hello yes, I’m catching up on all your comments here, as you can tell.

      Oops, but kinda glad I wasn’t the only one who took forever to read this one haha. You can def read it super fast Ahaana, so I hope you read it soon. Very pumped to hear your *opinions* when you do <3<3

  • Stephen Writes

    Wow, that is a seriously pretty cover and an amazing review, Ruby! 💙 The social anxiety representation sounds incredible and relatable, so that has made me quite interested in reading it, even though the romance and other things were not 100% for you.

    • Ruby Rae Reads

      Agh Stephen, apolgies for this very late response. I have been terrible at comments lately but YOU THE BESTEST!! AND TOO KIND!!

      That representation is SO SPOT ON OMG. So if anything, read it for that. Would be very interested to hear your thoughts friend. Lots of love xoxo

      • Stephen Writes

        Ah Ruby!! No worries at all, I hope you are well 💙 I’ve found it difficult to keep up with my blogging obligations lately too haha. I’ve missed hearing from you too. My review of These Violent Delights is up if you wanted to read that as you said? 🙈

        I’ll definitely be adding this one to the TBR, your thoughts on the representation have convinced me!

        • Ruby Rae Reads

          Oof glad I’m not the only one! And OF COURSE I’ll be checking it out omg so exciting. I have also simultaneously not kept up with my reader alongside comments. I’m yet again super behind on everyone’s posts *sweats anxiously*

          And omg glad to be of service. Very excited for you to read Starfish <3<3

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