Arc Review: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman


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CW’s: Emotional Abuse, Sexual Assault, Panic Attacks, Suicide Attempt


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.

Trenn Kopie


Thank you to Netgalley & Ink Road for providing me with a digital Arc in exchange for an honest Review!

“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” 

🖌I related so much to Kiko’s anxiety. The portrayal of social anxiety is spot on, I related to much to what Kiko described. She describes perfectly what it’s like to not be a party person and feeling totally out-of-place once the person who brought you disappears. Like same. I hate parties, loud music and count down the minutes until my friend is back. Another thing that I relate to is not having a lot of friends and being pretty invisible. Kiko has one friend and a few people who are in the friend group, but not really her friends. AGAIN I relate so much to that. Furthermore,  I related so much to the way she quickly felt overwhelmed by meeting new people and had huge problems with plans suddenly changing. Kiko describes how she needs time to recharge and talking exhausting her, I feel that in my soul.

🖌 I love Kiko as a character and felt so sorry for her. She’s so kind and loving. Kiko is a good person who definitely deserves a lot better than what she gets. I really relate to her wanting to have harmony at all times, even though this it’s even more extreme for Kiko due to her mother. She always feels guilty and never wants to be a burden. It was breaking my heart to see how hard Kiko was. She also suffers from panic attacks and flashbacks due to her assault as a child, that we initially don’t know too much about as she tries to repress it. Like me, Kiko has doesn’t have a lot of self-esteem, however for her this is due her mom crushed it and everything else that could bring her happiness. Moving on, I loved her dedication to art and how it was her safe place. I would have loved to see her art not only the descriptions though.

🖌 I liked the friendship between her and Emery, but it wasn’t very prominent. It’s basically an Introvert + Extrovert being friends! Both girls have a difficult time with their family and that keeps them together. Emery is Kiko’s anchor, she’s the person she usually hides behind and the one that makes her feel safe. However, I was really sad that we don’t get to see more of their friendship, because the romance does take up a large part of the book. Emery is away at college, so we don’t even learn more about her background, which was very disappointing. At least more phone calls with her could have happened!

 🖌 We get to see a lot of Kiko’s struggles with her identity. Like the author she is half Japanese and half white, but always hates to stand out. Kiko hates it when people call her exotic and say they cannot ‘date girls like her’. The author presented her own struggles and incorporated them. I felt sorry for Kiko, as her mother is also super racist (mom = white, father = Japanese decent) and makes it public how much she despises that Kiko looks so unlike her. That prompts her daughter to hate to be different from everyone else and consider herself ugly. Throughout the book Kiko begins to learn that beauty is not just one thing, not just white celebrities like her mom wants it to be, but is different from everyone. She connects with her heritage in a way she could not, because her mom was always holding her back with her racism, I love how Hiroshi helped her realize a lot of things, he was a great mentor!

 🖌 I have mixed feelings about the romance. So on the one side I really dig their friendship and dynamic. It’s so realistic and heartbreaking that they grew apart as kids.  I do like how Jamie supports Kiko and is actually showing her love and validating without any strings attached, He is honest, straight-forward and loyal, someone Kiko really needs after her mom. BUT on the other side he’s a bit clueless about social anxiety and Kiko’s situation. Like he’s trying to understand her but he doesn’t really get anxiety at all and it’s grew really annoying after a while. It feels like he thinks Kiko can just stop being nervous and over thinking, when it’s clerarly not a choice. He’s frustrated because she doesn’t suddenly want to go to parties and it makes Kiko feel guilty. It really makes me uncomfortable too, that he’s expecting her to turn out different despite claiming that he’s not expecting her to fulfill a certain role.  Furthermore, Kiko says she needs to stand on her own first, before becoming dependant on him, before he becomes her crutch. That’s something I fully supported and I was glad that she went through with it. I was a bit stumped when we moved towards the end and there was suddenly a fight with not enough time to resolve it, but I can say that I loved the epilogue!


For potential spoiler click here!

I hate that Jamie took pictures of Kiko’s art without her permission. Why does this keep happening in YA contemporary books? The love interest taking pics of the others art to send it/show it to famous people ‘for their own good’ + tadaa it works. It’s still a huge violation of privacy, so I’m not too happy that this trope keeps turning up, especially since it’s never properly called out.


 🖌 Kiko’s mother is of course the worst. I knew that core theme of the book was going to be the abuse that Kiko endures. Her mom is obviously abusive, both physically (Kiko flinched away from her) and emotionally. I don’t really have to get into what Kiko’s mom does, there are too many horrible things. She basically only cares about herself, and is obsessed with only her needs. Kiko’s mother only cares only cares about her children when it’s convinent for her. She also loves to play the victim, making everything all about herself and put the blame on her children instead. Of course Kiko’s mom never believed her daughter about her brother abusing her and invites him back in her home, which shows how little she cares about anyone but herself. Anyone who dares raise their voice, is framed as being difficult and making her life hell. Kiko wants to damn to please her, but never can. She is preyed upon the most, as her mom seems to beat up the ‘weakest’ the most, as her brothers have shut their emotions away in a way Kiko could not. Kiko craves loves and validation, which makes this even more toxic for her and I felt so sorry for her!

However I cannot speak on the representation of abuse. The rep is ownvoices and many people have identified with it, but there are other opinions I wanted to showcase. Therefore, I direct you to Elise’s Review that she kindly allowed me to link here! Her Review is very in-depth and well written! She shows a different opinion of the rep and says that the book can be very hard and triggering for abuse survivors. Check out her Review, she can speak on this way better than I could!

IN CONCLUSION: Starfish was a very hard read, because it deals with a lot of abuse and sexual assault. I was very invested in the book the entire time, especially as I related to Kiko and her anxiety so much! However, I had a few mixed opinions about the romance and was a bit saddened that we didn’t see nearly enough of Emery and Kiko’s friendship.

Talk Kopie

Have you read Starfish? What is your fave book dealing with art? 📚

9 thoughts on “Arc Review: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

  1. Beautiful review, Caro, thank you so much for sharing ❤ ❤ I have been anticipating Starfish for a long time now and your review really made me want to read it, even if I am a bit nervous about the triggering content, I feel like I really could relate to the main character and her anxiety as well.
    Thank you so much for sharing this! 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Marie 💕💕💕
      The triggering content is what made me a bit hesistant about the book as well, so I do think you have to be aware that there are some scenes that are a bit stressful to read. I definitely think Kiko is a very relatable character (and a precious cinnamon roll) ♥


  2. I want to read this book so much more now. This was a fantastic review for what sounds like a fantastic book.

    I’m really curious to read the romance for myself as well. It can be so difficult when you are dealing with such tough topics already.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh I will, this one has been close to the top on my buy list for a while so as soon as I find it on special it’s mine!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I swear my comments seem to get eaten! I was pretty sure I commented on your review havin just finished it myself! ♥️ In any case I really enjoyed this book as well. I thought it incredible that she never talked to her dad openly about what her mother did or what had happened with her uncle. It made me incredible sad that they were closer as a father and daughter.

    Liked by 1 person

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