My rating: 5 of 5 stars
TW: emotional abuse, childhood sexual abuse, anxiety/panic attacks
There aren't words to describe how much this book meant to me and how much I absolutely loved it. If anything, this book is the best contemporary book that I've ever read, and it deserves all the stars and all the love in the world. It was both beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.
We follow Kiko, an artist who is all about drawing and painting. To her, it's not only simply a hobby, but a part of her soul goes with every piece that she creates. Her biggest ambition is to get into the prestigious art school, Prism because it will left her escape from her abusive home life into the world of art. She runs into her childhood best friend who moved to California at a party, and once they reconnect she decides to take an important trip to California and meets inspiring talented people who guide her along the way.
There is so much intricate family dynamic that I could go into, and is discussed at length and in detail in the book. I think to fully understand this (because I can't explain it that well). It's just best to read the story and understand who Starfish is and how they work.
This books isn't afraid to tackle things such as anxiety, biracial identities, what it means to truly embrace yourself and all that you are. I love how at the end of every single chapter there is an image that Kiko paints to express herself after what happened in the day, or what she's feeling.
Also the writing is so lush and beautiful; even a five word description could be so vivid and go so deeper. I think some authors sometimes have problems with capturing the voice of a teenage girl, but Bowman does is perfectly and masterfully. While reading this book, every couple of pages I kept of thinking: "this is how I would sound/think/feel."
“I don’t have to be white to be beautiful, just like I don’t have to be Asian to be beautiful. Because beauty doesn’t come in one mold.”
Also, Kiko struggles with insecurity and low self-esteem because her single mom, who believes that the "all american beauty" blue-eyed blonde haired is the definition of beautiful (aka how Starfish looks like). She constantly puts Kiko down as being "different,exotic, and even calls her ugly." Kiko comes to her own realization, that beauty isn't one thing like she's been told to believe, and it's a beautiful thing to see her accepting herself and coming into her own beauty.
‘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.’
There was a subplot of romance, but be warned, the book wasn't about the romance; and Kiko didn't get better because of any boy. She got better because of herself and the effort she put into trying to understand and change her perceptions about things. Jamie and Kiko have a very healthy relationship, although she does love him very much, she realizes that she's been dependent on him, or using him as a social crutch so she steps away/hits pause on that relationship for a few weeks. He's not some perfect idealized guy, but he tries to understand and help her with her anxiety at times, and she feels safe in his world. I thought that the romance was adorable, yet healthy in the way that I rarely see it in YA, and so that was very appreciated.
I felt so personally attached/connected to Kiko on a deeper level, like we were almost kindred spirits. I'm not half as artistic as she is, or look like her, but I feel like she's gone through some universal experiences and coming-of-age struggles that I can really relate to. This book is life-changing for me in the sense that it forced to see the world in a different perspective and live my pain along with Kiko's figuring things out, and the outcome was truly magical.
**Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**
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