Written by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Published by: Black and White Publishing (Ink Road)
Publication date: 5th April 2018
Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
“Can I ask you something?” Jamie reaches his hand across his chest and scratches his neck. When I nod, he asks, “What do you see when you look at pictures of yourself?”
I swallow. Someone who looks too Asian to be pretty. Because being Asian means I can never be as pretty as the other girls at school— the girls like Mom. I know this because people like Henry and Adam and Mom keep telling me I don’t have the right face. I know this because when I look in the mirror, I see what they see— a girl who doesn’t belong here. A girl who isn’t good enough. But I can’t tell him that— he wouldn’t understand.
“Okay. Well, what do you wish you saw?” He tries again when I remain quiet for so long. Someone with bigger eyes. Lighter hair. A smaller nose.
“Someone who looks more like everyone else,” I say at last.
Jamie runs his thumb over the edge of his camera. “Do you know how many people would love to have your face? Yeah, you don’t look like everyone else in this town, but that’s special. You stand out because you’re unique, and people literally never stop trying to be unique.”
I twist my mouth. “But I don’t want to stand out— not at all. I want to be normal. I want to feel like I belong in the same world as everyone else.”
If I looked like everyone else, it would probably be easier to make friends. I might even have a mom who cared.
I have been looking forward to reading this since I first saw it mentioned (See my Waiting on Wednesday post for all my reasons) so am really excited to finally get my hands on a copy and read it. I knew straightaway that this book was probably going to break my heart as Kiko is such a lovable, yet breakable character. I really liked her character development throughout the book and her realisation that she needs to fix her problems herself rather than using others as crutches to support her.
I was interested to read about a bicultural protagonist and how this affects her – I found it particularly interesting how she has almost no connection with the Japanese side of her family, whereas her younger brother makes a special effort to learn the language and about the culture. This may reflect the experience of many biracial people as some embrace both sides of their heritage, some try to ignore part of it and others try even harder to be part of the dominant culture and cover up the side they see as less desirable. Her parents have issues in their relationship which result in Kiko’s mum trying to impose one standard of beauty and normalcy on her children and ignoring the other half of their background.
This book is a beautiful story of a girl finding her voice and the confidence to use it. I particularly liked how she recognized that this is something she has to do for herself, rather than ‘love’ being a plaster to fix things. Yet, I did love her relationship with Jamie as it feels so comfortable and caring, without some of the contrived tension from jealousy, love triangles, power plays etc. E.g. When Kiko feels insecure about other girls looking at Jamie, he simple reassures her that he is looking at her and not anyone else.
A story about finding the strength to be who you’re meant to be.
My fingers rest against the edge of the balcony. The ocean sends another wave toward the sand before pulling it back again. Over and over again it does this. It’s hypnotic. It’s beautiful. All my life I’ve felt lonely, and it has always left an ache inside me, like there’s a supernatural presence crushing my heart within its fist. Looking out at the ocean, I don’t know how anyone could be anything but lonely. There’s nothing out there to see— just water and space. But it feels good. If lonely can ever be something good, this is it.
This is Kiko at peace with the world. This is Kiko not in the middle of a raging war with her mother. This is Kiko just being Kiko. I decide I am in love with the ocean. I’m totally counting it as a legitimate relationship, because if I ever felt this way about another aspect of nature, it would absolutely feel like cheating.
I thought I was the problem .
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.
What I liked: Biracial/Bicultural protagonist – more of this please publishers! I loved how each chapter finished with a sketch or painting in which Kiko expressed her feelings – this really added to the book. I loved the description of Starfish, when the title finally made sense, as I’m sure we all know at least one of these people!
Even better if: I felt frustrated that the people around Kiko didn’t help her more, particularly as it seems that everyone knows what kind of person her mother is…
How you could use it in your classroom: This would be an excellent addition to any secondary library and would add to any collection hoping to highlight issues of identity when biracial, mental health and families. You could use this book to look at societal standards for beauty and draw out the positives of being bicultural rather than focusing on the negatives.
(Thank you to Netgalley and Ink Road Press for my e-review copy)
Thanks for reading and I would love to hear what you thought of this book or if you;re planning to read it – let me know in the comments below!