Monday, January 8, 2018

YA Review: Starfish

We're actually gonna try something new. You all know I usually do that format thing with sections, but I'm thinking that if I go over 500 words, I'm gonna just make it a review on its own instead of a Things post. I mean, if it's over 500 words, is it really mini anymore? I'm probably not going to abandon the formatting thing completely because it can be really useful, but hey, we can always try something new.

We're also using "misia" instead of "phobia" from here on out. It has roots in Greek and means like hatred, that kind of thing. Think "misogyny". Google it if you want, but we're doing the thing in posts written after this one. (Maybe not ones immediately posted - some of my stuff goes up out of order and time is confusing.)

Let's see how this works.

Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Published: September 26th, 2017 by Simon Pulse
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 340 plus acknowledgements
Part of a series? Nope
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

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.

Thoughts: They are some mixed feelings indeed that I have here. I think a lot of this is incredibly relateable. I am in fact going to shoot you over to another review real quick that talks about a couple of the elements in the book, especially the race rep and the social anxiety rep. I also think that the depiction of Kiko's abusive mother is painfully realistic. I have read first hand stories of people who have parents who are like her mother, and they are so similar to this character.

But I also had things I didn't like as much. I think the biggest deal for me is that while the voice is okay, the writing never felt polished enough or strong enough to totally carry me. There are strong moments, and good parts, but there are others where I was pretty meh. Sometimes the writing of Kiki's anxiety came off as reminiscent of "I'm not like other girls" and I know this is ownvoices so I'm not saying that's not a real experience or anything, but in combination with other things, and the voice just not always working for me hugely, I didn't enjoy it.

And that's where we come to one of my biggest things - Jamie is too perfect. He can almost read her mind at times, and he sometimes sounds more like a therapist than a typical teen boy. And there's no prompting or anything that makes him know how to talk in this rather coached way. He just does, which no one else has really apparently been able to do before. I did not like the romance very much in general. I did not get the chemistry, and was way more interested in the parts about her art than the romance. But while the book says a lot about Kiko not wanting to become overdependant on him, it doesn't show it very much. There was also icky consent moments, like him kissing her even though she was about to stop him, and him texting her like twenty times in a day when she said she didn't want to talk to him. Dude. Back off.

Other minor things - there was borderline fatmisia. Her mother definitely is, and sometimes weight shames Kiko, but sometimes Kiko or the narrative is sort of as well. Nothing I would jump out of my way to say was immediately offensive, but a few comments that rubbed me wrong, especially kinda food-shamey ones. No fat rep, no queer rep, no disability rep besides mental illness/personality disorder rep, possibly borderline cissexism/transmisia, and aromisia. There were like four or five repeated instances of "just friends" which ugh. Here's a twitter thread if you're wondering about that.

Some moments were borderline girl-hatey and I wished Kiko had had more positive female relationships and role models. Personally I thought things were maybe a little too easy for her at the end. Not that Kiko should have suffered more, or something like that, but she didn't really do anything for herself. Everyone else arranged the things she wanted and did things for her, and she's never proactive about doing things for herself.

Okay, small spoilers here, but this is bothering me more than I thought it would. You know how we talk about agency a lot and whether a female character moves the plot or the plot moves her? The plot moves Kiko. The best thing she does in the book is stand up to her mother and leave, but what she does after that is arranged by everyone else. I loved her standing up to her mother, but the growth of letting herself take things, and not just let them happen to her, isn't there for me.

And also related to that - I know not every character (or person) needs therapy or medication to deal with their anxiety. But I don't love the message that you can just decide to fix your anxiety, and that's essentially what Kiko does. It almost, even, feels like the romance is what "fixes" her anxiety, or at least makes her start working on it, which ties into that "Jamie sounds like a therapist" thing I mentioned. But overall, I don't like the way it seems like the book is implying that you can just decide to think differently and not be anxious. me, if thinking could make me not anxious, I'd be all over that. Thinking too much tends to just make me more anxious, personally.

There is also ableist language and I took note of this specifically. Apparently the author did a search and took out all instances of "crazy" or "insane" and that's awesome. But that is maybe not the same thing as critically looking at your writing. There are instances of using "blind" in ways that are kind of uncomfortable, a very casual use of... I'm gonna censor this just to be on the safe side... "l*me", a conversation about how being a sociopath is worse than being a people pleaser. And the big one is the use of a phrase about Kiko's mother that two thirds of is really inappropriate. I'm actually going to link a couple of articles here and here for context about one part, and why I don't agree so much on that third part. I am going to link to another review that goes more into detail about the ableism. I don't necessarily agree with everything said in that review, but I do think it's important to boost. I think if you read those posts, you'll see why I don't necessarily agree with everything, but I'm not gonna ignore that.

And don't be a dick and leave rude comments or anything, we're not doing that.

Okay, where are we? Oh, this is almost a thousand words. Yeah, this can count as a standalone review, right?

So, overall, this was not one of my favourite books of the year. I think it did a lot of things very well, but the romance and some of the general writing felt kind of dated in a way, like a lot of YA stereotypes that we've been moving away from. There's definitely a lot that people could connect to, and I would like to read more from the author, though. I think I'm about a three out of five roses here.

Content warnings for:

Emotional abuse, child abuse, childhood sexual abuse, fatmisia, racism, alcoholism, ableist language, possibly villanizing of a mental illness/personality disorder, aromisia, a suicide attempt, and realistically depicted anxiety that could shake you up if you've dealt with that and you're not prepared.

And I think that's it for this review. No other notes!

Let me know what you think of this style of review from me.

Peace and cookies,

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