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Starfish
2017
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A half-Japanese teen grapples with social anxiety and a narcissistic mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school before accepting an invitation to tour other art schools on the West Coast. A first novel. Simultaneous eBook. - (Baker & Taylor)

Kiko Himura yearns to escape the toxic relationship with her mother by getting into her dream art school, but when things do not work out as she hoped Kiko jumps at the opportunity to tour art schools with her childhood friend, learning life-changing truths about herself and her past along the way. - (Baker & Taylor)

A half-Japanese teen grapples with social anxiety and a narcissistic mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school before accepting an invitation to tour other art schools on the West Coast. - (Baker & Taylor)

A William C. Morris Award Finalist
A New York Public Library 2017 Best Book for Teens

&;Dazzling.&; &;Bustle
&;One of the most compelling reads of the year.&; &;Paste Magazine
&;This book is a gem.&; &;BookRiot

A gorgeous and emotionally resonant debut novel about a half-Japanese teen who grapples with social anxiety and her narcissist mother in the wake of a crushing rejection from art school.

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. - (Simon and Schuster)

Author Biography

Akemi Dawn Bowman is a critically-acclaimed author who writes across genres. Her novels have received multiple accolades and award nominations, and her debut novel, Starfish, was a William C. Morris Award Finalist. She has a BA in social sciences from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and currently lives in Scotland with her husband and two children. She overthinks everything, including this bio. Visit Akemi online at AkemiDawnBowman.com, or on Instagram @AkemiDawnBowman. - (Simon and Schuster)

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Trade Reviews

Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Half Japanese Kiko Himura is a recent high-school graduate whose art-school rejection leaves her with no means of escaping her toxic homelife. Her parents are divorced, and while her father happily lives with his new family, Kiko and her brothers live with their mother, a golden-haired, self-absorbed woman who belittles Kiko relentlessly. Because of this, Kiko is unable to speak what's on her mind; rather, she expresses herself through art she never shares. Socially awkward, Kiko is more than surprised when her closest childhood friend, Jamie, spots her at a party she didn't want to attend. They renew their relationship, and Jamie invites her to stay with his family in California to investigate art schools. There Kiko meets famous artist Hiroshi Matsumoto, who befriends and encourages her. Things begin to look up until tragedy strikes at home, and Kiko finally finds the courage and the voice to make important decisions that will guide her out of her shell and toward a fulfilling life. Bowman evokes Kiko's quiet hurt, pain, and frustration with breathtaking clarity, all the while reinforcing the narrative with love and hope. The story will resonate deeply with readers who have experienced abuse of any kind, or who have been held back by social anxiety. This is a stunningly beautiful, highly nuanced debut. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews

Seventeen-year-old Kiko Himura struggles to overcome crippling self-doubt and social anxiety in this intense, emotional book. A talented visual artist, Kiko sketches and paints as a way of working through her complex relationship with her narcissistic mother, who consistently belittles Kiko's half-Japanese heritage and undermines her every step toward independence. A satisfying, ultimately uplifting read about self-acceptance and the healing powers of making art. Copyright 2018 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews

For Kiko, a biracial Nebraska teen, attending Prism, a prestigious art school, will allow her to pursue her dream of making art and to escape a toxic family environment; denied admission, she has no Plan B. Kiko's Japanese-American father and his new wife, a white woman, like Kiko's mom, are preoccupied parents of twin baby girls. Kiko and her two brothers live with their self-absorbed mother, who belittles all things Japanese, raising Kiko to consider herself unworthy and her Japanese features ugly, to the point where she and her brothers used to compete over who looked least Asian. Knowing her brother abused Kiko as a small child, her mother not only allows Uncle Max to move in, she prohibits Kiko from putting a lock on her door. Kiko knows she must leave, but her traumatic upbringing has left her with crippling social anxiety, and her only close friend has left for college. A chance meeting with Jamie, the white boy who was her childhood crush, rekindles their friendship, and he invites Kiko to stay with his family in California while checking out art schools. There, mentored by a Japanese-American artist and befriended by his family, Kiko blossoms. Readers will wonder why Kiko's mother is more monster than human; why insecure Kiko was certain she'd be accepted to the country's most prestigious art school (and how she'd afford it); and why the cover depicts a jellyfish rather than the titular starfish. If not all elements persuade, Kiko's sometimes-halting journey from defensive passivity to courageous self-realization remains believable and moving throughout. (Fiction. 12-16) Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Graduating from high school and attending Prism Art School in New York City is the only thing keeping half-Japanese, half-white Kiko Himura going. Her Asian features and roots have made her feel like an outsider in her community, and her low self-esteem stems from the cruelty she endures from her distant and emotionally abusive mother. After Kiko reconnects with her childhood friend Jamie, gets rejected by Prism, and faces the return of her sexually abusive uncle, she opts to drive to California with Jamie to check out art schools. There, she meets artist Hiroshi Matsumoto, who recognizes Kiko's talent and mentors her. In an empowering novel that will speak to many mixed-race teens, debut author Bowman has created a cast of realistically complex and conflicted characters. She elegantly channels Kiko's anxieties, and each chapter ends profoundly with a description of her drawings that reflects her growth, setbacks, or newfound understanding ("I draw the sun teaching the moon how to shine"). Through art, Kiko gains a voice and finally understands that she is worthy, desirable, and talented. Ages 12–up. Agent: Penny Moore, Empire Literary. (Sept.)

Copyright 2017 Publisher Weekly.

School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 9 Up—Kiko Himura has constantly been made to feel like an outsider by her mother and the majority of her town for being half Japanese. The only things she really has in her life are her best friend, who is going to leave to college this year, and her art. Kiko realizes her ticket to escaping her insufferable mother and feelings of inadequacy is applying to art school in New York. When she does not get accepted to her dream school, she fears she is doomed to drown in her small town. But when she happens to see her childhood best friend at a party, her life begins to spin wildly out of control. Readers living with anxiety or depression will immediately identify with Kiko's plight to survive in social situations and maintain a functioning lifestyle. The realistic conversations with her narcissistic mother and discussions of childhood trauma might be hard to stomach for some because of their brutal honesty. Teens will root for Kiko and hope she develops the strength to overcome her hardships. The characterization of her childhood best friend and mentor are the only semi-unrealistic aspects of the book, as they continue to remain in the "too-good-to-be-true" camp, but these holes are easy to overlook. Bowman has written a deep and engaging story that will not only entertain but also may encourage readers to live their best lives. VERDICT A worthy first purchase for any public or school library collection.—DeHanza Kwong, Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte, NC

Copyright 2017 School Library Journal.

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