Book review by
Amanda Nojadera, Common Sense Media
Starfish Book Poster Image
Biracial teen learns to love herself in heartbreaking novel.

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 7 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

How emotional abuse and sexual abuse affect your sense of self-worth. Also information about social anxiety, how media affects kids' body image, and Japanese culture.

Positive Messages

Beauty doesn't come in one mold. Find the courage to believe in yourself and follow your dreams. Learn how to be independent. You can't live to please a "starfish" -- someone who always has to be the center of attention -- especially if that person's happiness is at your expense.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although her social anxiety and self-esteem issues make Kiko believe she's unworthy of love, she learns to love herself and embrace her Japanese heritage. She breaks free from her dysfunctional family environment and becomes independent. Emery and Jamie are great friends to Kiko. There are times where Kiko feels they've put her in awkward social situations, but they're gently pushing her to experience life. Hiroshi mentors Kiko and helps her grow as an artist. He and his family teach Kiko about Japanese culture and are also an example of a loving, supportive family environment. Kiko's mom leads Kiko to believe that her Japanese features are ugly and undesirable. She also makes Kiko believe that she isn't talented and is wasting her time trying to pursue her dream of becoming an artist.


Kiko's mom is emotionally abusive and incapable of unconditional love. A family member tries to commit suicide. Kiko's uncle groped her leg and masturbated while she was sleeping.


Teens kiss. Mentions of adults having an affair. Kiko's uncle groped her leg and masturbated while she was sleeping.


Insults include "stupid," "idiot," and "crappy." There's also one use of "f---ing."


Kiko's mom finds beauty only in the white celebrities she sees in the media and always tells Kiko that her Asian features are ugly. Brands and celebrities mentioned include Abercrombie & Fitch, Batman, Captain America, Wilco, The Smiths, Taylor Swift, James Franco, Harry Potter, Converse, Legend of Zelda, and more.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink at a family celebration. Underage drinking and beer pong at house parties. Teens smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Starfish is a heartbreaking yet empowering coming-of-age story about Kiko Himura, a biracial 17-year-old girl who uses art to explore her identity and chart her journey to self-acceptance and independence. Emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect feed into Kiko's extreme social anxiety and self-esteem issues. One of her family members tries to commit suicide. Teens drink and smoke cigarettes at house parties. Mild insults include "stupid," "idiot," and "crappy," and one use of "f---ing." 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byTrying2Help December 14, 2020

Good book, for at least 16+

This is a beautiful story about a girl finding herself. Despite her critical mother, throughout the book, she slowly gains confidence and learns to see beauty i... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byrunningwithstars October 1, 2018

Beautiful Story

It's a really good book that explores some fairly important messages.
Teen, 14 years old Written byMayberry June 15, 2018


I loved this book. If you're a reader like me, you would love it. I have a difficult time trying to find books to read. When I found this book, I was so ha... Continue reading

What's the story?

In STARFISH, half-Japanese, half-white Kiko Himura feels like an outsider at home and at school because of her Asian features and extreme social anxiety. With graduation right around the corner, she can't wait to start classes at Prism, her dream art school in New York City. But after she's rejected by Prism and realizes she's stuck in Nebraska with her self-absorbed mom and sexually abusive uncle, Kiko jumps at the chance to tour art schools on the West Coast with her childhood best friend. With the help of a wise Japanese artist she meets in California and supportive friends, Kiko is finally able to prioritize her own happiness and mental health while learning to embrace the beauty in her Asian heritage.

Is it any good?

Akemi Dawn Brown's heartbreaking debut novel powerfully portrays the harmful effects of childhood abuse and an empowering journey toward healing. Although it's difficult to read the cruel words from a narcissistic mother incapable of unconditional love and sometimes frustrating to see how Kiko's social anxiety holds her back, Starfish sadly shows how abuse fosters feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness. Through her emotional internal monologues and the gorgeous art descriptions at the end of each chapter, readers will understand Kiko's struggles and triumphs as she slowly breaks free from her dysfunctional family environment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the heavy theme of abuse in Starfish. Is it important for kids -- even those who have never had to deal with an abusive home life -- to read Kiko's story? Why or why not? 

  • Do you think art helps people deal with their problems? How do you cope with issues? Who can you turn to or what help is out there?

  • Talk about diversity, Western standards of beauty, and the media's role in how people view body image. Who should decide what's beautiful? Do the same beauty standards apply everywhere in the world? Do magazines and celebs affect how you see yourself?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love coming-of-age stories

Themes & Topics

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