Starfish

Book review by
Mandie Caroll, Common Sense Media
Starfish Book Poster Image
Moving, witty novel tackles fatphobia, self-advocacy.

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age 18+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Content will educate and/or validate readers regarding fatphobia, self-acceptance, and ally behavior. Learning to safely and respectfully stand up for yourself is also shown. Issues of anti-immigrant bias and racism are briefly touched on. 

Positive Messages

Your body is perfect and beautiful now, just as it is. Your body is not a problem, anti-fat bias and ideas about how bodies "should" be are the problem. Learning how to stand up to bullies can be empowering. Be the person, friend, sibling, classmate, etc., who accepts other people for who they are; you may just save a life. You are worthy of respect, dignity, and care no matter what you look like. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ellie is funny, perceptive, and resilient. Many readers will resonate with the deep hurt she feels from being bullied and rejected by family/peers. Ellie's ultimate refusal to internalize the hate makes her easy to root for. Friends Viv and Catalina care in different ways: Viv, a fellow fat girl, gets Ellie; and Catalina, while thin, is a staunch ally. Her dad and her therapist are great models of adults accepting/loving a kid just as they are. Ellie, her family, and her therapist are presumed White; Catalina is Mexican American.

Violence

One scene shows Ellie sitting down at her desk and it collapses (peers had removed the bolts in the desk), resulting in several bruises. The bullying Ellie experiences from school peers and her mom and brother -- humiliating comments about her weight and what she eats, jokes about whales -- is cruel and could be categorized as verbal abuse.

Sex
Language

“Crap" used once by the narrator. Bullying kids call Ellie directly or refer to her as "thing," "lard butt," "big, fat loser," "blubberbelly," and "disgusting whale." Most of the verbal harassment is whale-themed, as when her classmates do things like push other students away as she walks down the hall and say, “Watch out, make way, thar she blows!" and all the students press themselves up against the walls as she passes. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lisa Fipp's novel-in-verse, Starfish, takes on anti-fat bias, bullying, and self-acceptance. Middle schooler Ellie lives by the "Fat Girl Rules" -- don't wear bright colors, don't move so fast that your body jiggles, make yourself as small as possible, and on and on. But the rules aren't protecting her from her bullies, and Ellie realizes if things are going to change, it'll have to start with her. While this book is ultimately hopeful, verbal abuse in the form of bullying and rejection from family and peers is at times intensely cruel. The verbal violence tips over into physical when peers remove bolts from Ellie's desk and it collapses on her as she tries to sit down, resulting in minor injury. No swearing or other content concerns. 

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Teen, 14 years old Written byStrawberry_Cow April 11, 2021

No

Ok so like the thing is it's saying that "it's ok to be obsess", that's not a good role model. Like you are telling my generation it... Continue reading

What's the story?

Narrated by middle schooler, Ellie, novel-in-verse STARFISH introduces the hero while she's swimming in her pool, where she feels weightless and can wash off the burden of the cruel bullying she experiences as a fat tween. Her bestie, Viv, who's also fat, moves away, but Catalina, a thin (and surprisingly not fatphobic) girl, moves in next door, and they are instant friends. Ellie's teased incessantly at school, but the bullying from her mom and brother hurt the most. Her dad is amazing: He argues with the family when they harass Ellie and he takes her on a shopping spree to a plus- size boutique. When her mom takes her to a weight-loss surgery doctor against her will and kids at school remove bolts from her desk so that it collapses when she sits down, Ellie has had it. She knows doesn't deserve such horrible treatment, but can she figure out a way to stand up for herself that doesn't make her feel like a bully, too?

Is it any good?

This charming, though at times heart-wrenching novel-in-verse is a story of healing and self-advocacy that readers won't soon forget. Starfish, which is author Lisa Fipps' first novel, is a quick read, but it packs a lot into its honest, sad, and hilarious verse. There's the unspoken rules about being fat that Ellie learns only by breaking them and suffering the consequences. There's the mom, who's so cruel about Ellie's body that Ellie isn't sure her mom loves her. And all the people -- sister, peers, and adults -- who don't defend her when she's targeted. There's acute relief when dad is being wonderful, and when Ellie is connecting with Viv or Catalina, who empathize and accept Ellie as she is. Ellie's therapy sessions with Dr. Wood are funny and moving, with witty banter and emotional realizations.

Readers who've been targeted for their own body size will relate, and readers who haven't will be enlightened and motivated to adopt the ally behaviors modeled in this story. A deeply meaningful read, this book can spark conversations about how to fight anti-fat bias in a world obsessed with thinness. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the bullying Ellie experiences in Starfish. What's it like for you to read about these instances of cruelty? What did it make you think? How did the bullying make you feel about Ellie, her family, and her school?

  • A lot of this story is about how Ellie learns to stand up to her bullies. Can you describe a time you witnessed bullying? What did you want to do? What did you do? Talk about the pros and cons of standing up to bullies.  

  • Viv, Catalina, Ellie's dad, and Dr. Wood are all great allies to Ellie. What are the different ways they support her? How can you be a better ally to people bullied for who they are?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of friendship and positive body image

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