“Don’t live to please the starfish, especially when their happiness is at the expense of yours. That is not love. That is narcissism. There’s an entire ocean out there kiko, swim in it.”
Blurb: “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.”
Trigger warnings: talks of a suicide attempt, racism, emotional abuse.
Kiko is a character that I found to be very relatable: she’s incredibly anxious, channels all of her emotions into creative pursuits, is desperate to prove herself, and feels like she is solely identified by her connections to other people (for example, “friend of…”). On a side I can’t relate to, she is mixed race – part Japanese- and faces a lot of racism throughout the course of the book, primarily from her own mother.
The crux of the story is really centered around Kiko’s relationship with her mother which is incredibly mentally abusive. Her mother is dismissive, demanding, clearly disgusted by Kiko’s dreams or art school and her general facial features which she reiterates that Kiko got from her father. It is incredibly rage inducing to read at times and I felt just as suffocated as the character. The narrative plays into the idea of “what ifs” by certain interactions with the mother being followed by “what I wish I’d said” and “what I actually said.” I loved this element as, again, it’s incredibly relatable. So many people have experienced that hindsight of wishing they could stand up for themselves but instead choosing to stay quiet. Another narrative decision I adored is that every chapter ends with Kiko drawing, and each piece that she works on provides some overall framing for the events of the chapter, showing how she is physically channeling her experiences and emotions into art.
The introduction of Jamie, a boy from his early years, gives Kiko a positive space to grow as a character and also provides the reassurance she needs that what her mother is doing to her is wrong.
Kiko’s growth over the book is astounding and the way she begins to stand up for herself is something that I hope inspires teens, who feel like they are in a similar situation, to stand up and fight.
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