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.
Rafflecopter giveaway can be found here!
Now, onto my questions!
1. Why was it important for Kiko to be a biracial character? Do you think there is a lack of representation in young adult fiction?
I’m biracial, and I remember how difficult it was to find stories that reflected my own experiences on the shelves. And not even just the experiences, but to even find a character who physically resembled me—it was such a struggle. And I think the lack of biracial representation still exists, definitely. So when I set out to write Starfish, I decided to write the story I needed most as a teen. And that included having a main character who struggles with understanding their biracial identity.
2. One of the main ideas in the novel is that Kiko is held to unreasonable standards by her mother, simply because she looks different. I’m very interested in why you included this in the novel. Do you think this is an experience that many biracial women have had?
I certainly can’t speak for all biracial women, or even the majority of them, but I can speak to my own experiences. I grew up with a constant battle of never feeling good enough—and more specifically, not “pretty” enough. Because I didn’t see faces like mine in the media. The faces on TV and in magazines were overwhelmingly white, and the Asian faces I did see still didn’t look like me. I always felt equal parts “not white enough” and “not Asian enough,” and it really took a toll on my self-esteem. It also started to make me feel more and more like I didn’t belong, and it seemed to reinforce this warped idea I had that I was “weird looking.” And it took a lot of years to sort of rewire the way my brain was making these connections. So while biracial people are not a monolith and some won’t relate to this part of Kiko’s journey, I hope those who can relate will see this book as a mirror, and by the last page know that they are beautiful and worthy of love.
3. Another main theme is Kiko’s art – I loved that each chapter ended with a description of a sketch she made. Is art important to you? Other than writing, do you have any other artistic talents?
Art is very important to me. It’s a form of self-expression that is so honest and raw, but also doesn’t require human interaction. It’s how I cope with my own anxiety, similar to the way Kiko does (though, I am nowhere near as talented as she is!). And although I wouldn’t say they’re “talents,” because I’m laughably bad at both, but I do like to draw and paint when I have the spare time.
4. I have anxiety myself, so Kiko’s experiences with social anxiety really resonated with me, especially in her thoughts about her relationship with Jamie. Do you think there’s a bit of a trend in YA fiction that normalises codependent relationships? Why was it important that Jamie not ‘fix’ Kiko’s anxiety?
I honestly can’t say whether or not this is a current trend in YA, because a lot of the YA I’ve read lately doesn’t reflect this at all. But it was very important to not have Jamie exist to “fix” Kiko’s anxiety because I didn’t feel like it was a realistic or healthy solution. I’ve lived with social anxiety almost my entire life, and there is no magic cure—no magic “person.” For me, living with anxiety means finding ways to cope with it. I’ve spent a lot of time being dependent on people in my life because I thought that’s what would help my anxiety, only to later realize it was making it worse. Because then I had the fear of being without them, and fear is a monster that grows bigger when you feed it. And Kiko really needed to learn this lesson, especially because of the toxic and dependent environment she’d already been living in. She needed to break free of her past and learn to love herself, and loving herself the way she is includes loving herself with her social anxiety. For me, that was an important early step in learning what it means to cope and live a healthy life.
5. I absolutely adored your writing style – did this lyrical style come easily to you? What are you working on next? 🙂
Thank you so much! It’s just my normal style of writing, so I think it’s fair to say this part of the writing process came easily. It’s the 200 rounds of edits that’s the tough part! At the moment, I’m working on line edits for my upcoming 2018 release, Summer Bird Blue. It’s about a teen songwriter named Rumi Seto who loses her sister in a tragic accident and is sent to Hawaii to live with her aunt with her mother struggles to grieve. It’s a story about loss, and sisters, and learning how to say goodbye to someone who is already gone. I can’t wait to share more in the coming months, because this story is so close to my heart!
I want to thank Akemi Dawn Bowman for answering my questions and being so wonderful!