Starfish

Author: Lisa Fipps

Author: Lisa Fipps
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Release Date: March 9/21
Length: 256 pages
Reviewer: Laurie

Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher Nancy Paulsen Books for an eARC of this book.

Every once in a while, you read a book that you know everyone needs to read. Starfish is one of those books. But be forewarned it’s not an easy read, and you need time set aside to read it. It is a read that, for many, including myself, was a read where I did not move until it was done. That heartbreaking. That shameful. That hard. That funny. That powerful. That beautiful. That ending!

Middle Years is a tough time – trying to fit in, figure out who you are and belong. Books have been a way to escape, learn and model to see how characters dealt with issues and situations. Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop coined the phrase that books could be windows, mirrors and sliding doors for readers but books, where the protagonist is overweight are few and far between. Finally, we have a protagonist that learns to defend and accept herself and stand up to those who bully and ridicule her.

Meet Eliana Elizabeth Montgomery Hofstein, known to her best friend Viv and her parents as Ellie or El. Classmates and even her siblings call her Splash, as in whale. The nickname came when her sister called her that on her fifth birthday after her cannonball into the pool. It wasn’t because her cannonball was perfect, but that her weight caused the big splash. That became her nickname from her fifth birthday.

Told in verse, we experience all the comments, the blatant bullying, the name-calling, all from Ellie’s perspective. What makes this story even more difficult is how Ellie brainwashes herself into accepting that it is her fault for how others treat her. Ellie has even created Fat Rules, “If you’re fat, there are things you can’t have.” She made this rule after her mom told her she could have piano lessons after she lost weight. And there are lots of rules.

Reading all the bullying that Ellie endures (a prank to have her desk collapse, classmates kidnapping her dog, verbal abuse by her brother), it is the relationship with her mother that had me squirming. And yet, Ellie had strong allies with her father, friends and therapist.

Readers witness Ellie go from a reluctant participant with Dr. Wood to seeing how she could defend herself without attacking others in a realistic, poignant and at times funny manner. We see the growth and how she gains confidence. With this new-gained confidence, Ellie eventually confronts her mother and explains the damage her words and actions did to her.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the library and the librarian in the book, Mrs. Pochon. Lisa Fipps talks about how the library was her safe harbour and that Mrs. Pochon (named after her real-life librarian) always made her and Viv feel welcomed and at home. Mrs. Pochon recommended books and talked to them, and she was Canadian. Libraries and librarians provide this place – as Lisa said, “a refuge from the world, especially when the bullying got to be too much.” These spaces and roles must exist.

I believe strongly that this book should be read-aloud, to start a dialogue and to create change. Equally important is to share author Lisa Fipps note saying that although Ellie and the story are fictional, a variation of EVERY single mean thing said or done to Ellie happened to her. Every.Single. Thing. We have to ensure that the Ellies and Lisas of our world NEVER have to go through that again.

We all know an Ellie. The action we take after reading this story is what is crucial. We need to discuss body shaming and the bullying that occurs and begin dismantling and eliminating this perspective. It is so prevalent and accepted in society to belittle and reject those whose image does not fit in with so-called norms. It is these readers who need this story. But for the first time in my reading experience, we have a novel with positive fat representation. That means there will be readers who see themselves for the first time, and these readers need this story too. And as adults, we need this book, so we can make sure the Ellies of the world are seen and valued just the way they are.

FIRST LINE: I stepped down into the pool

SIMILAR TITLES: Blubber,  Dumplingand Dear Sweet Pea

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED: GR 5+

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