Title: Starfish

Author: Lisa Fipps

Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books

ISBN: 9781984814500

Publication Date: March 2021

I first heard about Starfish through Nerdy Book Club. Lisa Fipp‘s author post resonated with me so deeply I knew I had to read her debut middle grade novel. I wasn’t really overweight as a child but I did struggle with an eating disorder in my preteens. I don’t talk about it often, probably because it’s something I don’t really understand to this day. Not eating was partly about body image but more about control–something I didn’t have at that time in my life (and plenty of times since!).

My experience was nothing like 11-year-old, Ellie’s. But her story–told in verse–still resonated with me very deeply. I felt everything she was feeling and couldn’t put the book down (even when I got to the end).

Starish is about Ellie, who’s been bullied about her weight ever since her 5th birthday party when her older sister gave her the nickname “Splash”. Near the beginning of the book, Ellie meets her new next door neighbor, Catalina, during her best friend’s going away party. This is an example of why I think the story works so well–the horrible things happening to Ellie (like her BF moving away) are balanced by the good things (her new friend, Catalina).

This “formula” allows the author to make the bad stuff really bad as long as she makes the good stuff really good. The bad stuff includes Ellie’s mom and brother and the bullies at her school. Also most of the doctors Ellie goes to and fat-shaming society we live in. I had a visceral reaction to all these characters and situations because they are heart-breakingly MEAN.

The good stuff, including Catalina (and her family), Ellie’s dad and her therapist Dr. Wood (or as Ellie calls her Dr. Woodn’t-You-Like-to-Know), is just so GOOD. Plus, Ellie’s got a great sense of humor. I love the terms she coins, like smowning (an exaggerated smile that drops into a frown) and snarlcasm (one part snarl, three parts sarcasm).

There’s a lot more to this quick read. But I’ll leave you their words instead of mine.

From Ellie:

“I plan to become a storyteller,

and a poet,

to help people feel what it’s like

to live in

someone else’s skin.

Mom’s a journalist,

determined to expose

all that’s wrong in the wrold

and spotlight everyone’s flaws,

not caring if she

gets under people’s skin.”

(I can’t include her confrontation with mom at the end because that will make me cry elephant tears all over again.)

From Lisa Fipp’s author note: “Right now, many people still think it’s okay to bully people who weigh more than they do. My hope is that Starfish will change people’s attitudes and that, one day, no one will be bullied because of their size or for any reason. But until that day comes, know that no matter your size of who you are, you are lovable and deserve for people to treat you like you’re a valuable person. Because you are.”

For more, read Starfish and check out Lisa Fipp’s author website. In addition to a stunning mosaic on the cover page, she provides tons of resources including a Bullying Is NEVER Okay brochure, a common core-aligned discussion guide and even a playlist!