Sixth grader Ellie loves swimming in her pool, poetry, and Latin music. She's at the top of her class, and adores animals, especially her pug, Gigi. But ever since she was five years old, Ellie's biggest focus has been on not standing out to avoid giving the people who torment her about her weight any more reason to target her. And with her best friend moving away, her parents arguing constantly, and her mom pushing for weight loss surgery if the latest diet she's found doesn't work, Ellie's even more determined to stick to the list of Fat Girl Rules she's created to help her blend in.
But not everything goes according to plan. A cheerful, guitar-playing new girl moves in next door. Her parents bring Ellie to a therapist who she hates at first, but who turns out to be highly perceptive (and quite quirky). And Ellie begins to realize that maybe, just maybe, she doesn't need to be fixed or changed at all to be worthy of respect and love.
A wonderful, sometimes heartbreaking story about loving yourself and standing up to your detractors, I thoroughly enjoyed Starfish. Ellie is a deeply compelling character--amusing, caring, and increasingly brave--and it's a joy to watch her progression throughout the book as she learns to take up space, stand up to her bullies, and love herself. Bullying has become a common theme in middle grade books--and the cruelty of some characters makes parts of the book hard to read--but the nuance Fipps brings to her exploration of the topic, and especially the challenge of finding a way to stand up to your detractors while not becoming a bully yourself, set Starfish apart. And this is the first book I can recall reading that openly and honestly called out body-shaming and fatphobia, issues which a huge number of people, including kids and teens, face, yet gets very little attention from storytellers. Yet the characters aren't preachy, one-dimensional, or simply vehicles for making a point--they're human. The story is written in compelling free verse, making it a fast, engaging read that mirrors Ellie's love of poetry. Honest, unflinching, and warm, I would highly recommend Starfish to readers ages ten and up, and also for book groups or discussions.