Starfish features Ellie, a fat girl who has been bullied for her weight since she wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash in the pool. Even her older brother and sister make fun of her weight. Her mom controls her diet, monitoring her portions and choosing lackluster “healthy” alternatives. Ellie is feeling more disheartened because her friend Viv who is also plus-sized is moving away.
Thankfully, after Viv moves, Ellie finds a friend in her new neighbor Catalina and her family. The family loves food and welcome Ellie with open arms, never judging her for her weight. At school, bullying intensifies when a chair breaks after Ellie sits on it. Her mom is also pushing for gastric bypass surgery for Ellie. Eventually, her father gets her mother to ease off by taking Ellie to a therapist who helps her accept her body and defend herself against bullies.
I loved the writing in this book. Lisa Fipps has such powerful, vivid writing, even while writing sparsely as one does in a verse novel. Ellie is such a sweet character and my heart broke for her so many times throughout the course of this book. Yet, that is one of the strengths of this book: the honesty. The author writes from her experiences and those of other fat people, and really forces readers to question their biases, especially in their relationship with fat friends and family.
Ellie and Catalina have a super supportive friendship, and I was also relieved to see Ellie find allies in her father and therapist. I love that this book is therapy positive and that the therapist helps Ellie to see herself as more than just fat, while coming to a real acceptance of her body. Fipps also dispels myths about fat people through Ellie’s story. Ellie is fit, tidy, and an A student at school, contrary to the common misconceptions about fat people.
Starfish is a powerful, fat-positive middle grade verse novel about a girl who is learning that she deserves to take up space. This realistic story is important for educators, parents, and kids alike and urges all to question their biases toward fat people. It’s also a sweet book about friendship, sisterhood, swimming, summer, and self-acceptance.
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I received an eARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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What are your favorite body-positive middle grade books? I’m looking forward to reading many more.