That’s what the best books do./ They make you think/ And rethink/ how you see/ yourself,/ others,/ and the world./ Most of all/ they make you feel./ Feelings toward people/ who aren’t like you./ Feelings you didn’t know/ you had.
This is just one of the quotes that I loved from Lisa Fipps debut middle grade verse novel, Starfish, and it perfectly describes this book. Starfish is a book that I guarantee will make any reader feel some strong emotions. I don’t think anybody can be unmoved reading Lisa’s story. I have read many verse novels for middle grade and YA but Starfish is my absolute favourite.
Ever since she wore a whale swimsuit to her fifth birthday pool party, Ellie has been bullied about her weight. At school the bullies call her Splash and are constantly making fat jokes, and at home her mum is always on at her about her weight. Her mum has made her try different diets and puts articles on the fridge about weight-loss. The only one in her family who seems to accept her and show her any love is her dad. Her best friend, Viv, has always been there for her, but now she’s moving away. At first, Ellie doesn’t trust the new girl who has moved in next door. As she gets to know Catalina, Ellie discovers she may have a new best friend. Ellie’s parents make her see a therapist, which Ellie is not keen on. However, Ellie warms to Doc and the more they talk, the more Ellie is able to process how she feels. With the support of Doc, her dad and her friends, Ellie learns to love herself and the body she’s in.
I love Starfish so much! It is such a powerful, emotional story that is perfectly suited to the free verse format. Ellie is a character who you feel an immediate connection to and empathise with. Ellie’s story takes you on a roller-coaster of emotion, laughing one minute and then in tears the next. The bullying that Ellie faces at school is pretty horrible, but it’s the words and actions of her own mother that really make you angry and so sad for Ellie. Even a couple of days after reading the book I still can’t believe some of the things that Ellie’s mum did and said to her. I didn’t want to be a bystander and say nothing, but instead confront Ellie’s mum and tell her what she was doing was not OK.
Lisa Fipps’ writing is just so beautiful and lyrical. She captures emotions perfectly in just a few words. I found myself stopping and writing down quotes from the book so many times. I wanted to take my time with the book and savour Lisa’s words but I also needed to get to the end to find out how Ellie confronted her bullies.
There were so many passages that struck a chord with me, but this one was quite poignant, as it is Ellie talking about her school librarian, Mrs. Pochon:
She’s the first person to smile at me today/ The first to make me feel wanted./ Understood./ I blink back tears./ It’s unknown how many students’ lives librarians have saved by welcoming loners at lunch.
Starfish is now one of my favourite books and I’ll be telling everyone about it. It would be an amazing read aloud or class novel for Year 7/8. Thank you Lisa for giving us your wonderful story!