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Starfish

by Lisa Fipps

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11413191,164 (4.41)2
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I wanted to give Ellie so many hugs all throughout this book - she's just 11 years old and has to deal with shame and ridicule about her weight (I love that Fipps never gives us an exact number; it doesn't matter!) from not only strangers but, worst of all, her mother (who wants her to have bariatric bypass surgery!! At 11!!!!). Luckily, Ellie is tough, and with her father, friends, and a new therapist on her side, she learns that it's not her fault that people treat her this way, and how to deal with it.

This story is so real and raw, and it makes sense when Fipps says that all of the cruel things that have been said to Ellie by strangers who should be minding their own business are things that have been said to her. There are not enough compassionate and honest books about weight discriminations, but it's so relevant and important. ( )
  Elna_McIntosh | Sep 29, 2021 |
STARFISH is a middle-grade verse novel about Ellie, a girl with a big problem. Because of her weight, many people feel Ellie is fair game for teasing, ridiculing, and bullying. Yet Ellie has true friends who love her and care about her no matter how she looks. Are loyal friendships enough to get a girl through a mean, fat-shaming world?

I LOVED this novel. Everything about it is thoughtful, careful, and kind — which is to say, it walks its talk. Ellie is a poet, a lover of words and music. She is also a girl with finely tuned “fatdar”: her awareness of people all too willing to remind her how to manage herself: “No making waves. / You don’t deserve / to be seen or heard / to take up room, / to be noticed. / Make yourself small.” The novel’s verse is finely balanced; even readers who don’t normally enjoy verse novels shouldn’t mind this one, and readers who prefer verse novels will love the poetic flourishes here.

Ellie is unquestionably the star of this novel. The plot is a relationship-based growth arc. Ellie is surrounded by friends and bullies, and her task is to affirm “I’m not a whale. / I’m Ellie” — no small feat when her bullies include her own family members. But Ellie is bright, caring, determined, and fabulous; she refuses to follow the conform-lose-weight-and-be-ordinary path. With the help of her friends and a compassionate therapist, she will find her own way. I was cheering for Ellie on every page, even while I was crying for the cruelty she experiences. We need more starfish in this world. We need more Ellies.

Without question, STARFISH is one of the best middle-grade books I’ve read this year. I was utterly overwhelmed by how beautifully told the story is — and by how badly needed books like this are. Brava, Lisa Fipps, for writing this gorgeous book. ( )
  laVermeer | Aug 30, 2021 |
Ellie has been overweight and bullied at school since she was 5. Now that she's a tween, she's internalized the negativity and created a set of Fat Girl Rules to follow ("Move slowly so your fat doesn't jiggle"). Even her mother harrangues her about dieting and appearance, posting articles on the refrigerator and talking up bariatric surgery. Her siblings bully her too. The only ones on Ellie's side are her father, who gets her into therapy, and Catalina, the new girl next door who never passes judgement on Ellie's appearance. Ellie conveys the pain of being a bullying victim, and trying to fit in in a world that doesn't approve of her. She haltingly finds her voice and self-acceptance thanks to her therapist. Ellie's narration is compelling, revealing the torment of being "the fat girl" and moving readers to see her humanity. ( )
  Salsabrarian | Aug 18, 2021 |
CW: Fatmisia (incl. from family), emotional abuse from a parent, bullying, racism, abduction of a pet

This book gutted me; it’s intensely upsetting to see the level of fatmisia that comes out in extremely cruel ways, not only by peers, but Ellie’s mother and siblings too. But I also think it can be heartening to see someone who you might identify with finding the support she needs in a doctor who believes in health at every size, and a therapist who helps her work through these hateful messages that she’s internalized herself. And it’s also for all of us, who might be bullies ourselves or not think of ourselves as bullies, who make comments out of ignorance or deflection or hate, who stand by while others do, as a reminder that words often hurt much more than anything else. ( )
  bookedinsideout | Aug 17, 2021 |

“As I float, I spread out my arms and my legs. I’m a starfish, taking up all the room I want.”

Debut author Lisa Fipps brings us STARFISH — a middle-grade novel-in-verse as breathtaking as it is necessary. In equal measure heartbreaking and empowering, STARFISH tackles bullying, fatphobia (both internal and external), discovering your self-worth, and finding the strength to claim your space in a world that is too often cruel.

In it we meet Ellie: an eleven-year-old girl who loves her pug Gigi, her best friend Viv, writing poetry, and spending hours swimming in her pool. Ellie is also fat — something she’s been overtly aware of since her mother put her on her first “diet” at the age of four. With bullies at school and her mother pushing for bariatric surgery, Ellie struggles to separate her self-worth from the awful things people say to her. In an attempt to survive, Ellie invents the Fat Girl Rules — like “no eating in public” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” But the problem with the Fat Girl Rules is that they don’t just dictate how Ellie lives, they end up defining who she is.

With the help of her father, her therapist, and a new friend, Ellie begins to understand that her self-worth stands independent of the hurtful words and actions of her bullies. She learns how to stand up for herself, take up space, and replace untrue, negative thoughts with true, positive thoughts. More than anything, though, she learns that who she is so much more than the number on the scale.

There are so many important lessons woven throughout STARFISH, but I especially appreciate the normalization of giving children agency in their medical care — both through Ellie’s interactions with her therapist and the scenes where she “tries on” new primary care doctors.

STARFISH belongs on every classroom and library bookshelf. It is a tough read, and will at times enrage you. But it is ultimately uplifting, and will leave you feeling proud and hopeful. It will go a long way in teaching the importance of empathy, taking up space, and finding confidence in staying true to yourself.
( )
  SamBortle | Jul 23, 2021 |
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