Review of Starfish

by Lisa Fipps
Intermediate, Middle School    Paulsen/Penguin    256 pp.    g
3/21    978-1-9848-1450-0    $16.99
e-book ed.  978-1-9848-1451-7    $10.99

Since she was five, Ellie (now eleven) has lived by a list of Fat Girl Rules: “Make yourself small”; “Move slowly so / your fat doesn’t jiggle”; “When you hear laughter, / someone’s laughing at you.” She only feels comfortable in her body when she’s swimming or spending time with her dog or her similarly fat best friend, Viv. But when Viv moves away, Ellie is alone in facing the sixth-grade bullies, who call her a whale, slam doors in her face, and — horrifyingly — loosen the screws on her desk so it collapses. It’s not much better outside of school, where strangers make rude comments, or at home, where her mother posts dieting articles on the fridge and even takes her to see a bariatric surgeon without her consent. (If it all seems too cruel to be realistic, an author’s note explains that these experiences are based on her own.) Luckily, Ellie has the support of her dad, a new friend, and an understanding therapist who teaches her to stand up for herself. Ellie’s simple and powerful free-verse poems intensify her emotional turmoil and smoothly destroy stereotypes (“They think I’m unhappy / because I’m fat. / The truth is, / I’m unhappy because / they bully me / about being fat”). Her strength in accepting herself and learning to defy her Fat Girl Rules is an inspiring reminder to all readers that they deserve to “take up space.”

From the May/June 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Rachel L. Smith

Rachel L. Smith is a senior content manager for an educational publisher. She holds a master’s degree in library and information science from Simmons College.

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