Starfish by Lisa Fipps

The book cover depicts a girl in a peach bathing suit with lavender, white, and gold flowers and greenery, floating on her back against a blue watery background, as if in a swimming pool. Her arms and legs are outstretched in a formation resembling the starfish of the title.

by Carmen J.

I know you are going to find this hard to believe, but our society isn’t kind to people that are overweight. People like me. While I’m over here living my best life and admiring the body positive messages from the Lizzos and Ashley Grahams of the world, there is still much work to do when it comes to fat acceptance and body shaming.

On this year’s Summer Reading list (coming soon!), there is a gem of a book called Starfish. It highlights this message in bright lights. The debut novel by Lisa Fipps centers around Ellie, an 11-year-old, who is bullied for her weight. Not just by her classmates but also by her own family. From her sister, who nicknamed her Splash for her body’s impact when she swims, to her so-called well-intentioned mother researching bariatric surgery and dieting articles, Ellie is sent the consistent message that she doesn’t fit in. She doesn’t fit in with her peers; she doesn’t fit in the right clothes. 

In the water, Ellie is weighless and free – free of societal pressures, free of side eyes and judgment. There are no what-ifs or “if you only lost weight” or “your face is so pretty,” etc. 

Yet, it’s not all doom and gloom for Ellie. She finds refuge and support in her new therapist and her father, who advocates for her, even when advocacy leads to arguments with Ellie’s mom. Her new neighbor, Catalina, sees Ellie for her true self and beyond her physical appearance.

What sets this beautiful story apart from other similarly told stories is that the happy ending isn’t one where the main character finally loses weight and suddenly becomes liked by all. (As if a smaller-sized body guaranteed a happier life or popularity, which unfortunately is never guaranteed.) I won’t spoil the story for you, but I think you’ll find in Starfish an out-sized, hearty message with positive rippling effects on our youth.

Carmen J. is a teen instructor at HCLS East Columbia. Among her favorite things are great books, all things 80s, shamelessly watching The Bachelor, gardening, and drinking anything that tastes like coffee.