Nancy Paulsen Books – Penguin Young Readers
Published March 9, 2021
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Ellie is tired of being fat-shamed and does something about it in this debut novel-in-verse.
Ever since Ellie wore a whale swimsuit and made a big splash at her fifth birthday party, she’s been bullied about her weight. To cope, she tries to live by the Fat Girl Rules–like “no making waves,” “avoid eating in public,” and “don’t move so fast that your body jiggles.” And she’s found her safe space–her swimming pool–where she feels weightless in a fat-obsessed world.
In the water, she can stretch herself out like a starfish and take up all the room she wants. It’s also where she can get away from her pushy mom, who thinks criticizing Ellie’s weight will motivate her to diet. Fortunately, Ellie has allies in her dad, her therapist, and her new neighbor, Catalina, who loves Ellie for who she is. With this support buoying her, Ellie might finally be able to cast aside the Fat Girl Rules and starfish in real life–by unapologetically being her own fabulous self.
I’ve heard so many great things about this book, and I can for sure say that none of them were exaggerated. I loved Ellie so much. She bares her soul on the page. I loved reading her journey from feeling crushed by shame to finding the confidence and self-love to stretch out and take up space like a starfish.
Ellie’s dad is awesome, too. There’s one scene where he’s just witnessed some of the hurtful things people say to Ellie, and he begins to cry. Even writing about it now, my eyes are all weepy. He doesn’t do everything perfectly (which just makes him all the more realistic), but it’s so clear he loves Ellie. I love that.
I also love Ellie’s relationship with Catalina. At first, she’s unsure of this new skinny girl. But as she gets to know Catalina, she realizes that Catalina knows about discrimination. Catalina treats Ellie the way she should be treated– loving her for who she is and gently challenging Ellie to learn to love herself, too.
STARFISH is a novel in verse, so it’s a quick read that will leap straight to your heart. I think readers who enjoyed RECKLESS, GLORIOUS GIRL by Ellen Hagan will love this one.
Content warning for bullying.
Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.
Ellie is fat. Her dad is Jewish and her mom is Christian. Ellie celebrates both religions. Ellie’s next door neighbors are Mexican American.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Ellie celebrates Shabbat and Hanukkah as well as Christmas with her family.
Bullies at school and home say cruel things to Ellie. In one scene, students sabotage Ellie’s desk so that it breaks when she sits on it.
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I really loved Starfish too. Glad you finally got to read it.
Thank you! I’m glad, too. There’s really something special about middle grade novels in verse. I want to read more of them.