Starfish by Lisa Fipps is a middle grade novel told in verse. Ellie is a middle school student dealing with bullying and fatphobia both from other students and from her own family. This was a difficult read due to all the bullying, but there were so many things I loved about it.

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The summary, from Amazon:

Ellie is tired of being fat-shamed and does something about it in this poignant 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.

Buy Starfish here.

Ellie has been fat since she was a little kid and has been dealing with bullying for just about as long. While the kids at school and strangers can be horrendous, it’s her mother who clearly causes the most pain. This was a torturous read in so many ways because I wanted to fight Ellie’s mother. I could not believe a parent would talk to her child like this, but the author notes that every word that is spoken to Ellie is based on things that have been said to her.

There were so many lovely things about this book. What really stood out to me was the positive representation of therapy and Ellie’s father’s support in finding Ellie a doctor who treated her with respect. I also loved that Ellie is a poet. A lot of times with novels in verse, they feel a little inauthentic to me. However, Ellie writes poetry, so reading her thoughts in the form of poems made total sense. Once quote I loved was, “Why aren’t kids allowed  / to tell grown-ups when they’re wrong?”

I also appreciated that the bullies (for the most part) don’t get a redemption arc – especially Ellie’s mother. We do see that one of Ellie’s bullies has his own struggles, and that Ellie chooses not to bully him in return. But the other people who hurt Ellie are held accountable for their actions. It’s not seen whether they change for the better.

This wasn’t an easy read, but it was a quick one. I finished it in under two hours. This was a 5 star read for me and lived up to my expectations going into it.



Find out more about how I rate books here.

StarfishStarfish by Lisa Fipps
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel in verse feels so authentic because Ellie, the narrator, is a poet. I loved that the bullies (for the most part, especially the mother) did not get a redemption arc. The bullying and fatphobia in this one is ROUGH though. One quote I loved: “Why aren’t kids allowed / to tell grown-ups when they’re wrong?”

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Book Club Questions

  1. Have you ever been bullied? How did it make you feel?
  2. Have you ever bullied someone? Why? How did you feel when you bullied them?
  3. Who bullies Ellie in this book?
  4. How does Ellie overcome being bullied?
  5. Is the way some of the doctors treat Ellie in this book respectful or fair? What about strangers?
  6. Why do you think people bully Ellie? What reasoning might they have to belittle her?

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