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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.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published March 9, 2021

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Lisa Fipps

1 book205 followers

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5 stars
11,624 (61%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,607 reviews
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
3,943 reviews2,171 followers
January 21, 2023
***Made it to TOP 10 favourites of 2021***

Yes, no one understands you. Not even your family.

Let me cry tonight.

I feel you, girl. I feel you.

This book is one classic example of how things start from our own families. The reason why we let people bully us, why we accept less than what we should, why we lack confidence and why we ultimately end up hating ourselves and doing the same to others that we don't even know.

The mother. Yes, it's almost always the women in our lives that make our lives hell. I am telling you it's not always the men, the boys or the strangers. The way we are being judged right from the moment we wake up.

She's your daughter for god's sake! Let her learn things her own way. Don't destroy her.

It's because you do it to your daughter that gives power to your other children, the neighbours, the friends, the relatives and even the strangers to judge her, bully her, make mean comments, pass casual remarks, shaming her whenever they want.

And you say she needs therapy! Nothing will help unless you stop being too critical and judgemental towards your child. She's growing up. Know this first. It's the crucial time you let her build a strong character for herself.

(You know the best books I read where mothers/fathers/parents give their best to their daughters in bringing them up are Becoming by Michelle Obama, I'm Malala, Unfinished by Priyanka Chopra.)

See the difference for yourself. No parenting guide book will help you like these books.

Parents in the name of doing the best for the best for their kids actually do more harm than they know. Speaking from personal experience. And it's still ongoing.

So yes, books like this are triggering yet at the same time more eye-opening for me.

Hail you, girl.

Hail author!

The writing is flawless.

The characters are so real.

It's almost personal!

The true friendship the main character has. We all deserve that.

And we women should always empower each other.

Starting from our own families.

Stop shaming us for all the possible "flaws" you see in our weight, appearance, style, habits, work, cooking and EVERYTHING else. We aren't the flaws
Profile Image for Kelsey (munnyreads).
76 reviews5,671 followers
May 12, 2021
I am in tears. This shows the worst in people, but also the very best. Starfish is a middle grade novel written in verse that highlights a child’s navigation of self-worth, standing up for yourself, and claiming your right to take up space in the world. Beautiful.
Profile Image for Susan's Reviews.
1,039 reviews463 followers
January 7, 2022
In her acknowledgement, the author admits that many of the insults and abuse hurled at young Ellie did in fact happen to her. How heartbreaking that was to read, because, just as the author said in her acknowledgement, some of those scenes were a bit over the top.

I was able to empathize with Ellie, because I have always been overweight to some degree or another (- except for a couple of decades when I practically lived in the gym.) In my defense, being "chubby" was approved of in my culture. During the mid 50's and 60's, Tuberculosis was rampant all over the world, and becoming dangerously underweight was often a side effect of this silent killer of a disease. I grew up believing that being overweight was a GOOD THING, until, that is, I went to high school, and found out that no, you had to be cadaverous to be acceptable. Whatever!!!

"Obesity" - how I hate that word. It should be abolished! Seriously: I boycott all types of magazines showing skeletal models wearing ridiculous fashions for stick figures. I cancelled my TV cable for the same reason. Why are actors and models starving themselves for an impossible ideal? But then why are so many of us eating our way to cardiac arrest? We humans: we still haven't figured ourselves out, have we?

At least Ellie manages to find some solutions for herself and reminds us, in her own inimitable words, that "no matter what our size, we all have a place in this world." Highly recommended. Very well written.
Profile Image for Anniek.
1,653 reviews617 followers
March 24, 2021
I kind of regret reading this. Since I'm fat myself, I was hoping for an empowering, relatable reading experience. Instead it was a horrible reading experience as I felt like the author went out of their way to include as much triggering material as possible, with hardly anything to balance it out. A book like this is supposed to be empowering and yet here I am, with worse body image issues than I had before. And this is a middlegrade too, how is this safe to read for kids?

My issue isn't necessarily with the fatphobic content, because I know that's realistic for a lot of people. The thing is though, for a book to not be damaging, it needs to have a good balance. And while the main character did get support from a few characters, I don't feel like the horrible abuse she faced from her mother especially was handled enough. Quite honestly, I feel like the only good outcome for this would have been for her dad to divorce her mum and get full custody and she'd never have to see her mother again. I don't see potential for their relationship recovering from this, I think that would damage the MC further. So I really don't feel like the mum was challenged enough. I also don't feel like she actually went through that much learning and changed enough.

I think mainly this book was too short to achieve anything actually meaningful. I feel like it ended before it had done what it set out to do, which is challenge fatphobia and provide an empowering narrative. I wanted to see accountability and most of all I wanted to see the main character grow into herself more. Throughout the book, we don't actually get to know her outside of being a fat girl. And this is intentional - she says in therapy that people focus on her being fat so much that she doesn't know who she is as a person outside of that. I just wish more of her growth could have been focused on finding out things about herself.

As it is, I can't give this book more than 2 stars, as it was a damaging reading experience for me and I don't think it lived up to its potential or achieved what it meant to do.
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,394 reviews7,265 followers
May 12, 2021
No matter what others say or do, embrace what makes you, you.

Since I’m me let’s go ahead and start with the negatives . . . .

Yeah yeah yeah.

Here it is: I am not a big fan of stories written in verse.

Good news is, that’s the only negative thing I have to say. I don’t pick up a lot of middle-grade stuff, but if I were a teacher Starfish would be mandatory reading (along with Wonder). This little book did not pull the punches with regard to the feelings that come from being bullied (both outside of the house and inside of the house) simply for looking different. Bullies should read it because they are bullies and they need to see what their words and actions can do to a person and fat kids (and yes I use the word fat. I am fat. I embrace it.) should read it to help find their voice and rid themselves of the shame they should never feel about something so superficial as looks. And of course it ends with a lovely message . . . .

I deserve to be seen.
To be noticed.
To be heard.
To be treated like a human.

I starfish.
There’s plenty of room
one of us
in the world.

This book is specifically geared toward children dealing with body image issues, but those words above could be about anyone . . . .

Profile Image for Mallory.
982 reviews52 followers
March 12, 2021
I am not going to lie...this book had me ugly crying. It brought back a lot of memories I’d probably rather forget of my own childhood, body issues, and bullying. But I loved the growth Ellie went through to claim her space through this story. And I think this story would really speak to everyone even those who didn’t have quite as similar experiences because everyone knows what it feels like to not fit in. And the image of starfishing to claim the space that is already deserved was so beautiful and simple I can’t believe I’d never thought of that before. I loved the examination of bullying and how to defend without attacking. It broke my heart all of the pain Ellie had been hiding from everyone in her life and I cheered to see her learn to express it. I loved the way the story was told through free verse. The lyrical style created such a unique and believable voice for Ellie. This is a debut story but I definitely hope it does not stay Lisa Fipps’ only story!
Profile Image for Claude's Bookzone.
1,461 reviews184 followers
December 9, 2021

Well this beautifully written middle-school verse novel was both hurtful and healing.

"Fat Girl Rules
I learned
at five:
No cannonballs.
No splashing.
No making waves.
You don't deserve
to be seen or heard,
to take up room,
to be noticed.
Make yourself small."

Jeepers there were some difficult moments in this book and Lisa doesn't pull any punches during the sustained bullying campaign against our main character, Ellie. The worst aspect was the shameful behaviour of her mother. I wanted to reach through the pages of this book, grab her and...ummm...politely suggest she take a positive parenting course. *crickets chirping*
This novel can be quite confronting so I would probably let potential readers know to discuss anything that makes them uncomfortable with the nearest trusted adult if they feel upset by the content.

And a quote from the book for my fellow librarians:

I breathe in the smell,
hungry to read the words.
"You'll like this one," she says.
"I've been looking forward to seeing you
so you could check it out."
She's the first person to smile at me today.
The first to make me feel wanted.
I blink back tears.
It's unknown how many students' lives
librarians have saved
by welcoming loners at lunch."

I'm not crying. You are!
Profile Image for Danielle.
Author 2 books222 followers
May 9, 2021
One of the many things I love about this novel is how it takes on a mother-child relationship that is fraught and portrays a misguided, abusive parent truthfully.

"It's unknown how many students' lives librarians have saved by welcoming loners at lunch." (p.31)

"Could it be Mom's thinking that needs fixing and not me?" (p.87)

"DNA doesn't make you family. Love does. Actions do." (p.99)

"I realize I've been starfishing—starting to claim my right to take up space in this place." (p.116)

Profile Image for Christy.
3,711 reviews31.6k followers
December 2, 2021
4 stars

I feel like I say this about so many middle grade books, but this is such an important book for young people to read. It made me sad, it made me mad, and yet it was still enjoyable. My hope is that any young person who picks this book up and reads it will think twice about the things they say and how they treat people who are different than them x

Audio book source: Libby
Story Rating: 4 stars
Narrator: Jenna Lamia
Narration Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Contemporary/Middle Grade
Length: 3h 28m

Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,010 reviews104 followers
July 31, 2021
Please note that my rather negative reading reaction to Lisa Fipps’ 2021 novel in verse Starfish seems to be rather the minority, but sorry, in particular on an emotional level, I have not really enjoyed the presented narrative, I have found Starfish extremely painful and majorly uncomfortable.

For yes, I have had major issues with my own body weight and self esteem since childhood, and quite frankly, what in Starfish Lisa Fipps describes her first person narrator (Ellie) as having to endure and face with regard to bullying and fat shaming from many of her peers (at school), from her teachers, from her immediate family and in particular from her utterly putrid and disgusting absolute BITCH of a mother (and sorry, I will NOT be apologising for using that word) has felt absolutely, totally realistic and relatable but also obviously, woefully and horribly as hitting much much too close to home for me, for my personal reading comfort level. And honestly, the vast amount of massively traumatic “fat girl” triggers I have encountered in Starfish and that in my humble opinion, Lisa Fipps does seem to go more than a trifle overboard and is rather deliberately piling it on so to speak, well, for and to me, instead of Starfish feeling and reading in any manner textually empowering and showing Ellie’s fortitude and bravery in the face of adversity (although this also does make somewhat of an appearance at times), really and truly, Fipps’ narrative, Ellie’s story, her life, her musings, what she has to face with regard to her body weight and fat shaming constantly and daily, this just brings huge tears of rage and anger to my eyes, it makes me want to scream, to hide away, and also unfortunately that I do want to, that I desire to relentlessly torment and torture Ellie’s mother, her siblings, her school nemeses the way they have been and are disrespecting, bullying and shaming Ellie.

And after having encountered Ellie’s mother and seeing just how much of an emotional and verbally abusive utterly vile MONSTROSITY she is (and that throughout the story, that throughout Starfish Ellie’s mother never seems to grow, that she never seems to understand how she is verbally abusing and neglecting her daughter, that there are things more important than body weight and that her daughter also deserves to be loved and appreciated unconditionally), I guess I was kind of hoping for Starfish to conclude with Ellie’s father (who is much more understanding towards his daughter) filing for divorce and for sole custody of Ellie (so that Ellie would be permanently removed from her mother’s dysfunction and toxicity), and that this does not happen, that Ellie’s mother is basically at the end of Starfish pretty much the same nasty ignoramus as when the novel starts (although Ellie is after some talk therapy much better able to deal with and also to ignore her mother), while this is perhaps realistic, on a personal and emotional level (and because I also do find Lisa Fipps’ novel in verse format distracting, choppy and constantly changing points of view), I really cannot say that my reading experience with Starfish has been enjoyable or in any way pleasant enough for more than a two star rating.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,379 reviews11.7k followers
February 3, 2022
Printz Honor 2022

I am going to leave this unrated because while this story is based on the author's personal experience, I found this book to be full of relentless bullying and fat shaming to the point of it being unhelpful and triggering, especially considering this is geared towards younger readers. And realistically, a couple of months of therapy just won't fix everything, certainly not years of parental bullying. The first thing that should have happened was Ellie's dad getting a divorce. He was the biggest doormat and I blame him for Ellie's emotional and physical abuse more than anybody else in this book. The mom can rot in hell. A shocking absence of consequences for any abuser in this book, at school or home.

As far as this being a Printz honoree, I found the verse quality and the content akin to that in Ellen Hopkins' works. The voice didn't strike me as that belonging to an 11-year old either. The book was lacking in nuance I expect from a literary award winner.

Your mileage may vary, obviously.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Jorgensen.
Author 4 books102 followers
December 17, 2021
I started to see this book everywhere on social media. It was nominated on the Goodreads best book of the year lists. Middle grade, YA, novel in verse. First time author. I read it quickly and felt unsettled the entire time...even after.

The protagonist, a morbidly obese sixth grade girl, deals with verbal abuse from her mother, classmates and others, focused on her obesity. Troubling is how I felt reading this book; troubling is how I felt about how young people navigate comments about their weight or bodies, mostly alone. But also troubling is how I felt as I realized we little we do to help youth understand nutrition.

In addition to a therapist, I wanted Ellie to see a wellness or licensed nutritionist/coach to work on lifelong habits of health. I have transformed my body and know the work it takes, both physically and mentally. I kept coming back to the solutions everyone around Ellie avoided. To what could have been done for Ellie but wasn't. To why our country continues to suffer from obesity.

In the text, Ellie seemed a bit too old, too mature. I teach high school juniors and seniors and they don't have the wit or insight of Ellie. I'm also not sure the verse was necessary.
Profile Image for Ashlie Elizabeth.
181 reviews19 followers
November 22, 2020
I read this entire galley in a single sitting and finished with tears pouring down my cheeks. This book is blunt and beautiful. There are literally a dozen people I want to buy copies for. I love the concept that this book was originally going to be for a YA audience until it was realized that a middle grade book would catch young people as their identities were developing and they needed the message the most.

Ellie fat and relentlessly bullied for her size. Her biggest tormentor? Her mother. With the help of a talk therapist, Ellie realizes she does not deserve this treatment (an extremely difficult first step) and begins to stand up for herself.

I love that this is not a linear process. Some ways of defending feel good. Some don't. Some people apologize and aren't forgiven immediately. There is more than one fat character (even though that part is a little vague). It's brutal to read this, especially if you are a fat person who has dealt with some of these comments and actions. HOWEVER, there is catharsis here. I wish I had read it younger.
Profile Image for Heather~ Nature.books.and.coffee.
587 reviews149 followers
March 19, 2021
Listened to this on audiobook and enjoyed it! I felt so bad for what Ellie went through. Being bullied for her weight, and pressured by her own mother to lose weight. That she wasn't ok just the way she was! It's sad that this was so real, and there is such unkindness in this world. I feel like this should be read by all middle grade kids!
Profile Image for Gary Anderson.
Author 1 book83 followers
April 6, 2021
In Starfish (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2021), the middle grade novel-in-verse from debut author Lisa Fipps, Ellie is bullied about her weight both at home and at school. Of course, it bothers Ellie—especially her mother’s hurtful comments—but her spirited self-talk helps her get through each day, along with support from her dad, her new friend Catalina, and Catalina’s family.

Bullying books are plentiful in young adult literature, and some of the bullying tropes have sadly become trite, but the episodes in Starfish are horrifyingly fresh and authentic, and it’s no wonder. In her “Author’s Note,” Lisa Fipps tells us that “a variation of every single mean thing people said or did to Ellie happened to me when I was a child.”

Much of the impact of Starfish comes from things that people say to each other. Ellie talks not only to herself, but also to her friends, family, therapist, and tormentors. Fipps effectively uses the novel-in-verse format to heighten the effect of the words these characters choose to torment, confront, question, and comfort each other.

Among Ellie’s supporters is her school librarian. I especially love Ellie’s offhand librarian tribute: “It’s unknown how many students’ lives / librarians have saved / by welcoming loners at lunch.” There is also something satisfying about Ellie confronting and fighting back against her bullies, although those episodes carefully convey how revenge differs from self-defense.

Ellie’s voice makes Starfish an illuminating, important, insightful book for young readers who may see themselves or their classmates in her story. Although Ellie’s situation involves her weight, Starfish is really about how each person deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.

This review appeared in slightly different form on my What's Not Wrong? blog.
Profile Image for Kate Olson.
2,090 reviews727 followers
August 14, 2021
This book was so intensely triggering and traumatic for me as a mother, educator and former child. The fat phobia was so intense and so brutal that I’m hesitant to want to actually give it to children, although I fully understand why the book exists and that it’s from the author’s experience. I want the true audience for this book to be teachers and parents, because the child abuse and educator neglect that occurred within this story is criminal. I bought this back in June and was incredibly hesitant to read it since I knew the subject matter. Now that I have, I know I was right to be hesitant ~ it hurt my soul to read it. Any parent who has ever even THOUGHT about “dealing with” their child’s weight needs to read this book. Any parent who lets siblings bully siblings needs to read this book. And any teacher who allows bullying like this to go on needs to read this book.

ETA: I started with 5 stars for this review then went to 2 and am now settling at not starring it at all (unrated) because I can tell that my emotional response impedes my ability to rate it for anyone else. I don’t want to harm the author (the book is based on her lived experience) and so many adults have told me they wish they had had this book as a kid. My reaction is about my own life and experiences, and while I viscerally feel that the consequences for the abuse and bullying in the story were nowhere near strong enough and that this could be harmful to readers, I am not sure why so few adults feel the same? With all that confusion I don’t feel comfortable rating this book. As a librarian, mother, and educator I do hope that adults discuss this book with kids who read it, the same as I hope that with any book dealing with child abuse. I can’t safely read anything about abuse, and I get anxious thinking about kids being unsupported with this content, but also know it’s not my place to build a collection based on my own feelings. This book will be in my library and I will do my very best to be available to students as they read it.
Profile Image for Cynthia.
712 reviews114 followers
April 2, 2021
Some books are just therapy. They’re the books you needed as a kid. They’re the books you need right now.

Giving Starfish five stars feels like a disservice to the powerful piece of fiction that it is. Since I operate on a one to five star scale, I suppose I’m stuck, but this book deserves more than that. It is officially my favorite book of 2021 and is now standing alongside A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness as my favorite of all time.

In this middle grade novel written in free verse, I had the pleasure of getting to know Ellie, an eleven year old who loves to write and swim and who has been bullied for her weight for years. The fat shaming doesn’t just happen at school. In her own home, her only ally is her dad, and she is constantly made to feel ashamed for her size. She cannot even pick up healthy food without being criticized.

I related hardcore to this book. I won’t go into my personal details, but I will say that so much of what Ellie expressed made sense to me and conjured a lot of emotion.

Lisa Fipps writes with eloquence, while still capturing the voice of a young, insecure girl perfectly. Just about every short chapter made me pause to reflect or catch my breath. Ellie’s story is heartbreaking, but it’s also a story of personal growth and self-acceptance. We, as the readers, learn alongside Ellie about how our own words can hurt, along with how we can defend ourselves in healthy ways. It’s really amazing what Fipps managed to do with this novel and I really hope that she will grace the world with more of her work in the future.

I do believe that many children can find meaning in this story, but there are also adults who have never learned their own value. They can benefit from its beauty as well. While I’d like to believe that some bullies could read this and reconsider the impact of their words, I know that won’t likely be true for most of them. But if the rest of us stand firm in our right to take up space, maybe they won’t have as many words to fling at us.

There is no doubt that Lisa Fipps put her whole heart into this story. If you’ve ever been wounded by the cruelty of others, I know you’ll find pieces of your own heart reflected within these pages.

Profile Image for Afoma (Reading Middle Grade).
510 reviews264 followers
March 9, 2021
Starfish is a powerful, fat-positive middle grade verse novel about a girl who is learning that she deserves to take up space. This realistic story is important for educators, parents, and kids alike and urges all to examine their biases toward fat people. It’s also a sweet book about friendship, sisterhood, swimming, summer, and self-acceptance.

Read my full review on my blog.

Thanks to the publisher for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Ms. B.
2,797 reviews35 followers
July 10, 2021
4.5 - 4.75 stars, this is a middle grade novel that the adults in their lives will want to read too. Don't be the mother in this story about eleven year-old Ellie, a fat tween who deals with bullying and belittling at school and at home.
Debut author Lisa Fipps is a voice that we all need to hear.
Profile Image for Krista.
391 reviews994 followers
March 15, 2022
This book was worth ALL the hype it received. What an important story. I was infuriated, heart warmed, and just wanted to give this amazing girl a hug and tell her she's brave and strong and beautiful. I was a little bummed that it didn't seem like there were more teachers willing to get involved with the bullying at school, and felt like the psychologist dad may have had a few more tools he could have used at home, but other that those two things this book was amazing. 5 easy stars and I'm so glad I read it.
Profile Image for Melany.
396 reviews56 followers
December 1, 2022
Wow. This young adult book truly hit home for me. I was always the chubby girl growing up and I wish pre-teen me would've been able to read this book back then. It was so eye opening, triggering and touching at the same time. I absolutely loved the resilience of the main character. Such a beautiful story in the end, not an easy subject to cover. Truly meant alot to the memories I had from childhood.
Profile Image for Robin.
287 reviews1 follower
March 3, 2021
This book is gutting and uplifting and empowering. I devoured it. I love the messages in here about loving yourself, sticking up for yourself and showing kindness. I want to buy five thousand more copies and give them to everyone who has ever felt like they don't matter because of their size.
Profile Image for TL .
1,765 reviews35 followers
March 17, 2021
Wow.. everyone needs to read this.
Powerful and beautiful.

The Authors dedication and afterword was wonderful too.
Definitely want a copy for my shelves <3
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 27 books5,589 followers
September 8, 2022
Heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful novel in verse about a young girl finding her voice. The bullying that Ellie endures, especially at the hands of her mother and brother, made me so angry and so sad, but I loved Ellie and her friends, and I loved how she began her journey to loving herself and standing up for herself!

Warning, I got into bed and picked it off the bedside table, thinking I would read a couple of pages, and the next thing I knew I was sighing over the author's acknowledgments and blowing my nose! Plan to read it in one sitting!
Profile Image for Amanda M (The Curly Reader).
312 reviews527 followers
January 19, 2022
This book is simply remarkable. I appreciated how relatable Ellie was. I also greatly appreciated the therapy representation. I will say I found it unbelievable that her psychiatrist dad hadn't keyed in on the abuse she was suffering at the hand of her mother. But that aside loved Ellie's story and the voice and space she found for herself.
Profile Image for DaNae.
1,298 reviews74 followers
June 22, 2021
I was looking forward to this book. It is fine, I won't hesitate to hand it to students. I found the moments of therapy most constructive. In fact this book is so heavy on explaining it forgets to create genuine characterizations. The voice is a 35-year-old woman trying to pass herself off as a 6th grader. Ellie is so evolved in her thinking, she is ready to skip middle-school and join Twitter to explain the social order of a fat girl. (I have yet to meet a sixth-grader this self-aware, and I know some pretty brilliant 6th graders.)
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