Truths and Mirrors – Guest Post for Diversity in YA.
Updated: Aug 29
Starfish is a book about family, and identity, and finding hope in a world that often makes it difficult. But it’s also a story about how necessary the truth can be.
I know what it feels like to be afraid to tell your story, and what it feels like to keep your fears bottled up in your heart. I know how lonely it can be to be surrounded by people who see you, but don’t really see you. And I know what it feels like to be worried that after finding the courage to open up to people, there’s still the risk that they might not believe you.
My hope is that people will read Kiko’s story and feel like someone knows what they’re going through—what they’ve been through. I hope they feel more understood—more hopeful. And I hope they feel like they’re not so alone in the world, and that there’s someone else out there who “gets it” too.
A reader once wrote to tell me how Starfish helped them to heal, and that they hoped writing it had helped me to heal, too.
I stared at those words for a long time, wondering how they could possibly know something about me without knowing my own story.
But then I understood: I didn’t have to tell them. They just knew, the way I did. And maybe when you share experiences—when you see a mirror reflecting your story—you recognize the place it must come from.
And I guess even though I wrote this book to help readers feel seen, it allowed some people to see a part of me, too. I’ll never be able to find the right words to explain what that felt like, but maybe I won’t have to. Maybe the people who read Starfish—the people who need this book the most—will know exactly what it means to have a mirror. Maybe they’ll understand what it means to have someone know your truth.
I know there will be people who might not understand this story. Maybe they won’t understand Kiko’s social anxiety, or what it means to feel too Asian or too white but also never enough of either. They might not have experienced emotional abuse from a loved one. Or maybe they won’t think Kiko’s story fits into their own idea of realistic, because it isn’t a mirror of their own experiences.
But I didn’t write this story for the people who need to be convinced.
I wrote it for the people who needed to see their own experiences brought to life. I wrote it to give them a voice—a mirror. I wrote it for the people who already know.
Sometimes villains exist in quiet, unsuspecting places. Sometimes they’re loud. Sometimes they live inside you, and sometimes they live in your reflection. And sometimes they exist in the memories and secrets you live with every day.
If you live with anxiety or you’re a survivor of abuse, you don’t have to explain anything to me. I don’t need to be convinced what the villains in your world look like. I don’t need you to make me understand why they’re real.
I believe you. Your story is believable.
I hope you find a friend in Kiko. I hope Starfish helps you to heal.
And most of all, I hope you feel seen.
Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish (9/26/17, Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) and Summer Bird Blue (Fall 2018). She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.