Starfish

by Lisa Fipps (Author)

Reading Level: 6th — 7th Grade

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.


Publishers Weekly

Starred Review

Told in verse, this affirming representation of fatness stars Ellie Montgomery-Hofstein, 11, who, to avoid the bullying she's endured since the age of five, lives by the Fat Girl Rules--the unspoken rules one learns "when you break them--/ and suffer/ the consequences." Finding solace from taunts and judgment in her fenced-in backyard's pool, Ellie, who is half-Christian, half-Jewish, and presumed white, enjoys sprawling in the water like a starfish, weightless and free. When her best friend Viv moves away, Ellie feels alone at her Dallas, Tex., school, but she soon forms a tentative bond with her new neighbor, Catalina Rodriguez, whose boisterous, loving Mexican family makes her feel accepted for who she is. With support from new friends, her father, and a therapist who acknowledges her feelings and helps her find her voice, Ellie finds the strength to stand up to her bullies, including her mother, who pressures Ellie to undergo bariatric surgery, and verbally abusive older siblings. Fipps's use of verse is as effective as it is fitting; Ellie dreams of becoming a storyteller and poet "to help people feel what it's like/ to live in/ someone else's skin." A triumphant and poignantly drawn journey toward self-acceptance and self-advocacy. Ages 10-up. Agent: Liza Fleissig, Liza Royce Agency. (Mar.)

Copyright 2021 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

Gr 5 Up--A charming novel in verse about a girl struggling with self-worth. Ellie is a middle school girl who is bullied every day for her weight. Whether it comes from classmates, siblings, or even her mother, Ellie is constantly bombarded with comments about her size. Luckily, her friends help keep her head up most of the time. When her best friend Viv moves away, a new friend, Catalina, fits right into her place. Ellie's dad is also an ally; he stands up to Ellie's mom and decides to take Ellie to a therapist. With the help of Dr. Wood, Ellie learns how to feel comfortable in her own skin. Once readers start, it will be difficult for them to put this book down. Ellie's story is heartbreaking and raw at times, and Fipps paints a realistic picture of bullying in a world that equates thinness with beauty. Ellie's own family, except for her dad, also buy into that ideal, calling her "Splash," making fun of her, and cataloguing everything she eats. True joy comes in watching Ellie gain confidence in herself and standing up to the bullies, even when they're family. The race of most characters is not mentioned. Catalina and her family are Mexican American. VERDICT A must-have for libraries serving teens and tweens.--Lisa Buffi, Sterling M.S., VA

Copyright 2021 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

* "Fipps bursts onto the middle-grade scene with her debut, a verse novel that shines because of Ellie's keen and emotionally striking observations. As she draws readers in with her smart and succinct voice, Ellie navigates the difficult map of knowing she deserves better treatment while struggling with the conflict that's necessary to achieve it. Fipps hands her young narrator several difficult life lessons, including how to self-advocate, how not to internalization of the words of others, and what it means to defend yourself. Ellie's story will delight readers who long to see an impassioned young woman seize an unapologetic victory."—Booklist, starred review

* "Fipps' verse is skillful and rooted in emotional reality. The text places readers in Ellie's shoes, showing how she is attacked in many spaces—including by strangers on public transit—while clearly asserting that it's other people who need to change. . . . Make room in your heart for this cathartic novel"—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* "Affirming representation of fatness. . . . Fipps's use of verse is as effective as it is fitting; Ellie dreams of becoming a storyteller and poet 'to help people feel what it's like/ to live in/ someone else's skin.' A triumphant and poignantly drawn journey toward self-acceptance and self-advocacy."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

* "A charming novel in verse about a girl struggling with self-worth. . . . Once readers start, it will be difficult for them to put this book down. Ellie's story is heartbreaking and raw at times, and Fipps paints a realistic picture of bullying in a world that equates thinness with beauty. . . . True joy comes in watching Ellie gain confidence in herself and standing up to the bullies, even when they're family. . . . A must-have for libraries serving teens and tweens."—School Library Journal, starred review

"In this free-verse novel, Fipps is laceratingly authentic about the kind of 'teasing' and 'help' that Ellie is constantly subject to, and the family dynamic, wherein her father dislikes her mother's treatment but rarely intervenes, is sadly believable. . . The intense focus mirrors a lot of experience, and readers will be glad to see Ellie eventually 'starfishing—starting to claim my right to take up space.'"—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Readers will rejoice as Ellie gains the strength to confront bullies with intelligence and honesty, and refuses to allow other people's cruelty to shape her life."—Padma Venkatraman, award-winning author of The Bridge Home

"This is a big beautiful book about a big beautiful girl. Meet Ellie, who looks in the mirror and sees someone lovable. Now, if only the rest of the world (and especially her own mother and brother) could see what Ellie sees. This is a story about the colossal cruelty that's hurled at her because of her weight, and how, with colossal strength, Ellie manages to triumph. An honest, heartbreaking, hilarious novel-in-verse from a debut author with a delicious voice."—Sonya Sones, author of What My Mother Doesn't Know

"Lisa Fipps's spot-on verse gives Ellie a wrenchingly real voice that sings with humor, pain, and hope. Prepare yourself: Once you read this book, your heart will never be the same." —K. A. Holt, author of House Arrest

LOVE LOVE LOVE

Edit Your Review

This is a guide to show you how to love yourself. People always show their true colors, and it is important to know who your people are!

Lisa Fipps
Lisa Fipps is a library marketing manager. Starfish is her debut novel. She lives in Kokomo, Indiana.
Classification
Fiction
ISBN-13
9781984814500
Lexile Measure
N/A
Guided Reading Level
N/A
Publication date
March 20, 2021
Series
-
Printz Award
Honor Book 2022
ALSC Notable Children's Book
Selection 2022

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