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

Every once in a while I have the privilege of reading a book that knocks the feelings right out of me. You know you’re reading an incredible book when you feel angry, sad and happy all at the same time. Starfish by Lisa Fipps follows 11-year-old Ellie, a girl who is bullied because of her weight. As an overweight child myself, this story really hit me in the chest.

Children learn what they live. At a very young age Ellie learns that her body is something to be ashamed of. She was only four years old when she reaches across the table for an oatmeal raisin cookie. Her mother quickly slaps it out of her hand and announces: “You.Are.Fat.” For then on, her mother defines Ellie by her weight. Everything Ellie does is cycled back to her size. She is so fixated on Ellie’s weight that she fails to recognize her for the bright, beautiful girl that she is. Fortunately, not everyone views Ellie through a negative lens. Catalina, the new neighbor next door, instantly connects with Ellie and her family welcomes her with open arms. Ellie finds the love she never felt in her own home. Feeling confident for the first time she begins to confront her bullies and recognize her own self-worth. It starts with baby steps but Ellie learns to embrace herself as a person who deserves kindness and respect.

Starfish is written in free verse which gives Ellie a voice full of pain and hope. Everywhere she goes she’s met with sneers, sighs and snide remarks. It is almost if people don’t see Ellie has a person. They only see her size and somehow this gives them a license to be cruel. It is a jarring expression of how bullies operate. Ellie explains how she’s trapped in a never-ending cycle. She’s an overweight kid. People hurt her feelings. She eats to bury the shame. People hurt her more. The cycle continues. You can’t shame someone thin. Ellie can’t possibly be physically healthy if her mental health is in tatters.

It’s only when Ellie starts to push back against her bullies that the reader gets a description of her appearance. Until then Ellie is only described in terms of her size. She is a vibrant girl with long dark hair. She has a flair for writing and loves to read. She is beautiful. Author Lisa Fipps wrote the story based on her own childhood. She wanted to reach young readers who are getting up every morning and dealing with the same issues that she experienced. Indeed, it is a book I wish I had when growing up.

— Lesley L.