"Starfish" by Lisa Fipps (Nancy Paulsen Books, March 9, 2021), ages 10 and older, 256 pages, $16.99.
STORY: In this upsetting, heartening story told in free verse, we meet a girl who learns to stand up for herself — because she has allies who help her see that she is worthy.
Ellie is a 12-year-old who is bullied for being fat by everyone except her best friend, her dad and a few teachers. When we meet her, the best friend is moving away, and Ellie dreads going back to school alone. She will be tormented everywhere except in the library.
The taunting started with her brother and sister, at her fifth birthday party. It was a pool party. Wearing her swimsuit with happy whales on it, little Ellie ran to the edge and cannonballed in. Her siblings promptly nicknamed her "Splash" and "Whale." They encouraged schoolmates to join in. She became one of those children other kids pick on.
The meanest of the bullies, though, is her panicked mother, who grew up with fat siblings. Freaked out by her daughter's body, Mom decides Ellie will have bariatric surgery. At 12. Behind Dad's back.
Ultimately, the mom in this story isn’t the monster she might seem. Also, Ellie builds relationships with a good therapist and the new girl next door, whose family is not obsessed with size. The child learns that all these other people like her for who she is.
She learns to defend herself without becoming a bully herself.
Each chapter is brief, being one incident described in easily understood poetry, so although this book has 256 pages, it is a quick read.
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