Heavy Medal Mock Newbery Finalist: STARFISH by Lisa Fipps
Introduction by Heavy Medal Award Committee member Aryssa Damon.
Hearts will be broken, tears will be shed, and lives will be changed through Lisa Fipps’ incredible novel in verse, STARFISH. Perfect for the moment we are living in, but resonating with anyone who has ever been told how different or imperfect they were, STARFISH guts you.
STARFISH is a novel in verse about Ellie—and saying her name is very important, because most people in her life call her Splash or Whale. Ellie’s not ashamed of being fat, she is abhorred by how people treat her because she is fat—and the reader will be too. As Fipps points out in her author’s note, while Ellie’s story may be fictional, it is rooted in the real bullying that so many fat kids have experienced in their daily lives. When Ellie’s new school year starts with her best friend moving away and a therapist coming into her life, she doesn’t see how it could be much worse. The school year proves brutal for Ellie, and therapy ends up being a surprising bright side for her as she learns the power of her own voice and how to take up the space she deserves. For Ellie, that not only means learning to stand up to her bullies at school, but the ones in her own home as well.
This is a truly heart-opening read, and will resonate with young readers and their parents alike. No one deserves to be tormented—and that’s what is happening to Ellie—for who they are. No one deserves a home that does not feel safe. Fipp’s verse—as written by Ellie—is full of the heart of a middle grade reader, but also the heavy weight she’s had to bear. As Ellie finds her voice, and learns to take up space, the verse becomes even more imperative to the reader as a way to connect with Ellie and also to let her flow through them, filling them with the kind of empathy few other books this year have been able to imbue.
Lines like, “It’s unknown how many students’ lives librarians have saved by welcoming loners at lunch” [p 31] give that relatable, tender moment, and then lines like, “As I look over it, I realize I’ve been preparing for a trial, offering up a defense of why I should be loved. I toss it in the trash” [p 237] cut the reader off at the knees, sending them tumbling into Ellie’s emotions.
STARFISH is Lisa Fipps’ debut novel, and while I am certain she has a bright career ahead of her, even if this was the only piece we ever saw from her, it would feel like a gift.
Heavy Medal Award Committee members and others are now invited to discuss this book further in the Comments section below. Please start with positive observations first; stick to positives until at least three comments have been posted or we reach 1:00 pm EST. Let the Mock Newbery discussion begin!
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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