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Fipps, Lisa

Paperback, 256 pages

A Printz Honor winner!

Ellie is tired of being fat-shamed and does something about it in this poignant debut novel-in-verse.

Cover may vary.

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.


“In her debut novel, Starfish, Lisa Fipps confronts diet culture and fat phobia head-on. . . . The book reads as if Ellie herself is writing these poems, which are accessible and engaging.” The New York Times Book Review **

“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

“This beautiful, heartbreaking, and powerful novel-in-verse would pair well with media literacy lessons on body imagery, bullying, and victim shaming. The story is very engaging and readers will not want to put it down. School guidance counselors, school psychologists, and social workers will appreciate the realistic portrayal of Ellie’s therapist and the benefits of therapy for children and adults.”— School Library Connection

“Ellie’s simple and powerful free-verse poems intensify her emotional turmoil and smoothly destroy stereotypes (‘They think I’m unhappy / because I’m fat. / The truth is, / I’m unhappy because / they bully me / about being fat’). Her strength in accepting herself and learning to defy her Fat Girl Rules is an inspiring reminder to all readers that they deserve to ‘take up space.’”— Horn Book

“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

About the Author

Lisa Fipps is a graduate of Ball State University, award-winning former journalist, current director of marketing for a public library (where she won the Sara Laughlin marketing award), and an author of middle-grade books. Starfish is her debut novel. She lives in Kokomo, Indiana.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


I step down into the pool.
The water is bathwater warm
but feels cool
compared to the blisteringly hot air.
Kick. Gliiiiiiide.
Stroke. Gliiiiiiide.
Side to side
and back again.
Dive under the surface.
Soar to the top.
Arch my back.
Flip. Flop.
As soon as I slip into the pool,
I am weightless.
For just a while.


Eliana Elizabeth Montgomery-Hofstein.
That’s my name.

My bestie, Viv,
and my parents call me
Ellie or El.

But most people call me Splash

or some synonym for whale.

Cannonball into a pool,
drenching everyone,
and wear a whale swimsuit
to your Under the Sea birthday party
when you’re a chubby kid
who grows up to be a fat tween
and no one will ever let you live it down.



Now, whenever I swim,
I use the steps to ease into the water,
careful not to make waves,
because the memory
of my pool party plays
in my head like a video on a loop.

It was my fifth birthday.
I wanted to be the first one in, so
I ran to the edge and
leapt into the air and
tucked my knees into my chest.

Water sprayed up
as I sank down.
I bobbed to the surface,
expecting cheers for
the splashiest cannonball ever.

That didn’t happen.

“Splash spawned a tsunami!”
my sister, Anaïs, shouted.
“She almost emptied the pool,”
my brother, Liam, chimed in.
I dove under,
drowning my tears.

I wish I could tell everyone
how they made me feel that day—
deeply sad.

But every time I try to stand up for myself,
the words get stuck in my throat
like a giant glob of peanut butter.

Besides, if they even listened,
they’d just snap back,
“If you don’t like being teased,
lose weight.”


Some girls my age fill
diaries with dreams and
private thoughts.

Mine has a list of
Fat Girl Rules.

You find out
what these unspoken rules are
when you break them—
and suffer
the consequences.

Fat Girl Rules
I learned
at five:
No cannonballs.
No splashing.
No making waves.

You don’t deserve
to be seen or heard,
to take up room,
to be noticed.

Make yourself small.


The first Fat Girl Rule
you learn hurts the most,
a startling, scorpion-stinging soul slap.

Something’s changed, but you don’t know
You replay the moment in your mind from
every possible angle, trying to understand
Why the rules exist and
Who came up with them and
How does anyone have the right to tell you
how to live just because of your weight?

Mostly, you remember the smack of
the change.
One minute you were like
everybody else, playing around, enjoying life,
and then,
with the flip of an unseen cosmic switch,
you’re the fat girl,
trying to regain your balance.
Acting as if you know what you’re doing, like
you used to play dress-up
and tried to walk
in high-heeled shoes.


Every time I see a pudgy preschooler,
I want to hand her my list,
like the answer sheet for a test,
to spare her the pain of learning
the rules firsthand.

But instead,
I give each girl the gift
of more days,
and months
of a normal life.

Whatever that is.


Viv’s mom caught her dad with
another woman and said Texas
wasn’t big enough for the three of them.
So now my best friend has to move
to Indiana.

In my backyard, we livestream
the Latin Music Festival
on an outdoor screen
as part of her going-away party.

Viv starts belly dancing
like she learned in a class at
the Dallas Public Library,
where her mom was a librarian.
I follow her lead and
our arms morph into snakes
as our hips figure-eight.

My dog, Gigi, a pug,
runs circles around us as
we sing at the top of our lungs
along with the bands and
dance with complete abandon,
like you do when you’re alone in your room
trying out some new moves
or making up some of your own.

Except it turns out
we’re not


Mid-twirl, I open my eyes to see
a girl’s head pop up over the fence,
then disappear and reappear.

This trampoline girl
saw me shake parts of me
I didn’t even know I had.

“What do you think you’re doing?”
I stop dancing so fast
I about give myself whiplash.

I see her head again.
She says it so quickly it’s like one word.
She disappears and reappears.
In a flash,
she climbs over the fence
and lands in front of me.
“I’m Catalina Rodriguez.”


Catalina points to the concert on the screen.
“Wow! So you like Días Divertidos, too?
I have all their songs on my playlist.”

“Me too,” I say.

“Who else do you listen to?”

“Don’t get Ellie started.”
Viv rolls her eyes.
If eye-rolling were an Olympic sport,
she’d be a gold medalist.

“I’m a poet, so
I love music because
lyrics are sung poems,” I say.
“Rap and country are my faves.”

“I’m a guitarist,” Catalina says.
“I like all music but love Latin.”

She chooses her words carefully, like me.
But she’s not like me.
Catalina’s skinny
like a pancake.
I’m more like a three-tiered cake.

My fatdar should be sounding the alarm.
Why isn’t it?


Fatdar is a lot like
Spider-Man’s Spidey sense,
a sixth sense.

Somehow we just know when
someone’s about to say
something hurtful or
do something mean.

Even in a crowd,
I can spot a fatphobe,
someone who’s grossed out
by overweight people.
Fatphobes give off this vibe.
Part discomfort.
Part shock.
Part fear.
Part anger.

And all hatred.


“ ‘Baila conmigo’!”
Catalina shouts as the next song starts
and she dances with us.

“Teach me that one move, Ellie,” she says.
“Which one?”
“The one where you were
kinda kicking your leg
while you spun.”

When I dance
knowing Catalina’s watching,
I feel every pound of my legs,
see my fat shake,
and notice how round
my shadow on the grass is
next to her angles,
so I stop.

Fat Girl Rule:
Move slowly so
your fat doesn’t jiggle,
drawing attention to your body.
But that uncomfortable-in-my-own-skin feeling
fades as the music blares
and Catalina squeal-screams,
going all bananas with us,
during the tribute to Selena.

If dance partners were food,
Catalina and I would be
peanut butter and jelly.
Cookies and milk.
Chips and salsa.
We’re different, but
make a perfect combo,
heads, hips, and hands
moving in sync.

Right on cue as the sun sets,
the katydids start their singing,
fast and furious since
their tempo’s based on heat
or maybe Selena’s bidi-bidi-bom-bom beat.

“Catalina, dale las buenas noches
y ven a casa,” a woman’s voice calls out.
“Gotta go,” Catalina tells us.
“Thanks for letting me crash your party.”

She climbs back over the fence,
then trampolines.