In Athena Villaverde’s, Starfish Girl (Eraserhead Press, 2010), industrial fiction meets Hayao Miyazaki’s, Spirited Away (Studio Ghibli, 2001). Despite facing constant danger in an underwater town being devoured by a fungus that’s turning fish folk psychotic, and where half-men, half-sea creature mob goons donning mechanic appendages wreak havoc without consequence, the little starfish girl’s tenacity to find others who are “nice” is as steadfast as Chihiro’s devotion in Spirited Away to changing her parents back to their human form.
Unlike Chihiro, Ohime’s parents cannot be saved, and with their posthumous instructions for her to try and save humanity, she must set off on an adventure of her own in an unknown landscape that alternates between beautiful and noxious. Although considered by many reviewers as “cute” when compared to other titles in the Bizarro fiction genre, Starfish Girl proves to be just as cut-throat and perverse. Yet, Villaverde craftily placates the gore factor by splattering the blood on a backdrop of elaborate coral buildings and conch encrusted homes, and constantly introduces endearing characters who, however different from one another, have in common the desire for a peaceful and safe civilization.
Bizarro-veteran John Skipp has the right idea in describing Villaverde’s style as “emotional” since the budding author leaves no feeling untouched in the spectrum of human psychology. For any reader new to the genre, or Bizarro fans who are curious about Athena Villaverde’s Starfish Girl, the novel is as punchy as it is sweet, as innocent as it is ferocious, and damn well worth picking up.