Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman – REVIEW
Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying. What to eat, where to go, who to love. But one thing she is sure of she wants to spend her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea. Then Lea dies in a car accident, and Rumi is sent to live with her aunt in Hawaii. Now, miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, feeling abandoned by her mother, and the aching absence of music. With the help of the “boys next door” teenage surfer Kai, who doesn’t take anything too seriously, and old George Watanabe, who succumbed to grief years ago Rumi seeks her way back to music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish. With unflinching honesty, Summer Bird Blue explores big truths about insurmountable grief, unconditional love, and how to forgive even when it feels impossible.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Ink Road Books.
Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
“Music used to be life and hope and everything happy. Now it’s full of ghosts.”
Starfish was one of my favourite books of last year and left me eager to see what Akemi Dawn Bowman did next, so when Ink Road Books invited me to take part in the blog tour for Summer Bird Blue, I immediately accepted. This book has confirmed the author as one of my all-time favourites thanks to her exquisite writing style and efforts to normalise discussions of mental health, sexuality, and other issues; these books should be mandatory in all school libraries. Grief is the main topic of this story after Rumi’s younger sister dies in a car crash. It’s often heartbreaking and sometimes difficult to read but always sensitively handled and nuanced.
“Lea was the music – I was the page that collected all the notes together.”
Rumi was a fantastic main character and it was interesting that the author decided to make anger Rumi’s prominent reaction to the loss of her sister. Everyone exhibits grief in different ways and showing that anger is a valid emotion permits others to feel the same way without accompanying feelings of guilt. Rumi’s confusion about her sexuality is partly caused by all the labels she feels pressured by and I loved how this played out over the book. My absolute favourite character though was Mr Watanabe, her aunt’s elderly neighbour. I’d honestly read a whole book about just him and his grouchiness.
“Grief is a monster – not everyone gets out alive, and those who do might only survive in pieces.”
Music is another theme permeating the book, with Rumi defining herself and her world through music. However, music is also the way she and her sister bonded so it’s a painful reminder of everything she’s lost. Survivor’s guilt means Rumi feels she shouldn’t be experiencing any happiness but music is as necessary to Rumi as breathing and essential to her healing process. This sense of confusion was wonderfully conveyed and highlighted how grief is unique to each individual. Summer Bird Blue is a heartbreakingly raw and honest exploration of grief, with its lyrical language underpinning a message of hope and positivity. I’d highly recommend both this and Starfish to all YA contemporary fans.