Hello Readers & Writers,
I was beyond fortunate to receive an ARC of Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman due to publish September 2018 from Simon Pulse in exchange for an honest review. As always, there will be no spoilers, but there may be a lot of screaming!
Content Warning: This book is entirely about death and how to process the loss of a loved one. Please take caution while reading.
Summer Bird Blue follows Rumi after the tragic death of her sister Lea and a move to Hawaii to live with her aunt at the request of her mother. Having been intertwined with Lea, the loss is too much to bear for Rumi. She feels abandoned by her mother. She’s angry at the world. She can no longer play or write music without thinking she’s betraying her sister. Music to Rumi means moving on and that’s something she doesn’t want to happen. She doesn’t want to forget Lea. At the same time, Rumi also has a compulsion within her to finish the song they had started before her death. This book centers around grief, misunderstanding, and not always being a good person. It is however brutally raw and attempts to give Rumi the tools she needs to heal herself and the remainder of her family.
I want to start off by saying this book wrecked me because I saw so many parts of myself in Rumi. I think I cried a total of eight or nine times, all at different parts because Akemi’s writing was so strong and Rumi as a narrator was incredible. Rumi is not a typical main character. She’s made mistakes that get unraveled as she remembers Lea. She blames herself for not being a better sister and comes to terms with why she did certain things – whether they be out of jealousy, a self-serving purpose, or more. She lashes out against her mother who has her own issues dealing with the death of a daughter and her aunt who is trying to both give Rumi space and push her to leave the house.
On top of this, Rumi is coming to terms with her identity as asexual. Though she hasn’t quite settled on the label yet, it is the one that best fits. Her conflict lies in feeling she has to make a decision immediately and know herself because everyone else seems to already. Akemi’s portrayal of this is spot on and offer this message to teens: it’s okay to take time to figure out who you are and who you want to be.
Rumi’s journey through death is dark and messy. It doesn’t get wrapped up in a neat package. What stood out to me about Summer Bird Blue was who Rumi finds help in – a teenage boy next door Kai and an old man George Watanabe. Akemi presents a contrast between the two and what Rumi needs from both of them: Kai is a friend who stands by her and gives her a reason to laugh; Mr. Watanabe gives her tough love and a person to see herself in. In YA, there’s rarely an elderly figure that isn’t family involved in a main character’s life so to read this was a refreshing and welcome change. Together, Kai and Mr. Watanabe give Rumi invaluable friendships and push her to find her old self and the music she’s too long been apart from.
We also get an incredible look into a complex relationship between mother and daughter. For Rumi, this is a picture of always feeling more like a parent to Lea than a sibling and having to deal with thinking that her mother had a favorite child. For Rumi’s mother, it’s about doing what needed to be done for her family. Summer Bird Blue explores what it means to be family and what’s worth fighting for.
I can go on about this book forever. Akemi packs a powerful punch that will take readers on a painful, but unflinching journey about grief, identity, and healing from trauma you never expected to have. It’s the type of book that feels like the author put a piece of their soul into. Please put it on your TBRs immediately.
This gets 5/5 songs from me.