Title: Summer Bird Blue
Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: September 11th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s):
YA Contemporary, Death/Grief, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 384 (paperback)
Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of—she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.
Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends her away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the “boys next door”—a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago—Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.
Summer Bird Blue opens with an unspeakable tragedy–a car accident that takes the life of Lea Seto, leaving her older sister Rumi and their mother to pick up the pieces. Now Rumi’s been sent to her aunt’s place in Hawaii, where she finds herself drowning in anger and sadness. Rumi must now find a way to deal with her grief and finish “Summer Bird Blue,” a song the two sisters had been working on.
This is my first experience with Bowman’s writing and I can see why readers are so taken with her work. Summer Bird Blue is well worth the praise. And the ugly tears.
Let’s start with my favourite part of the story: the protagonist. Rumi is a fantastic character for many reasons–her pragmatic attitude, the love she has for her sister, her passion for music–but what I love most is her anger. From the flashbacks we see that she’s always been prickly, kind of cynical, and generally not the most sociable person to be around–like the moon to her sister’s sun. But with her sister’s death, she’s become this whirlwind of explosive anger. She says cruel, terrible things and lashes out at those around her (because where else is all that helpless grief going to go?) and it all feels so unbelievably realistic. People grieve in different ways and sometimes we can’t help but dole out our hurt to others because bearing them alone is too hard. Bowman explores this to perfection.
We alternate between the present to short flashback scenes where we get a better sense of Rumi and Lea’s relationship. As an only child I’ve always been distantly envious of my friends who have sisters, and this book makes me even more so. Good memories, bad memories, we get it all, and their addition makes us empathize all the more with Rumi’s grief.
I loved the navigation of friendship and sexuality Rumi goes through with Kai, whose constant sunshiny attitude offers such a great contrast to Rumi’s wry one. Bowman has such a talent for writing dialogue and it shines the brightest with these two characters–their exchanges are so fun and charming and I found myself grinning ear-to-ear through many of their scenes.
I did find some of the side characters rather underdeveloped and the plot a little too stagnant for my tastes, especially in the latter half. But that’s probably just me–there’s nothing specifically wrong with the story and Contemporary YA lovers and/or teen readers should gobble it right up.
Overall, Summer Bird Blue is a beautiful and heartbreaking story that balances anger and humour and tackles many important topics with veteran ease.
Copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review