Summer Bird Blue — Akemi Dawn Bowman

Summer Bird Blue

TITLE: Summer Bird Blue
AUTHOR: Akemi Dawn Bowman
RELEASES: September 11th, 2018; Simon Pulse
GENRE: Contemporary
AGE RANGE: YA

SYNOPSIS: 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.

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Wow, I am so glad to finally be posting this review! I was lucky enough to receive an ARC pretty far in advance and devoured it immediately, because I loved Starfish so much, but I gotta tell you guys, this book? It blows Starfish out of the water. This was one of the most heartbreaking, gorgeous stories I have ever read, and there is so much diversity I could honestly yell about it forever.

“I don’t want to hold hands, or flirt, or… kiss. And I don’t feel like I’m somehow less whole because I don’t want to date.”

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First, let’s go ahead and talk about the diverse representations in this book: Rumi, the narrator, is not only multiracial (Japanese, Hawaiian, and white), but she’s also questioning for the bulk of the book before tentatively coming out as both asexual and aromantic. Among the side characters, everyone is either Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean, Samoan, Filipino, black, or some combination of the above. The Hawaiian locals also primarily speak Hawaiian pidgin English, which added an incredible touch, especially after having learned that Akemi Dawn Bowman learned to speak it from her own father.

I don’t think I’ll ever find another person in the entire world who understands me the way Lea does. We’re the only two people in the universe who speak our language.

Second, you need to know that this is a book almost solely dedicated to processing grief and the loss of a loved one. If you cry at books ever, you should probably have tissues on hand. I was literally sobbing through so many chapters. I don’t have a sibling and don’t know what losing one feels like, but Rumi’s pain is so tangible. As a mother, my heart also broke so much for Rumi’s mother and the obvious struggles she was going through, especially once she was able to talk to Rumi about what had happened and how it was affecting her mental health.

Grief is a monster—not everyone gets out alive, and those who do might only survive in pieces.

Another thing Summer Bird Blue does so well is its depiction of how trauma affects our mental health, and how important it is to seek help and to not vilify those who need assistance getting through difficult times. Rumi spends much of the book determined to stay in this dark place she’s been sent to by her sister’s death, but we get to watch her learn that it’s necessary to let people in and accept help in healing. On top of that, these side characters are incredible—they all feel so three-dimensional and wonderful, and I would honestly read companion novels about at least six of them.

She’s a shell. A ghost. I think her soul climbed into the coffin with Lea. I wish mine had done the same.

One thing that I hope everyone will keep in mind while reading Summer Bird Blue as it releases, is that Rumi does come across as a very coldhearted, callous character for much of the book, but she is human and she is grieving. She has lost not only her sister and best friend in the world, but she feels abandoned by her mother as well, and everything has essentially combined to utterly break her by the time she reaches Hawaii’s shores.

Music used to be life and hope and everything happy. Now it’s full of ghosts.

I think Rumi’s characterization is a poignant reminder that grief can destroy us all in different ways, but just because we lash out doesn’t mean we are bad people—sometimes it just means we don’t have the proper tools to cope with what has happened to us. The most beautiful aspect of her negative behavior, though, is how it gives the people in her life this opportunity to show how important it is, whenever possible, to stay by her side—they don’t give up on her, but offer her their strength and support as much as they can, no differently than any of us would do for our own loved ones.

What if music doesn’t belong to me anymore, the way Lea doesn’t belong to this world?

I know I’m rambling, and this review has gone on way too long, but this book just meant so much to me and it is imperative that I express to you how badly I want to see it, and Akemi Dawn Bowman’s writing career in general, succeed in every way possible. Please, do yourself a favor: pick up a copy of this book. Pre-order it, ask your library to stock it for you, whatever works—you won’t regret it.

All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Simon Pulse for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Buddy read with the ever lovable May! 💖

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Just a 25-year-old trying to juggle motherhood, grad school, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

27 thoughts on “Summer Bird Blue — Akemi Dawn Bowman

    1. It definitely is! And they aren’t set in the same universe, so to speak, so you definitely don’t have to read Starfish first (in fact, I’d go with this one first if it were me). I hope you get the chance to pick it up, with or without tears! 😉

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  1. This book sounds like it will break my heart in a thousand, a million pieces. Yet, I really want to read it. I just finished reading Starfish yesterday and I loved it so much, it was a beautiful story and I want to read more from the author, that’s for sure. I can’t wait to do so and to read that one now. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful review ❤

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  2. I loved Starfish and have been sooo excited for Summer Bird Blue, and your review got me even more excited! I’m multiracial (Filipino & White) and I grew up in Hawai’i, so this book really feels so personal to me. Thanks so much for your thoughtful review!

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  3. Aw, this is gonna rip me to pieces then. I’m such an emotional mess, I will cry with even the slightest sad provocation. I haven’t read Starfish yet but I’ve seen it all over. Maybe I’ll read this in November or something. It just seems fitting.

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  4. I hadn’t heard of this book, but oh my gosh, I need to read it! It sounds beautiful! I have a love/hate relationship with these sort of books, because they hurt when reading them, but they are soooo worth reading, too. Feels reminiscent to The Astonishing Color of After, which I loved, but it was a difficult read emotionally. So I’m definitely going to pick this one up and look forward to having my heart broken. xD

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