RELEASED: September 11, 2018
PUBLISHER: Simon Pulse
GENRE: YA Contemporary, LGBTQIA+
GOODREADS RATING: 4.03
TRIGGERS: Losing a loved one, grief, car crash
REPS: LGBTQIA+, questioning queer rep, Hawaiian culture
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.
I absolutely loved and adored Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, so it’s a freaking surprise it took me this long to pick up Summer Bird Blue. Especially considering I knew it was going to be another favorite.. I just.. Might hate myself a teenie-tiny bit for not having read it sooner. But at least I did eventually, right?!
As with Starfish, the writing was beautiful once again. Bowman writes in a way that draws me in immediately, which makes reading her work a feat. Of course.. We have to take in consideration the way her writing also succeeds at hitting me in the feels every single time. It’s only the second book of hers I’ve read, but I can tell she has a knack for grabbing my heart and squeezing it, twisting it, turning it, breaking it in the best ways possible. The stories living in her head are ones that speak to me and I love it when I come across a writer like that.
There are no angels here. Only the demons that follow me everywhere.
The content of this book is.. very focused on grief since our main character, Rumi, has just lost her sister in a car crash. This makes it a challenge to read but in a way that felt.. good? I don’t know. It was simply done so perfectly that you felt drawn in, felt what Rumi felt but I never had the urge to throw the book aside due to being too intense. Which is what I was scared of happening, haha.
Two other, smaller aspects of Summer Bird Blue are the presence of questioning queer rep and music. Both I love seeing in books and seeing them in the same one made my heart swell. There isn’t enough questioning rep in books – that’s a simple fact. I know people questioning their identity need to see more books like it to feel like it’s okay to doubt where on the spectrum you fit in. If you even fit in at all – because, let’s face it, sometimes a simple label just doesn’t cut it. [To be more specific, there is mention of asexuality, demisexual and gray asexuality, aromantic rep as well.]
As for the music.. It helps Rumi dealing with her feelings, her mourning and working through it. Which is what Papa Roach did for me in the past. That band meant and means the world to me and helped me through so many events in my life. It was beautiful seeing something similar like that happening for Rumi. Even more so since it was linked to a side character – her neighbour – I came to love very, very much since you saw him getting over his struggles as well and I just.. It was beautiful to witness.
The presence of Hawaiian culture needs to be mentioned as well. Although the writing regarding that sometimes got on my nerves – English isn’t my first language so it wasn’t that.. easy to read at times.. – there were a lot of details thrown into the story that referred to the culture. It lifted this novel to a whole new level, even though it took some getting used to.
Grief is a monster – not everyone gets out alive, and those who do might only survive in pieces. But it’s a monster that can be conquered, with time.
Not necessarily a bad thing, but something to warn people about is Rumi not being the most likeable main character at first. As a reader, you need to take some time to connect with her and accept her egocentric character to the point of being mean. Definitely due to her grieving but it wasn’t all too pretty at times. I can see why people would get annoyed by her and her hard time communicating with others but I promise she’s worth it! [So, again, not necessarily a bad thing but something I want to warn people about.]
Summer Bird Blue is a gorgeous story about a girl grieving the loss of her sister and finding ways to cope with that loss, trying to get on with her life even though she feels undeserving of living. It’s a mentally hard book to get through but very much worth the journey!
What are some books you had a hard time getting through due to the feelings it gave you? Did it end up being worth it or did it mentally drain you to the point of hating / disliking the story?