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Summer Bird Blue – Book Review


I am very excited that Akemi Dawn Bowman will be on the Mental Health panel at the Northern YA Literature Festival! Her published works include the much loved Starfish and Summer Bird Blue. I have been a fan of Akemi’s work ever since I read Summer Bird Blue when it was published last year. I can’t wait to hear her thoughts about mental health representation in YA literature! The NYA Lit Fest is on March 16th 2019 at the University of Central Lancashire. Check out the links above for more information on the event and make sure you follow @NYALitFest on Twitter.

Summer Bird Blue

Summer Bird Blue is a beautiful YA Contemporary novel that explores the different stages of grief, family relationships, identity and how to grow up when your world is falling apart.

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman - Book Cover


Title: Summer Bird Blue

Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman

Published: 11th September 2018

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Genre: YA Contemporary


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.”


Book Review

Summer Bird Blue is, without a doubt, an emotional read. The novel explores the emotions and thoughts of seventeen year old Rumi. Sadly not only does Rumi have to try to cope with the loss of her sister Lea but also with being sent away from home. Rumi has to live with her Aunt in Hawaii for the summer and is lost in so many different ways.

Structure

Akemi has very cleverly constructed the novel around Rumi’s thought processes, helping the reader understand what Rumi is going through. Every time she lets herself go, experiencing something other than sadness or anger, thoughts of Lea appear in her head that drag her back down. Her grief and guilt are heart-breaking.

Themes

Summer Bird Blue has a multitude of themes including grief, guilt, music, mental health, family, relationships, identity, dreams and living with loss.

Grief & Guilt

I love the way that the novel works through different stages of grief. Many authors focus on the denial or depression stages but rarely do we see so much anger, which stems from her grief and guilt. Rumi’s anger is very realistic and it continually changes focus. She is angry at the world, at her family and at herself in different moments. Suffering with survivor’s guilt is horrendous and it is heart-wrenching reading how she copes with everything life has thrown at her.

Music

The other key theme in Summer Bird Blue is music. Akemi beautifully weaves music like a motif into many different aspects of the novel. It is part of the plot as well as featuring in a lot of imagery. I love how music is multi-sensory in the novel. Akemi frequently uses similes of music to describe the world around Rumi as well as applying other senses to the music in the book.

“It’s piano music today. It sounds like salt and whispers and abandoned lighthouses. “

Akemi’s words really bring music to life throughout the book and we truly see what music means to Rumi.

Identity

Throughout the novel Rumi deals with identity issues varying from her place in the world to her sexuality. Rumi questions whether or not she is asexual/aromantic and it is explored very sensitively. LGBTQIA+ representation in literature is very important as is having diverse supporting characters, which Summer Bird Blue does very well. I enjoyed the different dialects in the book as they gave the characters authenticity.

Family & Friends

The relationship between Rumi and her mother is an important part of the novel. As a reader it is very easy to feel and understand Rumi’s anger towards her mum. When you’re going through the hardest time of your life you should not have to also deal with abandonment issues! That said, it is very difficult to harshly judge a woman who has lost her youngest daughter. There are moral dilemmas raised, which are interesting to work through as a reader. Rumi and her mother are clearly at different stages of the grief process. Throughout the novel I wondered if, or how, they would be able to reconcile their relationship in the long term.

Characters

Rumi is an interesting protagonist as she is not always the most likeable character. Most of the time it feels like she doesn’t want to be! Rumi is very well written thus as a reader we understand why she acts & reacts the way she does. Summer Bird Blue spends a lot of time in Rumi’s head and to great effect.

I won’t go into detail about other characters as discovering them is part of the joy of the book. There are a lovely range of supporting characters! They include Aunty Ani, Kai and my personal favourite Mr Watanabe with his dog Poi.

My Thoughts

I have read Summer Bird Blue twice and enjoyed it equally both times. It is well paced throughout making it easy to read. Akemi explores a lot of difficult content but does it respectfully, sensitively and with great understanding. Her characters are diverse on multiple levels and are consistently well written. Summer Bird Blue made me laugh, made me cry and, as all good books that explore such potent topics do, made me think. The aspect I enjoyed the most was the exploration of Rumi’s identity. How she learns to define herself not by labels or circumstance but for who she feels she is right now. Who she wants to be in the future.

Summer Bird Blue is perfect for you if you want a story that can touch your heart. You should also pick up a copy if you like books with diversity or stories that explore identity and redefining yourself like The Other Side of Lost.


Have you read any of Akemi Dawn Bowman’s books before? Are you looking forward to her next release in 2020 Harley in the Sky? If you are a fan or would like to learn more Charlotte has a lovely Q&A with Akemi over on her blog Charlotte Somewhere

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37 Comments

  • 28th January 2019 at 9:47 pm

    I’ve never read any of Akemi Dawn Bowman’s books before, but I might have to now- it looks great and that cover looks gorgeous <3

    REPLY
    • 28th January 2019 at 10:29 pm
      Dellybird

      You should definitely have a read. Her writing is superb! I’m looking forward to reading Starfish, which was her debut and her next book in 2020. The cover is beautiful and fits the book perfectly. It was the cover that first caught my attention as it is comprised of my favourite colours and they called to me! Thank you for commenting 🙂

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  • 28th January 2019 at 11:01 pm

    I’ve read both of her books and loved both of them!

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    • 28th January 2019 at 11:27 pm
      Dellybird

      I’m looking forward to going back and reading Starfish! I remember a lot of people raving about how good it was a while ago. I can add it to the book I’ve bought because of book bloggers pile :-p

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      • 29th January 2019 at 5:07 pm

        It was so good!! 😍

  • 30th January 2019 at 12:45 pm

    I’m heading to NYA in March! I’m looking forward to the Mental Health panel too. I haven’t read anything by this author, maybe I should. Great review! 😊

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    • 30th January 2019 at 12:49 pm
      Dellybird

      Yay! I am trying to find out who is going so I can give people a wave. I’ve never met up with any bookish folk before so I’m a bit nervous but I’m really looking forward to the panels. You should 100% read one of Akemi’s books before you go. I loved Summer Bird Blue but Starfish is supposed to be fab too so I don’t think you can go wrong either way! Have you read anything by the other authors on the panel?

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      • 30th January 2019 at 1:06 pm

        I’d be happy to say hello, it’s always lovely meeting bookish people! 😊 I have Ink by Alice Broadway and I’m planning to read that before the event and I might pick up Starfish!

      • 30th January 2019 at 1:26 pm
        Dellybird

        🙂 I will have to wear a lanyard or something with my little birdy on for identification. Ink is on my list too. I wish I had read more books by the panelists. There may be a lot of cramming beforehand!

  • 30th January 2019 at 1:04 pm

    I’ve been keeping an eye on this book ever since I heard it has an aro-ace character. I do consider myself aro-ace and it’s so nice to see that we are getting more aro-ace representation. Even though contemporary isn’t my favoured genre, I’d like to read this book. Loved your review!

    REPLY
    • 30th January 2019 at 1:24 pm
      Dellybird

      Thank you 🙂 It is great that there is more aro-ace representation. Everyone should have books that they can relate to and they feel represents them. Any particular recs outside of contemporary for aro-ace rep? If you do read SBB do let me know what you think!

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      • 31st January 2019 at 11:32 am

        Baker Thief by Claudie Arseneault, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee, Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston have either aro or ace reps. Hopefully there will be more in the future! I definitely will do!

      • 2nd February 2019 at 10:18 am
        Dellybird

        I’m looking forward to reading The Lady’s Guide. I thought I should maybe read Gentleman’s Guide first although I don’t think you have to. I didn’t know Heart of Iron had aro/ace rep! Thanks for the recs 🙂

  • 30th January 2019 at 1:30 pm
    bookloverkate

    I really want to read this, I missed out on meeting the author at YALC in summer but this year I think I’d like to pick up her work and hopefully meet her if she is there again. Great review!

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    • 30th January 2019 at 1:36 pm
      Dellybird

      Thanks 🙂 I will make it to YALC one day! Just a bit scared about accessibility for me.

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      • 30th January 2019 at 1:48 pm
        bookloverkate

        That is such a shame really, I didn’t hear the best things about last year in that regard. I’d hope that with that feedback it would be something they are going to improve.

      • 30th January 2019 at 3:01 pm
        Dellybird

        I hope so! I would need to take my little disability scooter and navigating around London in it is scary enough without having to worry about problems at the event itself.

  • 30th January 2019 at 1:36 pm

    I am planning to read Starfish soon and maybe soon after followed by Summer Bird Blue? I had Akemi Dawn Bowman under my radar for awhile. I love reading your review!

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    • 30th January 2019 at 2:57 pm
      Dellybird

      Thank you very much. Let me know what you think when you do read them 🙂

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  • 30th January 2019 at 1:37 pm

    I’ve heard some great things about this book ☺️

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    • 30th January 2019 at 2:58 pm
      Dellybird

      I had heard a lot about Starfish when it was published so when I saw Summer Bird Blue being released I had to pick it up. I thank my fellow book bloggers for bringing Akemi to my attention 🙂

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  • 30th January 2019 at 2:10 pm

    I love how you broke down the book within your review. Great job!

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    • 30th January 2019 at 3:01 pm
      Dellybird

      Thank you very much 🙂

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  • 30th January 2019 at 4:12 pm

    Great review 🙂 I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, so maybe I’ll pick it up soon ^^

    REPLY
    • 30th January 2019 at 4:40 pm
      Dellybird

      Thank you. I hope you enjoy it when you do 🙂

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  • 30th January 2019 at 5:15 pm

    Starfish was one of my favourite books that I read last year so I can’t wait to get to this one. Great review! 💕

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    • 30th January 2019 at 5:40 pm
      Dellybird

      I am looking forward to reading it! Enjoy, you won’t be disappointed 🙂

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  • 30th January 2019 at 6:23 pm

    Ahhh this book sounds so perfect and I can’t wait to read it! I’m so interested in the protagonist being angry and somewhat unlikeable, and I’m ALWAYS looking for more books with aro/ace representation! So glad to hear that you loved it, and I might just be bumping it up my TBR a bit 😀 <3

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    • 30th January 2019 at 8:45 pm
      Dellybird

      I hope you enjoy it! I think the protagonist is really interesting and there is definitely some great representation. Let me know what you think when you do read it 🙂

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  • 30th January 2019 at 7:17 pm

    Ah! The cover of this book is absolutely to die for. I will definitely look at this book when I am searching for an emotional read (which are my favorite haha).

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    • 30th January 2019 at 8:48 pm
      Dellybird

      I love the cover so much! I’ve been carrying the book around the house in a booksleeve to keep it in safe until it goes back on the shelf. Grab the tissues for the one! I sobbed like a baby and that is on a second reading.

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  • 31st January 2019 at 9:15 am

    I love Akemi Dawn Bowman! I actually interviewed her last year and she is so lovely! I cannot wait to get hold of Summer Bird Blue and give it a read!

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  • 31st January 2019 at 11:18 am

    I have heard the most amazing things about this author’s books – and I definitely have to actually pick them up! Fantastic review, it had me adding Summer Bird Blue to my TBR.
    Cora | http://teapartyprincess.co.uk

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  • 1st February 2019 at 6:36 pm

    I think I would really enjoy this book so I am adding it to my goodreads folder. Amazing review!

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    • 2nd February 2019 at 10:08 am
      Dellybird

      Thank you! I hope you enjoy it. If you are a Netgalley user it is currently available for request 🙂

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      • 3rd February 2019 at 4:22 am

        Sweet! I’ll check it out now!

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