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.
Title: Summer Bird Blue
Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Published: 11th September 2018
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: YA Contemporary
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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