Summer Bird Blue
by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Published September 2018
This is the second YA_Pride book club chat I’ve participated in – the last one was The Summer of Jordi Perez and the Best Burger in Los Angeles. (Which was great.) Summer Bird Blue was just as good, but where Jordi Perez was a lovely, lighthearted beach read, Summer Bird Blue is a tearjerker that you’ll want to read in private so you can sob the entire way through the book. Or at least that’s what I did.
Gorgeous and evocative are both words that could be applied here. Rumi’s grief over losing her sister is profound. She feels abandoned by her mother, sent to live with the aunt she barely knows in Hawaii. Rumi has absolutely lost everything – her sister/best friend is truly lost. She feels like she’s lost her mother, her home, any semblance of normality, and her musical ability. It’s a lot for a kid to deal with.
In the middle of all that, she’s trying to figure out her sexuality – she might be ace or demi; she spends most of the book questioning and trying to make sense of it. As we discussed in the Twitter chat, even if she doesn’t come to a conclusion on what her sexuality is, even having “questioning” as a sexuality is so important in YA books. Showing that you don’t need to have everything figured out is really important.
I loved Rumi’s relationships with the neighbors, both Kai and Mr. Watanabe. I wish Rumi had been nice to Mr. Watanabe in the beginning, but she comes around eventually. And she was dealing with A LOT, so I’ll give her a little slack. She was beginning to try my patience near the end of the book, though.
The one real disappointment I had with this book is that while Rumi is portrayed as this awesome musician whose lyrics and melodies are really good – the other characters say so – I don’t like her lyrics. Of course I have no way of knowing what her melodies sound like, but I just don’t think her lyrics are that good.
Other than that little quibble, this book is really, really good. But also really, really sad. Prepare to cry.
From the cover of Summer Bird Blue:
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 Rumi 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 from 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.
Aching, powerful, and unflinchingly honest, Summer Bird Blue explores big truths about insurmountable grief, unconditional love, and how to forgive even when it feels impossible.