ARC Review: Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman


Title: Summer Bird Blue
Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Hardcover, 368 Pages
Published September 2018


Summary: 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.

My review of this book was originally posted on TeenReads.com.

I received an advanced copy of Summer Bird Blue in exchange for an honest review (even though my review is a little past the actual pub date!), and I'm so glad that I did, because this is my first Akemi Dawn Bowman book and I'm already in love. (I know, I know, life got in the way and I haven't had a chance to read Starfish yet, but I really want to!) So without further ado, let's get into the review!

The first thing that drew me in about this book was the cover, which is so amazing and bright and beautiful that I had to resist the urge to show it off to everybody that I knew. I mean, just look at it -- what's not to love? I know they say not to judge a book by its cover, but the beauty of this one was definitely part of the reason I was drawn in. But it's the incredible story that follows that made me stay!

As the summary explains, Rumi's younger sister, Lea, tragically dies in a car accident, and her mother is so overwhelmed with grief that she sends Rumi to live with her aunt in Hawaii. But as beautiful as the island is, Rumi can't let her hate and fear and guilt go, and she finds herself lashing out at everyone around her. It's only when she meets some of her neighbors and starts to befriend them that she learns how to take the pain she's feeling, process it, and continue living her life instead of shutting down. All while trying to finish the song she promised her sister they'd write together.

I really liked Rumi's character, even if sometimes she felt abrasive or angry. I realized that in a lot of the books I read, the main character is always this perfect, happy-go-lucky person who might be going through something, but their general attitude about things is positive. So seeing Rumi's hurt and anger and fears all splashed across the pages made her feel so real to me, and I think it definitely gave her a lot more depth. And seeing the way the people around her didn't take her anger and just let her continue to lash out really made me laugh, too. Especially her interactions with Mr. Watanabe -- those were my favorite!

Rumi and Lea's relationship reminded me a lot of mine and my sister's, which was both good and bad. While they were really close sisters that loved each other and did everything together, there were also moments where Rumi would lash out and be cruel for no reason, simply out of jealousy or spite or just because she could. Seeing her reflect on those moments and realize that there were times she didn't have to be so cruel for no reason made me think of all the times I as an older sister did that to my own siblings growing up, and it made me reflect and understand how life is short, tomorrow isn't guaranteed, and I should maybe spend more time apologizing for those hurtful things than doing them just because I can. And that was really eye-opening for me.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was the setting. My brother is currently living in Hawaii, specifically in the areas that this book keeps mentioning, so reading this book made my heart feel warm and it reminded me of him (and the fact that I should probably call him, LOL). I think Bowman did an excellent job with creating the setting in this book, and making Hawaii seem less like something foreign and far away and more of something that the reader could settle themselves into and experience, whether or not they've actually been there.

(Minor spoilers in this paragraph, so skip ahead if you don't want the book spoiled for you!) The only thing that bummed me out a little bit with this book was the fact that I was so in love with Kai and couldn't have him -- UGH. He was seriously so kind and sarcastic and funny and definitely a great friend to Rumi. It was also really great to see how Rumi struggled with labeling her sexuality and eventually voiced the notion that she felt she may be asexual. I haven't read a lot of books with aro/ace rep, so it was really encouraging to see, and I hope that I definitely see more of it in the future!

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Summer Bird Blue. Rumi's story was painful to digest at times, because I couldn't ever imagine experiencing the horrors that she has, but I think that's also part of why I loved the story. Akemi Dawn Bowman has a talent for making me feel as a reader, weeping and laughing onto the pages. This book was definitely a gem that I'll be recommending to everyone around me (including you!), and I'm absolutely looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.



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