Summer Bird Blue is a story about grief, and for some, that can make this book difficult to read. But it also makes it really rewarding.
Akemi Dawn Bowman shows you that there’s no right way or one way to grieve. Neither Rumi’s nor her mother’s grieving processes were what I expected, swinging between barely contained rage and complete abandonment. Rumi is unlikeable, she’s angry, and her healing won’t come easy. And I. was. here. for. it.
I needed a protagonist like Rumi when I was a teenager! Even before her sister’s death she’s a pessimist, she’s rude, she’s selfish, and she lacks the social niceties and easy grace of her sister. She doesn’t find it easy to relate to people and she is actively pulled up on her “relaxed jerk voice”. Rumi is so flawed and there’s so much of her that I see in myself, both as a teenager and now as a twenty-something adult. Reading from this character was vindicating for me, and I hope other teens can read from Rumi and learn that not being a Lea doesn’t make you defective.
The depiction of Rumi’s family life was similarly vindicating. Bowman examines the resentment that can fester in kids when they have to raise themselves in lieu of absent/working parents. While the rational side of your brain knows that the parent is working to keep you fed and housed, the irrational side of you just wants the chance to be a family. Parents are all too often absent in YA, and this is one of the few books I’ve read that mirrored how I felt as a kid.
(Also YES hello aro+ace questioning representation. Would've freakin adored that as a teen!)
On a lighter note, I looooooved the Hawaiian setting! Bowman’s atmospheric writing really transported me to Hawaii and I was reminded so much of my own time in Samoa. I felt so immersed in this community and this culture, and I wanted to spend way more time in this quirky cul de sac of grumpy neighbours and one endearingly annoying dog.
While this book follows Rumi and her burgeoning friendship with some local teens, the friendship between Rumi and her neighbour Mr Watanabe is the true standout. There’s so much peace, frustration, truth, and healing in this odd friendship, and it’s reminiscent of everything I loved about Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove.
Admittedly there were some minor issues with the writing that held it at 4.5 stars. With Rumi’s grief there was often a lot of telling rather than showing, reiterating how much pain she was in without evoking that emotion in me as a reader. It wasn’t until the final act and a certain scene with Watanabe that the switch finally flipped and the floodgates opened for me. (And my GOD did they open ;__;)
I also felt there were some slightly inelegant segues to the flashbacks, and while much of Rumi’s aro+ace questioning is done well, there’s one aro+ace conversation that almost feels like it was pasted into the novel after the rest of it was done. It’s not awful but it’s a lil clunky.
Overall, it was a solid 4.5 star read and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I connected with this unlikeable protagonist and her difficult journey.
Representation: aro+ace questioning protagonist, virtually everyone is a POC, some mental health and therapy discussion
- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Ink Road (1 May 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1785302272
- ISBN-13: 978-1785302275
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.7 x 19.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 358 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 76,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)