Monday 29 April 2019

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Review: Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman (#Ad)

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

I received this eProof for free from Ink Road Books via NetGalley for the purposes of providing an honest review.

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Published: 4th April 2019 | Publisher: Ink Road Books | Source: Publisher
Akemi Dawn Bowman's Website

Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying. What to eat, where to go, who to love. But there's one thing she is sure of: she wants to spend her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.

Then Lea dies in a car accident, and Rumi is sent to live with her aunt in Hawaii. Now, miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, feeling abandoned by her mother, and the aching absence of music. With the help of the "boys next door", teenage surfer Kai, who doesn't take anything too seriously, and old George Watanabe, who succumbed to grief years ago, Rumi seeks her way back to music, and to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.

With unflinching honesty, Summer Bird Blue explores big truths about insurmountable grief, unconditional love, and how to forgive even when it feels impossible.
From Goodreads

Trigger Warnings: This book features death by car accident, familial death, grief, a panic attack, a heart attack, blood.

I've wanted to read Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman ever since it was announced. I absolutely adored Bowman's debut novel, Starfish, and was sure I would love her second novel just as much. And I wasn't wrong; Summer Bird Blue was incredible.

This book is absolutely beautiful. It's heartbreaking and raw, and there's absolutely no escaping Rumi's grief. But Summer Bird Blue is about so much more than a girl grieving for her sister, and feeling such indescribably rage. Rumi is much more complicated than that. It's the story of a very insecure girl, who has just lost the one thing she was sure of. It's a story of family, love, identity, and friendship.

Rumi is perpetually unsure, and this is true even before Lea dies. She doesn't know who she is or what she wants, and is so scared of making a choice in case it's the wrong one - what if she changes her mind? What if she hurts people in the process? This is connected to her dad, who abandoned the family when Rumi was very young, because he wasn't mature enough to deal with having children. She's so scared she's like him. And this links to her questions surrounding her sexual and romantic orientations; she doesn't want to choose a label, because they don't exactly fit, and what if she's wrong anyway, and things change? Again, she doesn't want to make that decision. She's also very honest and quite abrasive, which she thinks reminds her mum of her dad. So while she absolutely adores her sister, she's also hugely jealous of her; Lea is sunshine and joy personified, the sweetest, kindest person, and Rumi is pretty sure that their mum loves Lea more. Lea also seems to have everything figured out; she knows who she is and what she wants, and is confident in a way Rumi isn't, and Rumi just wishes she was as "normal" as Lea. She is a ball of confusion and insecurity, affected deeply by events of the past, and pretty much in a constant state of overwhelmed. Except when she and Lea are writing music and playing together. Lea and music mean the world to Rumi, they're the two things she's absolutely sure of.

But with Lea's death, both her sun and music, which is her life blood, are taken away from her. And on top of that, her mum is so overwhelmed by her grief, she sends Rumi away to Hawaii to live with her aunt. Rumi is hurting, feels abandoned, and sees this as proof that her mum loved Lea more, and even though she's dead, she's choosing Lea over her. Rumi is grieving, too, and needs her mum now more than ever, but she's completely checked out of Rumi's life. And Rumi is raging. At her, at the world. Anger and fury is the only way she knows to express her grief, and she hurts almost everyone she comes into contact with.

Rumi isn't the nicest person, but felt for her so much. She is just so lost; her anchor has gone, her solid ground, and she doesn't know what to do. She's not dealing with it or coping with it very well, and this is exacerbated by her mum's complete absence. I just wanted to give her the biggest hug. She is hurting so badly, but doesn't really know how to let anyone help her. When she lets her aunt's neighbours - Kai, a boy around her own age on one side, and Mr Watanabe, an elderly man on the other - into her life, slowly but surely things begin to change. Mr Watanabe, quite blunt and grouchy, of very few words, helps Rumi bring music back into her life again, with the old records he allows her to listen to with him. Music is incredibly important to Rumi, it was her life, but now she's lost it. She can't imagine writing or playing or even listening to music without Lea, but she misses it so badly. But Mr Watanabe's songs have no links to Lea, songs they've not heard before, so it's one of Rumi's ways back to music - slowly, gradually. Mr Watanabe is hilarious in his grouchiness and how he tells Rumi off, but he's also incredibly wise, and Rumi's relationship with him becomes so important to her.

As does her relationship with Kai. To Rumi, Kai is the tiniest peek of the sun during a rain storm. Again, slowly, gradually, he brings Rumi back to life, with him being so carefree and just full of fun. He doesn't take anything that seriously, and he'll call Rumi out on her crappy behaviour by mocking her. He is always there, even though Rumi is so spiky and angry; always inviting her out with his friends, and giving her some teenage normalcy. He listens to her, and seems to get her, and he is just completely wonderful. You can probably guess that he has a thing for Rumi, but she doesn't have a thing for him.

Which leads into the absolutely stunning way Summer Bird Blue talks about Rumi's sexual and romantic orientations. Rumi falls somewhere on the asexual and aromantic spectrums - or at least she thinks so - but she just doesn't know where. And nor is she comfortable with the labels. She's so confused, partly because she can't find a label that is explicitly her, and partly because she doesn't know herself well enough, yet, to know what "explicitly her" would mean.

'"I know what asexuality is. But there's also demisexual and gray asexual and then romantic orientation, too--and I don't know where I fit in. I'm not comfortable with the labels, because labels feel so final. Like I have to make up my mind right this second. Like I have to be as sure of myself as everyone else seems to be. And honestly, I don' really know what I like or don't like. I didn't like kissing Caleb, but does that mean I'll never like kissing anyone? I don't know the answer to that. I don't whether I'll ever meet someone and want to kiss them, or date them, or have sex with them. I just know that I'm not attracted to people the way you are."' (p264)*

'"Well, I don't like girls like that." I pause. "I don't think I like boys like that either. Is that weird?"
He doesn't hesitate. "No, not at all. Lots of people identify da same way as you."
"But I don't know how I identify, exactly. I know about the labels, and I guess if I was basing it off what the Internet says, I'd identify as asexual. And maybe somewhere on the aromantic spectrum, too. But I feel I don't fully relate to any of the labels that exist. Some of them are mostly right, but not exactly right. And asexual and aromantic labels--they're about
attraction. They don't explain why I'm not sure if I like kissing, or how I'm not interested in sex right now. It's so confusing to me."' (p332-333)*

It's just so beautifully discussed. And Rumi is not judged by anyone except maybe herself. Everyone else is so accepting of who she is, or who she may be, and nobody puts pressure on her to figure it out and decide, to pick a label and define herself, and it's all just so wonderful. And, although I'm not asexual nor aromantic, I think Summer Bird Blue would be so helpful to those who are questioning whether they may be asexual and/or aromantic, and even those who have questions about their sexual and/or romantic orientations outside of the asexual and aromantic orientations. Because it's ok to not be sure, to not have all the answers, and to just exist and be as you are. It was just gorgeous!

Summer Bird Blue is pretty diverse the whole way through. I think there's only one white person in this book - Rumi's dad, who appears very briefly in a flashback. Otherwise, I'm pretty sure everyone is a person of colour. Rumi is multiracial; her mum is half Hawaiian and half Japanese, her dad is white (possibly Irish). Kai is half Japanese and half Korean. Kai's friend Gareth is half Filipino and half Samoan. Hannah and Jerrod, Kai and Gareth's other friends, are half Black and half Japanese. And Gareth's sister Izzy is gay. And quite a few of the large cast of characters speak Hawaiian pidgin, too. It's pretty awesome.

I absolutely adored this heartbreaking but hopeful story. I felt so much for Rumi, and I adored her friendships with Kai and Mr Wantanabe. It was just a gorgeous, gorgeous book! And has cemented Akemi Dawn Bowman as one of my favourite authors. I can't wait for her next novel, Harley in the Sky!

*All quotes have been checked against my purchased finished copy of Summer Bird Blue.

Thank you to Ink Road Books via NetGalley for the eProof.

You might also like:

The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X. R. Pan

Over to you graphic

What are your favourite YA novels that deal with grief? And your favourite novels featuring asexual and/or aromantic characters? Have you read Summer Bird Blue? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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1 comment:

  1. Excellent review, as always! I wasn't that interested in Starfish, but the aro/ace exploration in particular has me intrigued about this one.