Review: Summer Bird Blue – Of Grief, Music, and Sisterhood

by Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky

Summer Bird

Title: Summer Bird Blue
Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: September 11th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s):
YA Contemporary, Death/Grief, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 384 (paperback)

Rating: 8.0/10





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 opens with an unspeakable tragedy–a car accident that takes the life of Lea Seto, leaving her older sister Rumi and their mother to pick up the pieces. Now Rumi’s been sent to her aunt’s place in Hawaii, where she finds herself drowning in anger and sadness. Rumi must now find a way to deal with her grief and finish “Summer Bird Blue,” a song the two sisters had been working on.

This is my first experience with Bowman’s writing and I can see why readers are so taken with her work. Summer Bird Blue is well worth the praise. And the ugly tears.

Let’s start with my favourite part of the story: the protagonist. Rumi is a fantastic character for many reasons–her pragmatic attitude, the love she has for her sister, her passion for music–but what I love most is her anger. From the flashbacks we see that she’s always been prickly, kind of cynical, and generally not the most sociable person to be around–like the moon to her sister’s sun. But with her sister’s death, she’s become this whirlwind of explosive anger. She says cruel, terrible things and lashes out at those around her (because where else is all that helpless grief going to go?) and it all feels so unbelievably realistic. People grieve in different ways and sometimes we can’t help but dole out our hurt to others because bearing them alone is too hard. Bowman explores this to perfection.

We alternate between the present to short flashback scenes where we get a better sense of Rumi and Lea’s relationship. As an only child I’ve always been distantly envious of my friends who have sisters, and this book makes me even more so. Good memories, bad memories, we get it all, and their addition makes us empathize all the more with Rumi’s grief.

I loved the navigation of friendship and sexuality Rumi goes through with Kai, whose constant sunshiny attitude offers such a great contrast to Rumi’s wry one. Bowman has such a talent for writing dialogue and it shines the brightest with these two characters–their exchanges are so fun and charming and I found myself grinning ear-to-ear through many of their scenes. 

I did find some of the side characters rather underdeveloped and the plot a little too stagnant for my tastes, especially in the latter half. But that’s probably just me–there’s nothing specifically wrong with the story and Contemporary YA lovers and/or teen readers should gobble it right up.

Overall, Summer Bird Blue is a beautiful and heartbreaking story that balances anger and humour and tackles many important topics with veteran ease.

Copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review

You may also like

0 comment

Norrie September 11, 2018 - 1:47 pm

Lovely review!
You made me want to try this book <3
Dunno how much sad stuff i can handle right now, but maybe a read for winter.

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky September 12, 2018 - 5:09 am

Thanks, Norrie! And LOL it’s a super summery book so I guess it’ll be a nice contrast to the cold and cloudy weather 😀

MetalPhantasmReads September 11, 2018 - 11:46 pm

I do want to try this book now after reading your review 🙂

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky September 12, 2018 - 6:43 am

It’s definitely worth trying, if only for the fantastic exploration of grief

jennifertarheelreader September 12, 2018 - 12:10 am

This review is as beautiful as that cover, Kathy! You highlighted several things that would make this a worthy read for me, so I am going to add it! ♥️

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky September 12, 2018 - 4:57 am

Yay!! It’s such a heartbreaking but hopeful story. Hope you enjoy it, Jennifer!

celinelingg September 12, 2018 - 3:55 am

I am definitely going to add this book into my list now! I love reading your review. It really do makes me want to try this book!

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky September 12, 2018 - 4:53 am

Thank you, Celine! I hope you enjoy it when/if you get to it!

This Week’s New Releases and Reviews – LEAVE A COMMENT if you have one, and I’ll share it! – Swift Coffee September 12, 2018 - 9:12 pm

[…] ‘Summer Bird Blue’ by Kathy at Pages Below the Vaulted Sky […]

@lynnsbooks September 13, 2018 - 10:38 am

Lovely review – I think I would have to be in the right mood for this one as it does sound very sad.
Lynn 😀

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky September 16, 2018 - 8:16 am

It was actually less sad and a bit more hopeful than I’d expected, but it’s definitely a heartwrencher for sure!

notsomoderngirl September 13, 2018 - 11:43 am

Loved reading this post 🙂

Kathy @Pages Below the Vaulted Sky September 16, 2018 - 8:15 am

Thank you! <3

auroralibrialis September 14, 2018 - 9:55 pm

Beautiful review! You’re such a wonderful writer 💕 This book sounds devastating, but so powerful.

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky September 17, 2018 - 3:39 am

ALSJFLSDJF thank you, Aurora?!? Knowing your taste in books and authors, that means so much!! 💗💗💗 And it *is* such powerful story. But also surprisingly hopeful!

Christina Reid April 11, 2019 - 2:47 pm

Great review! I read this quite recently and loved it, especially Mr Watanabe!

Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky April 12, 2019 - 6:29 am

Thank you, Christina! I’ve been seen a lot of new reviews for it this week and everyone seems to be loving it which is awesome! <3

Christina Reid April 13, 2019 - 2:45 pm

I think I just really related to how Rumi shows her grief through anger and to how Akemi Dawn Bowman writes so beautifully about music and emotion. 🙂

Book Review: Summer Bird Blue – Chrikaru Reads April 12, 2019 - 1:06 am

[…] Kathy @PagesBelowTheVaulted Sky said: […]


Leave a Comment

* By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More