I knew I’d have to read everything Akemi Dawn Bowman ever writes when I fell in love with Starfish. With Summer Bird Blue has confirmed her place as one of my favourite authors.
🚨 UGLY CRY ALERT! 🚨
Sorry in advance for the ramble. I’m still an emotional wreck from this book so this review may not be overly coherent.
Rumi is one of the most acerbic characters I’ve loved in a long time. She’s angry, she’s confused, she’s mean, she feels guilty as hell. Lea, the good sister, daughter, friend, human being, died in an accident and Rumi is left to try to figure out how to do life without her best friend. Her mother has abandoned her, shipped her off to Hawaii for the summer to live with Aunty Ani, who’s practically a stranger, and Rumi is furious.
Rumi’s grief is so palpable that I needed to take a few breaks from reading just so I could breathe for a while without inhaling pain. The portrayal of grief in this book was brilliant – visceral, uncomfortable, painful and so real. Normally I would be annoyed if a character’s thoughts were as repetitive as Rumi’s were at times but it added to the authenticity of her character.
People were shown to be grieving differently in this book; there wasn’t a one size fits all portrayal. I hope this book makes its way into the hands of young people who need to know that they’re not alone, that their feelings are valid and that it’s okay to need help.
Sometimes I’m not sure if there is anywhere left in the world I can look where I won’t see the empty spaces she left behind.
Some of my favourite conversations in this book included Rumi’s ‘sandwich method’, where she wraps what she really feels inside two compliments, including,
“I like your eyeshadow today. I feel like I’m eating neon-colored mucus. Thanks for cooking.”
As I read I kept finding ways to use sandwiches as an analogy. For example, Aunt Ani’s house is sandwiched between the homes of Kai and Mr. Watanabe who, while they’re polar opposites in many respects, befriend Rumi and support her while she’s grieving. Then, if you want to take it even further, Rumi is sandwiched between the memories of her sister and the fear of having a future without her.
My favourite character was Aunty Ani’s lonely neighbour, Mr. Watanabe, who has a yappy dog called Poi and is hiding a beautiful heart beneath his grumpy exterior. While he’s comfortable with silence, when he speaks he’s certainly worth listening to.
“Grief is only a visitor, but it goin’ stay mo’ longer when it sees you hiding from it.”
I loved the way music is woven into this book and the lives of its characters. Rumi’s unique way of describing different songs helped me ‘hear’ and feel them in a way that I don’t remember experiencing in a book before.
The piano music is like vanilla lattes and sugar cookies. Cozy. Homely.
I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when I learned one of the characters in this book was asexual. I was overjoyed that this wasn’t just casually mentioned and then set aside. The representation was realistic and the reactions of other characters when they discussed it was everything I hoped it would be. It was never portrayed as a weakness or something to be ashamed of and I loved that kissing an attractive person didn’t magically change this person’s sexuality. I definitely want to read more books featuring asexual and aromantic characters.
I promised myself I wouldn’t cry before Rumi did and with some strategic reading breaks I
made it!!! almost made it. When I finally did cry it was definitely the ugly kind; I essentially sobbed through most of the final 10%, obliterating about half a dozen tissues along the way. I’m now nursing a fairly spectacular ugly cry hangover headache but it was entirely worth it.
Before I finish I have to mention the amazing cover! It was Sarah Creech’s gorgeous cover of Starfish that drew me to Akemi’s debut and once again Sarah’s cover design and illustration complement the story perfectly.
Thank you so much to NetGalley and Ink Road, an imprint of Black & White Publishing, for the opportunity to read this book. I want to recommend it to everyone!
Once Upon a Blurb
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.