Summer Bird Blue

by Akemi Dawn Bowman

4 stars: At the heart of this story is a teenaged girl, Rumi, who is sent to Hawaii to live with an Aunt she doesn’t know well because there was a car crash and her little sister died. Her mom can’t handle it.

Rumi is angry. She is closed off, deflecting Aunt Ani’s every attempt to connect with her. She has long, emotional internal rants about how her mom abandoned her, how she is afraid her dead sister was the favorite, how she’s unintentionally cruel when she talks, how she isn’t lovable, how she’s letting down her sister because she was jealous and now they have one, last song to write and if she doesn’t finish it she’s betraying her sister and music.

Not low on teen angst, this book.

And while halfway through the book when Rumi is still an anger ball, being cruel to Aunt Ani, and cutting off every attempt by cute boy-next-door Kai to include her in his friend group and I was tired of it, somehow, the latter half of the book there’s this slow, emotional thawing pay off.

And I wondered if the tiresome, daily inner monologue of survivor guilt and grief wasn’t on the whole more authentic as a grief experience. And as Rumi slowly starts spending conversationless time with crusty old neighbor Watanabe listening to vinyl, and slowly allows Kai & friends to include her, the truly deep, emotional impact of the book is revealed.

I still had to use a huge dollop of reader-suspension-of-disbelief about how understanding Kai and Ani were for Rumi’s crankiness, and I’m not sure the book actually convinced me of Kai’s crush on Rumi, but the inclusion of Rumi’s acceptance of her own more asexual identity was a theme that I appreciated for its under representation in YA literature as well as how hte author wove it into Rumi’s constant comparison of herself with her more conventionally romantic sister.

The Hawaii stuff was fun, too, although I would have to bow to more knowledgeable folks on how the author wove Hawaii pidgin words and spelled out the accents on the different characters. It only sometimes slowed down my reading, but some of the characters seemed to have thicker accents than others. Aunt Ani sometimes seemed a little uneven on when her accent was expressed.

A deeply emotional, bit wearisome expression of teen grief with valuable identity representation.