Today is my spot on the Summer Bird Blue blog tour and I am SO excited to share my thoughts on another amazing novel from one of my favourites.
About the Book
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.
Everyone who knows me, reads my blog, or follows me on Twitter will know that Starfish was (and still is) a very special book for me. When I heard Akemi had a new book out in the world, I ordered it immediately (the US edition because I have no patience and I didn’t want to wait for the UK release date several months later). I did not regret this decision. This book is amazing (but the UK cover from Ink Road is far superior because it has foil).
Rumi Seto is grieving profoundly for her sister Lea. Lea died in a car accident that Rumi survived. Lea was the one person that Rumi felt understood her and she can’t forgive herself for what happened, for being the sister who survived the crash; she believes that her sister was a better person who deserved to live more than she does. This grief and guilt is perfectly explored by Akemi, it sucks you in and you really feel what Rumi is feeling as you read.
Lea and Rumi had a special bond, the love these two sisters had for each other gave me real envy. They wrote songs together by picking random words and building something from them. The last words they came up with the day Lea died were summer, bird and blue, but they never made that song. Rumi is fixated on this, she feels that she needs to finish this song, that she owes it to her sister. Lea always helped Rumi to navigate the world. Rumi is less openly affectionate than her sister was:
“You know some people have resting bitch face? I have resting jerk voice.”
Some sections of Summer Bird Blue are told through sections called “A Memory” which give us an insight into Rumi’s life before the crash. Through these memories, Rumi is always showing us the very worst of herself: she cannot accept there is anything good about herself without her sister in the world. Her mother’s absence isn’t helping with her feelings of worth.
Her mother is also struggling with her grief, so much so that she sends Rumi away to stay with her Aunt in Hawaii, and it is here that Rumi has to deal with her grief, surrounded by people she doesn’t know. Rumi is angry, understandably so, her mother’s actions are not what anyone would expect a mother to do in this situation. It took a long time for me to understand this (to be honest, I’m still not sure I do). Rumi struggles with this on top of her own grief. She cannot forgive her mother for leaving her when she needed her most. She believes that her mother has left because she wanted Lea more, loved her more, and is disappointed that Rumi survived when Lea didn’t. She justifies this to herself saying “people don’t love porcupines the way they love puppies”.
Aunty Ani is trying to give Rumi something vaguely approaching a normal life, even though Rumi is truly awful to her at times, often volatile and not the most likeable person, but she knows this:
“Maybe that’s why I am alone – because I say things without thinking. I hurt people without thinking.”
Rumi may not always be likeable, but she is a very realistic character and one that I could often identify with. Aunty Ani never gives up on her. I loved this. It was important to see Rumi find sources of support outside of her mother, and I think this is something a lot of readers will benefit from. Rumi makes new friends, including Kai, the boy from next door. He wants to be with her, but she doesn’t know how she feels; she doesn’t want to label her sexuality, as she’s still figuring things out, but she knows that she doesn’t feel what he does.
Rumi also finds support in Mr Wantanabe and his dog Poi. He is the grumpy man in the village, often angry about seemingly small things and doesn’t take to Rumi initially. The two gradually bond over their shared love of music, and in Mr Wantanabe, Rumi finds a friend who understands her better than she thought anyone could. She knows that she needs music to heal, but she cannot bear to hear it, to touch Lea’s guitar or think about the song they were writing. As she learns to love music again through her new friendship, she decides that finishing the Summer Bird Blue song is what will heal her.
“I know I owe Lea a song, but I’m not ready to write again … It hurts too much. It feels like my heart is made of glass, but her death shattered it into a billion pieces. Trying to make it beat again is agonising – I can feel every shard, every break”
Is Akemi ever going to write a book that does not destroy what is left of my heart and emotions? If she is, Summer Bird Blue is not that book; this book will hit you in all of the emotions. It is a beautiful portrayal of grief, healing and the importance of found family. I defy you to read it and not fall in love.