Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
*I received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*
After her younger sister, Lea, dies in a car accident, Rumi is sent to live with her aunt in Hawaii. Wracked with survivor’s guilt, Rumi doesn’t know how to begin coping. Far from home and without her sister, Rumi is angry. But with the help of her new neighbours, Rumi finds her way back to reconnect with music and her sister.
This story was just absolutely incredible. It’s intense and emotional. I was genuinely captivated by Rumi’s journey as we follow her from a very vulnerable place and watch grow in her healing journey. She begins the story in a very angry place, her mother had abandoned her, and now she’s in an unknown place. Memories are scattered in scenes which reveal her past and demonstrate how everything led to Hawaii. While they read a little abruptly at some moments, I loved what they showed. They really built into Rumi’s past with her family and allow Lea to fully flourish into her own despite never actually appearing in the current time.
What captured me the most about this book is how Rumi uses music to deal with her grief. At first, she’s very reluctant to keep music at bay but returns to it to fulfil her final promise to her sister. Music has so much power in this novel, and that was one aspect that I really appreciated.
I feel like Rumi will anger a lot of readers. There’s a certain expectation of how grief should be portrayed, usually a constant state of sadness. And Rumi isn’t like that all the time, she’s angry, rightfully so, and she’s hugely expressive and says everything unabashedly. I just hope no one interprets her grief as her being a “Bad” character. Also, the parent-child relationship here is rather interesting, and I enjoyed the different take on the usual “strong parent who is there for their child” type I’m so used to reading about.
Amid everything, one subplot follows Rumi as she questions her own sexuality, and she later identifies as asexual which is pretty amazing to read considering how ace characters in YA are severely underrepresented.
I love books that have large friendship groups where everyone truly cares for each other, and Summer Bird Blue gave us just that. Rumi meets Kai, her neighbour, and later meets Hannah, Gareth and a whole bunch of others who genuinely care for each other. I would have loved to have seen more of them. There’s also her elderly neighbour, George Watanabe, and I had such sheer joy while reading about them doing such simple things. His own story is heart-breaking.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It was just so heartfelt and emotional, especially the last quarter had me in tears. A story about a girl exploring her grief, but also a story about family and friendship. A brilliant character-driven novel that really hit all the right notes .