Yeah, yeah…. I know. “Never judge a book by its cover” is common advice that’s important to follow and all that. But damn, I just have to say I fell in love with the art style on the cover of this one! Blue is my favourite colour (so bias) and it screams relaxing ocean vibes. Unfortunately for the main character, Rumi Seto, this tale is the opposite of a tranquil stroll along a beach.
Rumi’s world as she knows it has just been utterly destroyed by the tragic loss of her best friend and little sister, Lea. Her mom is immobilized by grief and teenage Rumi is sent from her home in the eastern US to go stay with her aunt in Hawaii. This upheaval and perceived abandonment doesn’t exactly help Rumi deal with her pain, to say the least.
Summer Bird Blue is all about Rumi’s difficult journey to overcome the tidal wave of miserable feelings that are triggered by loss. Everyone processes the pain of grief in their own way. The author did a fantastic job showing that the healing process is anything but a linear path to becoming “happy” again. Rumi has many ups, downs, and inbetweens while desperately trying to control her chaotic feelings throughout the story. Jealousy, anger, sorrow, loneliness, and feeling nothing at all… I felt her pain as I was reading through her past memories and present hell.
In my mind, awful experiences like this change the essence of who we are. A piece of us is destroyed when we lose someone we love. We need to forge that gaping hole into a bridge that leads to becoming a new us; an us who exists without the wonderful person we lost. That entire process is indescribably difficult, and that process takes time. That process may never truly be complete, either. No one else can make that road easier, no matter how badly they want to. This was shown perfectly by Rumi’s enraged interactions with her aunt, who was trying her best to help Rumi but simply couldn’t.
Before the incident, Rumi was an aspiring musician who jammed with her sister all the time. While struggling to accept Lea’s death, Rumi lost her ability to make music. I won’t ruin any plot details, but the title of the book and the healing power of music are essential aids to Rumi during her emotional battle.
Oh and you know what? Rumi is also asexual. This takes a minor role in the overall story (as it should… woot, respectful representation!), but introduced some themes I strongly connected with. Struggling to come to terms with how she feels about that love thing (and feeling hopelessly alone in that area) is yet another painful thing Rumi has to deal with. Lea was the only other person who seemed to truly understand Rumi, even more so than Rumi understood herself.
One line in particular spoke to me on a soulular level: “I told him I don’t know what it means to want a best friend that won’t date anyone else.” This line happens when Rumi was mulling over a difficult situation with another human who is sexually attracted to her. In my own experiences as a demiromantic asexual, it’s quite difficult to put into words how romantic attraction without sexual attraction works in my mind, and it ends up being awkwardly confusing for everyone involved.
Recently in the real world, I’ve had people sexually attracted to me for the first time in my life, but I just feel my regular friendship feelings towards them. I’m an empath and I feel awful, let me tell you. On the flip side, I’ve recently experienced rare and true romantic love for the first time ever towards someone who doesn’t love me back. Finding out they were dating someone else crushed my heart in a way that it’s never been crushed before, and I’ll never forgive myself for my reaction after they told me. Yep, “a best friend who doesn’t date anyone else” just about nails the description of an ideal dream partner I want. And just like Rumi, I feel so selfish and alone for thinking like that.
Seriously… thank you so much for giving me a romantic story I can relate to, Rumi (and Akemi Dawn Bowman). No matter the orientation, unrequited love is a complex mess of feelings for both the lover and the lovee, that’s for damn sure. Overall, Summer Bird Blue is superbly written story about overcoming grief and the healing power of music. Add in the asexual representation, beautiful sisterly moments, and themes about learning to understand yourself, and damn, how can I not call this a perfect novel in my eyes?
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