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Summer Bird Blue


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About The Book

“A lyrical novel about grief, love, and finding oneself in the wake of a tragic loss.” —Bustle
“Gorgeous prose and heartbreaking storytelling.” —Paste Magazine
“Grabs your heart and won’t let go.” —Book Riot

A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year

Three starred reviews for this stunning novel about a mixed-race teen who struggles to find her way back to her love of music in the wake of her sister’s death, from the author of the William C. Morris Award finalist Starfish.

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.

Aching, powerful, and unflinchingly honest, Summer Bird Blue explores big truths about insurmountable grief, unconditional love, and how to forgive even when it feels impossible.


Summer Bird Blue




Lea’s face lights up like every star in the sky just turned on at once. “I love it.”

Mom looks over her shoulder, the arch in her brow a mix of curiosity and amusement. She’s heard us play this game a thousand times, but she still doesn’t fully understand it.

I don’t blame her. Most people think Lea and I are two of the weirdest people in the universe when we’re writing songs.

“What does a bird have to do with summer or blue?” Mom asks.

Lea and I speak at the exact same time, our voices colliding against each other’s like cymbals.

“It doesn’t have to make sense.”

“You’re interrupting our vibe.”

Mom laughs. Her eyes meet mine in the rearview mirror. “I think ‘black’ would’ve given you more options. Shama thrush are beautiful songbirds, you know.”

I glance at Lea and make a face. “What is she talking about?” I whisper.

“No idea,” Lea whispers back. “I think she’s just making up words.”

Mom lets out a mock groan. “Fine. I’ll just sit here quietly, the unpaid taxi driver whose daughters won’t talk to her.”

I laugh. Lea leans forward and plants a kiss on Mom’s freckled cheek, their faces blending together like a blur of bronze skin and curls the color of burnt coffee.

My hair isn’t wild like theirs—it’s long and straight, probably because I’m not wild at all. They’re the ones who go on all the roller coasters, sing in public, and dance to every song on the radio.

I’m more of a sideline kind of girl. I live vicariously through them.

Mom tilts her head back and purses her lips. “What about you, Rumi? Got a kiss for your mom?”

“I’m good,” I say, rolling my eyes as Lea settles back next to me. It’s not that I don’t love my mother, but I’m not really the affectionate type. I’d blame it on the fact that I’m going to be a senior this fall, but Lea is going to be a sophomore and she still hasn’t outgrown Mom’s hugs.

Maybe it’s because Lea is a way nicer person than I am. It makes sense—she’s a giggler. And people who giggle are either incredibly annoying or so over-the-top nice you feel obligated to forgive them for it.

There’s nobody in the world who would call Lea annoying. Not even me, and I’m usually annoyed by most things with faces.

Mom lets out a gentle sigh. “I’ll try not to take it personally.”

You know how some people have resting bitch face? I have relaxed jerk voice. Lea insists this is a real thing. She says I always sound like I’m barking instead of talking. So to compensate, I use the sandwich method.

A compliment, followed by my real thoughts, followed by a compliment. It was Lea’s idea I sarcastically agreed to go along with, but for some reason it’s kind of stuck.

“Your hair smells like flowers. Kissing makes me feel like you’re violating my personal space. I like your lip gloss.”

Lea coughs her laughter into the back of her hand. Mom looks at me with half-hearted disapproval.

There’s a journal sitting in the space between Lea and me. It’s sky blue and covered in tiny white stars, with an R and an L drawn on the cover in black Sharpie.

I pick it up, splitting the book open with my thumb, and flip through pages and pages of lyrics Lea and I have been working on all year. They were all inspired by three words, too. It’s our game—to think of the first three things that come to us and write a song about them.

Some of them are funny. “Love String Macaroni.” “House Ghost Marshmallow.”

Some of them are dark. “Earth Blood Iron.” “Lost Wings Ice.”

But they are all us—Lea and me—and that counts for a lot.

I write “Summer Bird Blue” on a new page and tap the end of my pen against the lined paper.

Lea sniffs beside me. She pats her hand against her thigh, a beat that reminds me of a song we once wrote about a boy who still doesn’t know she exists. “Every summer I remember what it’s like,” she starts to sing.

I close my eyes. “To feel the warmth against my skin.”

“You know just how to take the sun away,” she continues.

“And it’s winter when I look at you again.” I peel my eyes open and find Lea smiling at me.

Something rushes through my body, as if my blood has been replaced with starlight. I feel like magic, and wonder, and pure happiness. And when I look at Lea, my fifteen-year-old sister who glows and shimmers and is everything good that I’m not, I know she feels the same way.

Music is what makes up the single soul we share. I don’t think I’ll ever find another person in the entire world who understands me the way Lea does. We’re the only two people in the universe who speak our language.

Lea throws me a thumbs-up. “I like it.”

“I can’t wait to get back to my piano,” I say.

Mom slows the car down. Another red light. She looks up at us in the mirror. “But where’s the blue bird? I thought you were singing about a blue bird?”

We talk over each other again, like sisters with the same thought but different words.

“God, Mom, let it die.”

“You don’t get us at all.”

And then the three of us are laughing, and pretty soon it’s just one loud sound that harmonizes together. Mom, Lea, and me. The song of our family.

The light turns green up ahead, and Mom pulls away, still smiling.

It’s hard to explain what I see next. Nothing at first, and then something so dark and big that it shields all the light from the window. But I do hear the sounds.

A crash, like every chime and timpani and gong colliding all at once.

Shattering glass, like stars exploding into dust.

A crunch, like bone and stone and metal and so many awful things moving in directions they shouldn’t be.

A breath.

A word.

And then complete and utter silence.

About The Author


Akemi Dawn Bowman is a critically acclaimed author who writes across genres. Her novels have received multiple accolades and award nominations, and her debut novel, Starfish, was a William C. Morris Award Finalist. She has a BA in social sciences from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and currently lives in Scotland with her husband and two children. She overthinks everything, including this bio. Visit Akemi online at, or on Instagram @AkemiDawnBowman.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (March 10, 2020)
  • Length: 400 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781481487764
  • Ages: 12 - 99

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Raves and Reviews


A Junior Library Guild Selection

“A lyrical novel about grief, love, and finding oneself in the wake of a tragic loss.” —Bustle

“Gorgeous prose and heartbreaking storytelling.” —Paste Magazine

“Grabs your heart and won’t let go.” —Book Riot

“Will leave readers breathless.” —Booklist, starred review

“A strikingly moving book about teenage grief.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“A stunning story filled with the healing power of friendship, family, and music. . . . The language is extraordinary.” —School Library Journal, starred review

“Achingly beautiful and exquisitely crafted, Summer Bird Blue is an emotionally raw and utterly honest story about loss, about hope, and about finding the courage to sing your own song. Akemi Dawn Bowman's writing is lyrical and full of life. I was riveted from the first page.” —Samira Ahmed, New York Times bestselling author of Love, Hate & Other Filters

"Summer Bird Blue is a quiet but powerful exploration of music and love, and their ability to heal grief over time. Like my favorite sad songs, this book settled deep into my heart and refused to let go." —Brandy Colbert, author of Little & Lion and Finding Yvonne

Summer Bird Blue brings us the gift of Rumi, unflinchingly honest in herself, her music and the ways she loves and doesn’t. I got (sobbingly) lost in the rhythms of this beautiful exploration of what it means to grieve when you haven’t figured out who you are or your place in the world. With a Hawaiian setting so vividly alive that it becomes essential to Rumi’s healing, this is a gut-wrenching, must-read novel.” —S.K. Ali, award-winning author of Saints and Misfits

"A beautifully complex exploration of grief, guilt, and the healing power of art and friendship. Akemi Dawn Bowman’s Summer Bird Blue will make your heart ache and leave your soul hopeful.” —Ashley Herring Blake, author of Suffer Love and Girl Made of Stars


A 2018 William C. Morris Award Finalist
A New York Public Library 2017 Best Book for Teens
A Junior Library Guild Selection

“An empowering novel that will speak to many mixed-race teens.” Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A stunningly beautiful, highly nuanced debut.” Booklist, starred review

“Readers living with anxiety or depression will immediately identify with Kiko. . . . a deep and engaging story that will not only entertain but also may encourage readers to live their best lives.” School Library Journal

Vividly captures the identity struggles of a biracial young adult searching to find her place in two worlds.” BCCB

“Bowman gives a powerful voice to silenced victims of sexual abuse through Kiko, whose transformation from meek and afraid into powerful and strong is incredibly moving.” VOYA

“Dazzling.” Bustle

“One of the most compelling reads of the year.” Paste Magazine

“This book is a gem.” —BookRiot

“A vibrant, complex and heartfelt story about finding your place in a sharp-edged world that never makes it easy.” —Kelly Loy Gilbert, author of Conviction and Picture Us in the Light

“Akemi Dawn Bowman’s quietly dazzling debut novel gave me the sensation of looking into a mirror. This story is a knockout, at once an incisive portrait of family dysfunction, a nuanced depiction of Asian-American adolescence, and an artist's vibrant coming-of-age—a story so specific as to be universal. Brimming with confessional intimacy and the furious strength of empowerment, Starfish feels like the ache of being lost and the relief of finding home.” —Riley Redgate, author of Seven Ways We Lie and Noteworthy

Awards and Honors

  • NYPL Best Books for Teens

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More books from this author: Akemi Dawn Bowman