Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) and Summer Bird Blue (Fall 2018). She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.

Early Review – SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Early Review – SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn BowmanSummer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Also by this author: Starfish
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on September 11, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

MY REVIEW:

 

Akemi Dawn Bowman’s Summer Bird Blue is a heartbreakingly beautiful story about grief and how to come to terms with the loss of a loved one, especially when that loved one is the person that you’re closest to in the whole world.  Rumi Seto and her younger sister Lea are like two peas in a pod.  They’re best friends and they both share a passion for music. They spend most of their time writing songs together and dream of making music together for a living when they’re older.  But then tragedy strikes and Lea dies in a car accident.

Rumi is overcome with grief and is struggling to cope.  Then things get even worse because without any warning or explanation, Rumi’s mother decides to send her away to stay with her aunt in Hawaii for the summer.  Rumi is hurt and confused – shouldn’t they be trying to work through their grief together?  All they have left is each other and now her own mother doesn’t want her around?   Rumi doesn’t know how she’s going to get through this on her own, or for that matter, if she will be able to get through this.    The sense of loss that she feels is so crushing that she can’t even bear to play music anymore because it just makes her heart ache so much.

Rumi arrives in Hawaii feeling so lost and angry that she immediately begins lashing out at everyone around her, especially her aunt and her aunt’s neighbors.  Everyone around her sees the pain that she is in and they want to help in any way they can, including a very persistent teenage surfer named Kai.  He is determined to break down the walls Rumi has built up around herself.  Will Rumi let him, or anyone else, in?

Summer Bird Blue has so many qualities that I love in a contemporary novel.    I could probably write about my LIKES for days, but I’ll try to restrain myself to a few highlights so I don’t accidentally spoil anything.

Rumi, of course, was a favorite from the beginning.  I loved seeing her interact with her sister, especially their song writing drill where they come up with three random words and then compose a song around those three words.  They were clearly about as close as two sisters could possibly be, so it was absolutely heartwrenching when the car accident took Lea away from Rumi.

I also thought Bowman did a beautiful job portraying all the emotions that Rumi was feeling after her sister’s death.  The grief, the frustration, the anger and the confusion – it’s all just so palpable.  Some may find Rumi somewhat abrasive and unlikable because of the way she lashes out at everyone around her, but she is so clearly being crushed by this suffocating grief that I didn’t hold her words or her actions against her.  It just all felt very real to me.  I’m very close to my sister too and know that I would probably react the exact same way if I lost her the way Rumi lost Lea.

Bowman’s use of flashbacks was also very effective.  She uses them to show memories that Rumi is reflecting on about her relationship with both her mother and her sister.  We begin to see that although Rumi loved her sister more than life, their relationship was pretty complex and a lot of what Rumi is feeling is also guilt because she wasn’t always the nicest to Lea.  There’s also an intricate dynamic between Rumi and her mom when it came to Lea that also sheds some light on why Rumi’s mom has seemingly abandoned her.

Summer Bird Blue also features a wonderful cast of secondary characters.  My favorite was Mr. Watanabe, the elderly man who turns his garden hose on Rumi when she lashes out at him and his dog.  After their initial contentious meeting, Mr. Watanabe becomes an unexpected source of emotional support for Rumi.  His home, along with the music he listens to, becomes somewhat of a sanctuary for Rumi.  Mr. Watanabe has also lost loved ones and so he understands that grieving is a process and that Rumi needs to work through it at her own pace.  The friendship that develops between them is just lovely.

In addition to Mr. Watanabe, surfer dude Kai was also a favorite of mine.  I loved his persistence, his sense of humor, and his free spirit.  Kai can be kind of an adorable dork at times, but when it comes down to it, he’s there for Rumi whether she wants him to be or not.

The last thing I want to talk about is how wonderfully diverse Summer Bird Blue is.  The entire cast of characters is multi-racial, and Bowman includes culture from every race that is represented.  She does an exceptional job of sharing Hawaiian culture, in particular, and had me wanting to pack my suitcase and fly there.

In addition to being racially and culturally diverse, however, Summer Bird Blue is also diverse in that while she is trying to work through her grief and figure out who she even is without Lea, Rumi is also questioning and exploring her sexuality.  She has never had any real interest in dating or in kissing anyone, and wonders why.  She’s not interested in boys or girls in any way beyond friendship and finally begins to understand and embrace the idea that she is both asexual and aromantic.

None! 😊

Summer Bird Blue is one of those books that I could just gush about for days.  Between it and Bowman’s earlier novel Starfish, she has become an auto buy author for me.  Her books are just always so heartfelt and are filled with such well-drawn characters.  Even when they make me cry, which both of these books did, they are a joy to read and I will never hesitant to recommend them to anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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.

four-half-stars

About Akemi Dawn Bowman

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) and Summer Bird Blue (Fall 2018). She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.

Book Review: STARFISH by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Book Review:  STARFISH by Akemi Dawn BowmanStarfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Also by this author: Summer Bird Blue
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on September 26th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

MY REVIEW:

When I first requested Akemi Dawn Bowman’s novel, Starfish, I didn’t really know much about it other than the fact that it had one of the most gorgeous book covers I’ve ever seen.  I was completely unprepared for the emotional punch this book would pack.  Covering a wide spectrum of heavy subjects such as sexual and emotional abuse as well as suicide, Starfish is not an easy read by any means, but ultimately it is a powerful story about discovering who you really are and what you want out of life.

Starfish follows the story of Kiko Himura, a high school senior who suffers from social anxiety and therefore often has trouble expressing herself and fitting in.  Kiko, however, is also a gifted artist who uses her art to say what she can’t seem to say with words.  One of Kiko’s biggest dreams is to get into the prestigious Prism art school.  She feels like once she gets away from home and can throw herself into her art, her real life can finally begin.

Kiko is also half Japanese and her parents are divorced.  She lives with her mother, who is blond haired, blue eyed and is obsessed with her appearance.  She also constantly makes Kiko feel unattractive and implies that she would be more attractive if she were not of Asian descent. Her mother is also a narcissist and so whenever Kiko tries to talk to her, she always manages to twist the topic around and make it about herself.  On top of that, instead of supporting Kiko in what she is passionate about, Kiko’s mom belittles her art and can’t be bothered to attend Kiko’s art shows at school.

Then, as if Kiko’s mom isn’t bad enough, Kiko’s abusive uncle moves in with them.  After an incident that took place the last time he lived in their house when Kiko woke up and found him in her bedroom, Kiko now refuses to live in the same house as him.  She tells her mother as much, but her mom ignores her and tells her she is being overly dramatic about what happened.

Kiko longs for her mother to believe her and support her and let her know that she cares, but it just feels like that’s never going to happen.  She knows she needs to get away from the toxic environment that she is living in, but her dreams are shattered when she receives a rejection notice from Prism. Having applied to no other schools, Kiko doesn’t have a Plan B.  How will she recover from this unexpected rejection? Will she ever get the support and affection that she so craves from her mother or does Plan B involve starting over alone somewhere new?   What happens next for Kiko?

I fell in love with Kiko right away. As someone who also tends to get very anxious in social situations, I felt an immediate connection to Kiko as I watched her struggle to interact both at school and at parties.  The author did a wonderful job in those scenes of portraying social anxiety and how truly crippling it can be.

Kiko was also a favorite of mine because she’s such a sympathetic character.  In addition to her social anxiety issues, her home life is just awful.  It’s hard enough being a child of divorced parents, but it’s especially hard if you feel like the parent you’re living with doesn’t seem to care about you and either ignores you or criticizes you every time they see you.  I absolutely loathed Kiko’s mother and the way she treated Kiko.  At the same time though, I completely understood why Kiko kept trying to connect with her and kept trying to show her the art she was working on.  It’s completely natural for a child to want their parent’s approval and it was heartbreaking to watch Kiko keep getting rejected every time she tried.  I just wanted to give her a big hug and tell her she deserved better because it was obviously killing Kiko’s sense of self-worth.

Even though Kiko’s mom had no interest in Kiko’s artwork, I sure did.  Some of my favorite scenes in Starfish were where we got to see Kiko immerse herself in her art.  Watching her completely at ease with herself because she’s in her element and then reading the author’s descriptions of what she was actually drawing and painting honestly made me wish the book was illustrated.  The art work sounded so gorgeous and magical!

Aside from Kiko herself, some of the other elements of Starfish I really enjoyed were the overall themes.  There is a huge focus on beauty, with a specific emphasis on the message that there is no set idea for what is considered beautiful.  We’re all beautiful in our own unique way, and someone who is Asian is just as beautiful as someone who happens to be blond and blue-eyed.  To go along with that truth about what is beautiful, there is also a huge emphasis on self-love.  You should love yourself exactly as you are and not let anyone make you feel bad about yourself.

Along the lines of accepting that you’re beautiful just the way you are, Starfish can also be considered a powerful coming of age story.  After she is rejected from the art school of her dreams, Kiko embarks on a journey of self-discovery to slowly but surely figure out who she really is, what she wants from life, and how she can stand on her own two feet regardless of whether or not she has her mother’s support and approval.  It’s an often painful journey for Kiko, but in the end, it’s a beautiful one that is full of hope and promise.

One final element of the story that I liked was Kiko’s reunion with a long-lost friend from her childhood.  There is a romantic element there and I liked the way the author handled the transition from friends to lovers.  I also liked that the romance wasn’t just a way for Kiko to escape her home life, but that in a twist I really liked, it also presented Kiko with some unexpected opportunities and allowed her to make some empowering decisions about her future.

Aside from my utter dislike of Kiko’s mother, I don’t really have anything for this section.  And even though I completely disliked her, she was still an incredibly well drawn character and served an important purpose in Kiko’s story.

I think Starfish is going to be one of those books that I will continue to think about long after finishing the last page.  As I mentioned earlier, it packs an emotional punch and Kiko’s journey is one that I think many readers will relate to on some level, whether it’s the feeling like you don’t belong, feeling like you’re not good enough, or dealing with a less than ideal home life.  For this reason and because the writing and storytelling is top notch, I fully expect to see Starfish on many ‘Best of’ 2017 lists before the end of the year.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

four-half-stars

About Akemi Dawn Bowman

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) and Summer Bird Blue (Fall 2018). She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.