Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Rumi and her sister Lea share their love of music and songwriting; it makes them closer than most sisters or friends. But after Lea dies in a car accident, Rumi is left alone with her grief. Her mom sends her to Hawaii, where Rumi struggles to find a way to finish the last song she started with Lea, “Summer Bird Blue.”

I read this one because I had heard some really positive things about its depiction of grief, and because my contemporary YA reading could always use a boost. I didn’t know much about the plot or characters going in.

Sometimes when I read YA, I wonder if my reaction is colored by my age, and that was definitely the case here. While I liked the prose and the spareness of the story, I felt like I could predict the overall character arc and themes of the book within the first few pages. Since the story felt expected in that sense, I struggled to really immerse myself in it. However, I suspect that for teen readers that might not be the case.

I did really enjoy Rumi’s neighbor in Hawaii, Mr. Watanabe. In addition to being a snarky monster, it was also nice to see some older characters in a YA book, having real relationships with the main character in a way that felt realistic. Rumi’s friendship with her other neighbor, Kai, were also refreshing–while Kai is somewhat interested in her romantically, Rumi doesn’t feel that way about him and talks about how she possibly considers herself asexual on the page. 

And while for me Rumi’s journey throughout the book felt a bit predictable and repetitive, Bowman does a great job of shading in the details of the initial picture we get, especially in regards to Lea and Rumi’s relationship. It’s clear that there was a special bond between the sisters, but it also becomes clear over the course of the story that they also fought and were jealous of each other in ways that make both more human.

Lastly, I loved the setting–Hawaii is not somewhere I’ve ever been or felt a particular desire to visit, but the history and heritage of the characters, as well as the physical setting, are important background and inform who they are and how they live in the world.

All in all, while I wasn’t personally in love with this one, I would definitely hand it to teenage readers, especially those who are grappling with grief and the different forms it can take. Readers who liked Ashley Woodfolk’s The Beauty That Remains might especially appreciate it.

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Previously, on By Singing Light:

The Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni (2013)
The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud (2014)
The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn (2015)
Dancing, Princesses, Magic: Vernon and Valentine (2016)

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Capsized! by Patricia Sutton

Capsized!: The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster by Patricia Sutton (Chicago Review Press, July 2018) is a children’s non-fiction book about a largely forgotten disaster–the capsizing of a passenger-laden steamboat in the Chicago River in 1915. It’s a fairly slim book with a fair number of contemporary photos of both the people and the actual events of the capsizing. Sutton’s author’s note indicates that she has been fascinated with the story for a long time and I’d say this book shows how much research she has done to uncover eyewitness accounts and reports.

I thought that I picked Capsized!  up because I had challenged myself a while back to try to read (or at least attempt) the middle grade books from the Publisher’s Weekly best books of summer 2018 list. But it turns out, it’s not on that list! It did receive a Kirkus star, so I may have seen the review there and thought it looked interesting.

The SS Eastland story is one I think I was vaguely familiar with but certainly didn’t know much about. And oh wow, this is a tough one! The details of the disaster are pretty much horrifying. It’s one of those examples of how a bunch of small mistakes can build up to a situation that goes really, really awry. So the first part of the book is full of a sense of impending doom since you know what’s about to happen and all the people in the book are blithely getting ready for a company picnic.

Part of what’s so devastating is the fact that most of the victims were from a very close-knit community who lived in neighborhoods around the Western Electric factory where they or their families worked. Towards the end of the book, Sutton mentions that on one street there was not a single house without mourning ribbons on the door. The narrative follows a couple of families, giving a sense of how they fit into the overall picture of Western Electric employees and families, through their part in the disaster, and wrapping up with what happened to them later. The inclusion of photographs from the capsizing and the aftermath strengthen the power of the text nicely.

The book does an excellent job of painting the background picture: the history of the SS Eastland, the immigrant communities that many of the workers were part of, the pressure from the management of Western Electric to attend the picnic. That being said, I felt that the bulk of the book focused on the lead-up to the accident, and I wished that a little more time had been spent on what happened afterwards, although since Sutton notes that war news replaced the reporting on the capsizing almost immediately this may be partly an issue with the historical record.

Overall, this is a powerful and devastating read that I would recommend for grades 5+. Hand this one to anyone who loves reading about forgotten history or disasters, especially the kids who are into the Titanic and ready to branch out.

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Previously, on By Singing Light:
Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow (2013)
Libraries and Life Preservers (2014)
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie (2015)
Joan Aiken Reading Notes: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (2016)

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Weekly reading review: 10/14-10/20

I didn’t mean to skip last week, but trust me when I say that this has been A Week, and posting on Wednesday seemed a bit silly. I guess I should be more organized and try to write these posts through the week instead of panicking on Sunday afternoon. What an idea!

What I finished
Capsized! by Patricia Sutton: reviewed up tomorrow

Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King: I decided to try the Mary Russell books again–I’d started the first one several times. I don’t absolutely love them (notably I am not wild about the Russell/Holmes romance thread, and they seem to reproduce some gross attitudes about class/the Empire rather than interrogating them) but they satisfy the craving for a decent mystery so I read the second one too.

Drum Roll Please Lisa Jenn Bigelow: A cute music camp story–are there any other music camp stories out there? this one was adorable–and yet another take on middle school friendship! I’m a fan of this mini-trend, so please keep them coming, publishing. Also nice to note that this is partly a story about a f/f middle grade crush, and also navigating the tricky waters of having a first crush and keeping your friends, in a totally age-appropriate way. Yay!

What I’m currently reading

Jade City by Fonda Lee: Dark, complex fantasy about a fictional Asian country where jade confers magical abilities and powerful clans vie for territory and influence. This one is a bit darker than what I’ve been reading recently and I’m liking it a lot.

Persuasion by Jane Austen: I’m really enjoying rereading this, and I’ve been livetweeting my thoughts about it.

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman: YA contemporary about a girl whose sister has just died. It’s a strong book and the prose is really nice, although I’m not finding myself totally caught up in the story. We’ll see what I end up thinking!

What I’m reading next

Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas

City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty

 

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Weekly reading review: 9/30-10/6

I am writing this from the Couch of Great Sniffles, having caught a cold last week. I always seem to catch a cold around my birthday! (which is next week) It’s unjust.

What I finished

The Likeness by Tana French: Creepy and effective–I liked the ways it seemed to be in conversation with past mysteries and thrillers, even if that meant the basic premise was pretty unbelievable.

The Lost Books: The Scroll of Kings by Sarah Prineas: A fun middle grade fantasy, and the start of a new series. I am always so-so about fantasy librarians and this is no exception, but it’s still a solid and engaging read.

What I’m currently reading

Persuasion by Jane Austen: An old friend that I haven’t read in a long time.

Spinning Silver by Noami Novik: So far I’m really liking this one!

She Loves You (Yeah Yeah Yeah) by Ann Hood: Light-ish YA about a Beatles-obsessed teenager.

Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough [ebook]: I’m not very far into this one but I think I’ll like it, depending on how the romance aspect plays out.

What I’m reading next

A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey

 

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September 2018 reading

The Likeness Tana French 9.30
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss 9.29
A Festival of Ghosts by William Alexander 9.28
Point of Dreams Melissa Scott & Lisa Barnett 9.27
Sadie Courtney Summers 9.24
Winter Tide Ruthanna Emrys 9.23
Blood Oath Amanda McCrina 9.22
Bannerless Carrie Vaughn 9.15
Sick Porochista Kakhpour 9.13
Zahrah the Windseeker Nnedi Okorafor 9.8
Confessions of the Fox Jordy Rosenberg 9.6
The Summer of Jordi Perez Amy Spalding 9.4
Dear Mrs Bird AJ Pearce 9.1

Total books read: 13

Total rereads: 0

Favorites:

  • The Summer of Jordi Perez
  • Blood Oath
  • Bannerless
  • The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter
  • Confessions of the Fox

Weekly reading roundups:

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Weekly reading review: 9/23-9/29

What a week! What an awful week! Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to say that, oh, every single week? Anyway, in the midst of *gestures towards the world* this mess, I did finish some books that on the whole were pretty good.

What I finished:
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss: I really enjoyed this one–and it’s been a bit since I found a book purely enjoyable. It’s super white, but I otherwise liked it immensely & found in it a bit of hope.

A Festival of Ghosts by William Alexander: Alexander’s books pretty much always hit the right spot for me, and this one is no exception. A sequel to A Properly Unhaunted Place, there’s a nice depth to this continuation of Rosa & Jasper’s stories.

Point of Dreams by Melissa Scott & Lisa Barnett: The other Astreiant books are all ebooks and not owned by my library, so I jumped ahead to this one. These are nice for a certain reading mood, and I appreciate the worldbuilding here a lot.

Sadie by Courtney Summers: This is a searing read, with a spot-on replication of a true crime podcast. I appreciate the heart and the technical ability here. I also keep wondering if this is a book for teens, or a book about teens. Neither is better or worse, exactly, but I guess I question the YA label for this one a bit.

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys: Oh, such mixed feelings here. The surface level writing and characterization are pretty cool, and I appreciate the intent of the project. Buuuuuuut, I felt mildly to very uncomfortable with some of the nuances and conflations underneath the surface.

What I’m currently reading:
The Likeness by Tana French [ebook] (I kind of forgot about this one, whoops)
Bruja Born by Zoraida Cordova: I liked Labyrinth Lost quite a bit, so I’m excited about this one. Not very far yet, but it’s pretty gutsy and engaging so far!

What I’m planning to read next:
A Trust Betrayed : The Untold Story of Camp Lejeune and the Poisoning of Generations of Marines and Their Families by Mike Magner
Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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Weekly reading review: 9/16-9/22

I’m attempting something new here–a weekly round up of my reading. If you have any feedback about the format, etc, leave me a comment!

What I finished:
Blood Oath by Amanda McCrina–The second in a duology? series? I wasn’t quite sure based on the ending. Amanda is a friend, but I also genuinely like her books a lot. If a historical fantasy with echoes of Megan Whalen Turner and Rosemary Sutcliff, strong characterization and taut dialogue sounds like your thing, I’d recommend Blood Road & Blood Oath.

What I’m currently reading:
Hullmetal Girls by Emily Skrutskie–I’ve literally JUST started this one, so I don’t have much of a sense of it yet
The Likeness by Tana French [ebook]–trippy setup and a bit reminiscent of Brat Farrar; I’m liking French’s prose a lot
Point of Dreams by Melissa Scott and Lisa Barnett–I liked the first one in the series and expect to enjoy this one too; they’re quieter reads so it’s a good book to dip in and out of

What I’m planning to read next:
Sadie by Courtney Summers
Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

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