I have read and loved each of Akemi Dawn Bowman’s books, but Harley in the Sky takes the cake! It’s so nuanced. Harley in the Sky is a book about making mistakes, our complex family, and has fabulous discussions about mental health and multi-racial identity. Keep scrolling to read my rave review of Bowman’s latest!
Harley Milano has dreamed of becoming a trapeze artist for as long as she can remember. With parents who run a famous circus in Las Vegas, she spends almost every night in the big top watching their lead aerialist perform, wishing with all her heart and soul that she would be up there herself one day.
After a huge fight with her parents, who continue to insist she go to school instead, Harley leaves home, betrays her family, and joins the rival traveling circus Maison du Mystère. There, she is thrust into a world that is both brutal and beautiful, where she learns the value of hard work, passion, and collaboration. At the same time, Harley must come to terms with the truth of her family and her past—and reckon with the sacrifices she made and the people she hurt in order to follow her dreams.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from the author. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
Trigger warnings: depression, references to suicidal ideation
Harley in the Sky is a character driven story about Harley a girl focused on her big dreams in the air and her ambition balanced on a tight rope. She’s incredibly passionate and along the way makes mistakes, but Harley’s story is one of growth, understanding, and forgiveness. Some of my favorite elements were the way Bowman discusses mental health, not only in Harley’s case, but also in the way her family has a stigma surrounding the conversations. While there aren’t any labels used, and Harley talks specifically about this, there are characters struggling with mood swings, depression, manic episodes, and social anxiety.
Additionally, Harley talks a lot about her multi-racial identity and the challenges she faces. How she feels like she exists in this in between space. How it’s difficult for her to reconcile all these identities – being visibly marked as a POC, but as soon as she breaks down all these others parts of herself, they become erased. These conversations were so real, so genuine, and you can feel her emotions clearly on the page.
Harley as a Character
Harley in the Sky is a book that celebrates (found) family and the circus. Her love is contagious. Part of what makes the book so fabulous is that Harley’s emotions, her thoughts, are completely bared. Nothing is hidden from us and we can feel her joy and grief plainly. An aspect of Harley’s character, and story is her turbulent relationship with her mother and her parent’s expectations for her. Their relationship made me tear up because it’s so emotional and raw.
Harley in the Sky is a book where emotions dance across its pages. She’s caught up in a whirlwind of excitement and she felt so relatable to me. The ways our goals, our ambitions, our dreams, can force us to make difficult choices. What I adored about Harley in they Sky is how Bowman allows Harley is be a complex, and sometimes messy, character, while at the same time allowing her space. She has space for mistakes, for unspoken silence, and for growth. Her choices have real consequences, not only for herself, but those around her.
Harley in the Sky asks us what we will do to achieve what we want. It’s a story about mistakes and ambition, but also the road to forgiveness and balance. It’s about realizing we have the power to make choices, to alter the course of our lives and that our dreams, and love, take work and hard effort. Find Harley in the Sky on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository.