Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Contemporary, 384 pages, published in 2020

Harley has dreamed of joining the circus as trapeze artist, but her parents, who own a circus, want her to go to college because they think she will be limiting herself if she commits to her dream. Tired of having them ignore her feelings, she runs away to join a rival circus. However, the price of her entry into this new troupe is betraying her family. When things don’t go as she excepts, she has to face her dreams and the people she hurt.

Spoiler Free Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Akemi Dawn Bowman is absolutely one of my favorite authors, so I was super hyped for this book and it did not disappoint one bit! I think she tackles so much in her books, but she does that so well and so completely. One (of the many) reasons that I love her books is because while her books are YA and are accessible for a younger audience, anyone can relate to the themes and topics she covers.

Immediately, I felt a connection to Harley. She is multiracial, being a quarter each of Japanese, Chinese, Italian, and Irish. She struggles a lot with finding her place. She never feels like she’s enough of anything to belong to that group, culture, or even that side of her family. I related with this feeling of not belong a lot because I am half Jewish. I feel too Jewish for one side and not Jewish enough for the other, which is how Harley feels. It’s a complicated feeling, so it is always nice to see it represented so well in a book. Akemi’s first novel, Starfish, also dealt with this, but I think it was to a lesser extent.

We exist because we work hard, we don’t give up, and when we hear “that can’t be done”, we find a way to do it anyway.

-pg. 87

When Harley gets to the rival circus, things don’t go immediately how she planned. She has to do a lot of things that she doesn’t think is necessary, like selling popcorn instead of performing. She definitely had to work hard, but she also had to be flexible and take alternate routes in order to achieve her goal.

Harley also burned a lot of bridges when she left home. She stole something important to her parents and she also didn’t tell her best friend that she was leaving town. For a long time, Harley thinks that it is better to just completely cut them out of her life, because there is no way that they would want anything to do with her. Seeing her face her own bad actions and work on her relationships was so nice. The complexity and care needed to cultivate and keep relationships healthy was a big part of this book.

“I think telling someone to have a backup plan is just an attempt at shaming someone for their life choices while also trying to appear well-meaning.

-pg. 211

The discussion around mental health is very present in this book. Harley has times where she feels like she can do anything and feels intense motivation, but other times where everything is meaningless. This is never labeled, but Harley does have to come to terms with it.

There are also other characters that Harley meets at the circus, including a few friends and a love interest. I enjoyed the friendships and the romance, but Harley’s journey as a character was definitely my favorite part of this book.

There’s something about Akemi’s writing and stories that speaks to me on a soul-deep level, so I will continue reading and loving them! I absolutely can’t wait for her future releases, so in the meantime, I’m planning on rereading her other books!

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2 thoughts on “Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman

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