Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Published March 10th 2020 by Ink Road
Age Range: Young Adult
Representation: Mental Illness, Asian-American MC
Harley Milano has dreamed of being 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 soul that she could 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. But 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.
One thing that I noticed from Harley in the Sky is that it emphasized the complicated parent-child relationship and where the balance lies in that. Harley’s dream is to be a trapeze performer but her parents are adamant for her to enter college without letting her try to make this dream of hers happen. As a child, I understood how suffocating her parents’ stubbornness can be. However, I could see from their point of view. Oftentimes, children aren’t aware of their parents’ decision-making process, worries, and perspectives.
In the same vein, Harley in the Sky also talked about the extent of parenting. When is it the time to let the child fly free and how much of the string should they loosen? Should they leave the child to learn their own lesson and grow up independently or to coddle and shield them from the world?
This is a book about a girl doing anything to make sure her dreams of being an aerialist come true. At the same time, Harley is always trying to come to terms with her identity. Because she’s mixed, Harley never felt like so truly belonged. She may have an Italian last name but they only see her as Asian while the Asians don’t fully see her as Asian since she’s Americanised. Stuck in this limbo, Harley often felt lost. The only place she truly felt belonged is in the circus.
Harley was a likable character. I admired her desire to make her dreams come true. She has something she wanted to achieve and would do anything to get there. Unknowingly, Harley hurts the people around her whenever they say something that she didn’t believe is true or when she was called out for her behavior.
The carnival setting is interesting and magical as well. Harley’s yearning to be a trapeze artist was palpable. Akemi Dawn Bowman wonderfully drew out the enchanting element of the circus. This is probably the only contemporary novel that I’ve read that is set in a circus, the rest were fantasy. However, this doesn’t mean there’s a lack of whimsicality and magic. It’s, in fact, full of it. As Harley’s parents are part of a circus, they knew how hard it would be to undergo training and balance life. But for someone who grew up in that environment and has a dream yet fulfilled, Harley defies their expectations.
Overall, I had a wonderful time reading Harley in the Sky. Akemi Dawn Bowman never disappoints me and continuously surpasses all my expectations. Each and every book is a pleasure to read.