Monday, September 21, 2020

Harley in the Sky - Akemi Dawn Bowman

Summary: 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.

From award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, unforgettable examination of love, loyalty, and the hard choices we must make to find where we truly belong. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I found this book in what I consider to be an old-fashioned way—wandering through the library, seeing a cover that looks interesting, and after reading the back summary, picking it up and taking it with me. Especially in these COVID times, being at the library and having a chance to browse books is a luxury. Usually when I head to the library, I have a list of what I’m going to get, and many of those will be on reserve. This book wasn’t even on my radar, so that was a lot of fun. When I picked it up and started reading, I realized I had read Summer, Bird, Blue by this author, and although I didn’t love it, I wanted to give this one a chance.

First off, I’m happy to report that I liked it more than Summer, Bird, Blue. The topic was interesting—who doesn’t like reading about circus people? I mean, I love reading about cool places and circumstances that I am not familiar with. Although I could tell that Bowman either wasn’t involved in a circus close up (or maybe just chose to be really basic about it), there was still enough information to be able to tell that she had at least done some research about the circus and aerialists, which I appreciated. However, as with many books, this wasn’t really about what it seems to be about.

 I’ve mentioned before that I like that children’s authors (and in this case, YA or even possibly New Adult fiction) do a good job of cutting through the crap and addressing difficult issues. I appreciated that Bowman did this. This book tackles some heavy issues—race identity, parent/child relationships, and depression/bipolar disorder to name a few. Like any good YA book, it is able to do this naturally through the character in a way that felt authentic and natural. Unlike Summer, Bird, Blue I felt like this book did actually taken on these issues in a way stronger fashion that Bowman took on asexuality in Summer, Bird, Blue, but I still think that the depression discussion was developed almost too late in the book. It was THISCLOSE to not even being a part of it, and then it was, and it worked. I would have liked more discussion and space given to race identity, especially because the main character comes from several different racial backgrounds (Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Irish), which outsiders often simplify (i.e., that she’s simply “Asian”). Again, Bowman gives herself a great opportunity to address some issues and unfortunately I think she fell a little short. That being said, I thought about this a lot, and I think that she actually did address them in a way that the character might have—she has other things going on in her life, she has dreams of being an aerialist and has taken some pretty drastic steps to become such, so her attention is divided. So while I do think she could have discussed more and had created a platform to do so, she did enough that she made a point and still created a good story.

I read this book quickly, and enjoyed the story. I think it could have been a lot longer had the author decided to go more in-depth into so many things, but as it was it was definitely long enough to be a substantial size for a YA read.

Although this didn’t give me the same circus-feeling vibe as The Night Circus or the Caravel series or even “The Greatest Showman,” it was a decent read that kept my pages turning and was a good diversion from real life.

My Rating: 3 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of heavy making out, but no sex. 

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