Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!
I’ve been a fan of Akemi Dawn Bowman ever since I read Starfish around three years ago. This is the latest of her books that I’ve read, and I’m glad to say that it doesn’t disappoint – just as poignant and gut-wrenching as her other novels!
Enjoy this week’s review!
Harley Milano grew up surrounded by vibrant costumes and trapeze artists in her parents’ circus. Her dream has always been to join the circus, but her parents want her to go to college for computer science instead.
After a fight on her eighteenth birthday, Harley goes against everything that they’ve ever wished for–she runs away and joins the Maison du Mystère, the rival traveling circus. There, she is thrust into the world of the circus, quickly falling in love and rising to the top of the hierarchy as one of its lead trapeze artists. But Harley’s past is catching up to her, and she must grapple with the people she betrayed in order to see her dreams come to fruition.
TW/CW: depression, racism, emotional manipulation, suicidal ideation
I think all of us have read plenty of books about characters running away to pursue their dreams and leaving everything they knew behind. But very few discuss the consequences–the people they leave behind and the emotional wounds that they may open up. Harley in the Sky is one such book, and man, it was just as heart-wrenching as Akemi Dawn Bowman’s other novels. All at once tender, heavy, and messy, it grapples with all sorts of hefty emotions and handles them all with aplomb.
Harley was, by all means, a very unlikeable character. She has a plethora of issues that she leaves undealt with when she takes off in search of her circus dreams, but you can’t help but root for her. I will say that I related to her on one plane: that of her mixed-race identity. Both of Harley’s parents are biracial, and as a result, she feels as though she doesn’t fit in anywhere. As a mixed-race person myself, Bowman handled her identity in a way that really resonated with me. And despite how tangled of a character Harley is, she displays some significant growth over the course of the novel, and by the end, she begins to reconcile with everything that she’s done and everything she’s left behind.
The rest of the characters also shone! There was such a unique and diverse cast, and the circuses that Bowman created felt like ones that might travel cross-country in the real world. Each character was refreshingly distinct, all with unique backstories and personalities. I especially loved Vas–yeah, yeah, I’m a sucker for the brooding British guys who play instruments, but he was such a well-fleshed-out character, both standing on his own and as a love interest for Harley.
As with all of Akemi Dawn Bowman’s novels, Harley in the Sky deals with some heavy topics. I won’t lie–it was a hard book to read at times, but Bowman handles all of these topics, from undiagnosed mental illness to toxic relationships, with incredible skill. All of her books stir up such profound emotion in me, and this one was no exception.
All in all, a novel that was all at once tender and heartbreaking that will leave a permanent mark on your heart. 4 stars!
Harley in the Sky is a standalone, but Akemi Dawn Bowman is also the author of Starfish, Summer Bird Blue, and the Infinity Courts series, which includes The Infinity Courts, and the forthcoming The Genesis Wars.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!