Book Review: Harley in the Sky

Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman


Harley has dreamed of being a trapeze artist for as long as she can remember. And with her parents owning a literal circus (in Las Vegas), she should be a natural, right? Nope. Her parents keep her grounded and want to her pursue college instead of her dreams. But Harley is not going to sleep on her dream—she’s going to pursue it, even if it means running away to join a rival circus.

Welp, milder spoiler, but this book is not about flying motorcycles.

Granted, you probably should have guessed that by the blurb (and also the cover, which has a teeny tiny silhouette of a girl on aerial silks), but if you’re like me and go by titles and authors, then you might in for a surprise.

This book was about circuses and chasing your dreams, but also about family relationships, fucking up and recovering from fuck-ups, and mental illness.

Everything is always extreme for me, like when I’m happy, I need to be ultraviolet-elated, and when I’m sad, it’s like a vacuum sucking away all the colors in the world and I’m drowning in black.

There is no diagnosis in the book of what exactly Harley has, but she knows that she has a mental illness—and it runs in her family. And like in my family, her mother refuses to seek treatment and her family just kinda lives with it and all the highs and lows that accompany it.

Like, I’ll feel really positive and motivated and whatever else, and then I’ll just plummet. Sometimes there’s a reason, but sometimes there’s not.

Harley’s entire beginning with The Maison du Mystere is riding that high, that magical positive happiness where she’s going to make the best of things even when everything really sucks. She ignores (or just kinda puts aside) a lot of the responsibility for the choices she made to get into the rival circus—stealing her father’s set list, running away from home, ditching her best friend, ignoring her family and their pleas for information—because she’s chasing her dream and nothing else matters.

And damn, while that seems like a harsh thing for someone to do—you know, utterly ignore everything old in favor of your new dreams and friends—it’s um, entirely relatable. When you’re on an upward slope and climbing, everything is bright and shiny even if it sucks. Because hey, you’re handling the set-backs! Nothing can touch you, no matter how bad it gets! You can do this! It definitely won’t crash and burn like last time, because you’re good to go!

You burn fast and bright, and then you burn out.

And then you reach that crest, where everything is going swimmingly and you’ve reached your goal or are so close, and then BOOM. Something happens and you’re burned out.

Oddly enough, this entire review has not been at all about this book, but also been entirely this book.

Harley is riding that uphill slope, chasing that high and her dreams. I liked her female friends, but wasn’t entirely sold on Vas, the mopey violinist. I liked him as a person but not as her love interest. I felt like she didn’t really need a love interest, and that it was forced.

Anywho, in addition to mental illness, the book is about ambition and how far a person will go to achieve their goals. And how nice people don’t necessarily get ahead, but ruthless people sure will—with consequences for their ruthless behavior.

While I didn’t like Maggie, Harley’s rival and not-mentor, I certainly understood her reasoning and rooted for her (weird to be rooting for the MC’s rival while also rooting for the MC), because she was ambitious and realistic, even if she let her ambition destroy everything else in her life. She knew the consequences of ambition, and she owned them.

And I absolutely loved Popo, Harley’s grandmother, who gave Harley great advice and had a great sense of humor. Popo united the family and I loved that.

Anywho, lots of love, laughter, friendship (gaining and losing), hardship and tears. Just what I expect when reading a book written by Akemi Bowman. It wasn’t as polished or as heavy-hitting as I would have liked (it seemed to stop short from reaching its intended marks), but it was still solid.

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review

Harley in the Sky released March 10, 2020, from Ink Road

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