Friday, 7 February 2020

Harley in the Sky // fall in love with the circus

Harley in the Sky is vibrant, magical, and full of heart - but what Akemi Dawn Bowman book isn't? I was whisked away into Harley's world from page one, and the story completely subverted my expectations in the best way possible.

Harley has always longed to perform on the trapeze in her parent's Las Vegas circus. But when they deny Harley her dream, she runs away and joins a rival travelling circus, betraying her family in the process. There, she has to fight to see her dreams fulfilled, and is forced to consider how much she is willing to risk - and to lose - in doing so.

The circus setting is alluring and grand and provides the perfect backdrop for the characters, who shine as brightly as the lights in the big top. Harley is an incredibly determined protagonist, but what interested me most about her was the emotional risks she takes in seeing her goals fulfilled. It was fascinating to read about a character who is driven towards a goal that you as a reader want her to achieve, whilst being self-destructive in her pursuit. She is messy and flawed and passionate, and it made her all the more engaging to read about.

I loved the way mental illness was portrayed in this book. Harley experiences extreme shifts in emotions, and her love interest Vas struggles with talking to new people. Neither of them put a name to it, Vas because he doesn't feel like he needs a label to understand his experience and Harley because her family frowns on the idea of having therapy or medication. This discussion was so valuable for people who choose to not identify with labels, but also from a cultural standpoint. Whilst it is acknowledged that labels can be incredibly important for a lot of people, the novel points out that perpetuating the idea that only formally diagnosed mental illnesses are legitimate can leave people of different cultural or economic backgrounds behind. This was such an important discussion to have, and I'm glad to see it done with such care.

Relationships are also a driving point in the novel. I loved seeing how Harley's friendships changed and how reflective it was of being an actual teenager. Her relationship with Vas was also adorable and I loved how his passion for music was reflected in Harley's passion for the trapeze. However, the most central relationship is the one between Harley and her family. Whilst she has betrayed them, she cannot escape the fact that they are a part of her. From the blurb, I had gone in expecting a typical parent vs child narrative common to YA, but Bowman brilliantly explores the nuances of familial relationships and how they can change and grow.

Harley in the Sky is a gorgeous book about passion, mental illness, and family. Give it a chance and you will find yourself falling in love with the circus too.


YA Contemporary 


 Harley is Multiracial (Italian, Japanese, Chinese and Irish) and has an undiagnosed mental illness

Depictions of depression 

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