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Harley in the Sky

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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.

384 pages, Paperback

First published March 10, 2020

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About the author

Akemi Dawn Bowman

20 books1,325 followers
Akemi Dawn Bowman is a critically-acclaimed author who writes across genres. Her novels have received multiple accolades and award nominations, and her debut novel, STARFISH, was a William C. Morris Award Finalist. She has a BA in social sciences from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and currently lives in Scotland with her family. She overthinks everything, including this bio. You can find Akemi on Instagram @AkemiDawnBowman.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 400 reviews
Profile Image for may ➹.
480 reviews1,944 followers
June 9, 2020
I think the best part of this book was when I was reading it at 2am, saw the words “his adorably pointed ears,” and instantly thought, “CARDAN?????”
Profile Image for Frank-Intergalactic Bookdragon.
544 reviews214 followers
April 20, 2020
"Sometimes impulsive feels like magic."

My expectations were sky high yet they were still exceeded.

Akemi Dawn Bowman's books mean a lot to me. Starfish is my favorite book of all time and Summer Bird Blue was cathartic and helped me figure out I'm on the aro/ace spectrums. Her newest book is no exception. Harley in the Sky is both relatable and extremely entertaining, I wouldn't be surprised if it's the best thing I read all year.

The book follows a girl running away from her parents, who own a circus, to a rival circus where they'll let her train to be a trapeze artist. The story is just as interesting as the premise. It's full of colorful side characters and lush descriptions with a perfectly paced plot.

Harley herself is one of my new favorite leads. She's determined, flawed, and complex. She acts irrationally much of the time yet I couldn't help by sympathize for her. Like Kiko, I saw myself in her with both her passions and her flaws.

And then there's the mental health rep which is some of the most relatable I've ever read because Harley's situation is practically identical to mine. She thinks she has depression and will either be impulsive and feel invincible or completely crumble and lose all motivation. But she's never been diagnosed or seen a therapist and had to learn to cope herself and got to a healthy head space without any help. That's literally my situation down to the symptoms. This is the third book in a row Bowman's written that I just feel seen in and honestly it's getting a little weird, but I ain't complaining.

Harley's situation is especially interesting with her family life. You sympathize with her parents and they aren't bad people at all, they just don't see eye to eye with their daughter. In a way, the book's about family. How complicated family can be and how you can disagree and fight and hurt each other while still loving each other.

They're also a multiracial family. Both of Harley's parents are biracial and she's a mix of Japanese, Italian, Chinese, and Irish. There's lots of discussion of what it's like to be multiracial and it's a fundamental part of Harley and her family. I cannot speak for the rep myself, I can only say it added an extra thematic layer. I did look up own-voices reviews and they were positive and the author is multiracial, but I'd suggest you look up some own-voices reviews for yourself if you want a deeper take.

All that aside, this book is a blast! The circus setting is as fascinating as the premise promised. The side characters are fun (there's someone who throws knives! How could you not love someone who throws knives as a circus act??), the plot's twisty, there's an adorable romance that I have and will screech about, etc. Also this was the perfect length?? Like I never realized I usually have issues with how long or short books are but this was the exact perfect length???

So rarely do anticipated releases exceed my expectations. I went into this expecting a maybe five star read, yet I'm still blown away. When I finished I immediately wanted to reread it and a month later I still want to reread it. Perfect book is perfect.

Prereading thoughts
Update June 2019
The fact Akemi Dawn Bowman's books all have matching cover designs pleases me on a deep level.

Prereview September 2018
After finishing Starfish last night at one in the morning I desperately need more from this author.
Profile Image for Akemi Dawn Bowman.
Author 20 books1,325 followers
March 14, 2020
HARLEY IN THE SKY is officially out in the world, so I guess it’s a good time to mention how grateful I am to each and every one of you for reading this book. It means the world, truly.

One of the things I get asked the most is why I chose to write this story. And recently, I was given the chance to write a guest piece about the inspiration behind HARLEY IN THE SKY, as well as my thoughts on mental health, labels, and why stories that discuss what it feels like to be living with an undiagnosed mental illness are so important. You can read it here.

Mental health isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Having a label doesn’t make your experience more or less valid than anyone else’s. And please remember that no matter what you’re going through, you are not alone. <3
Profile Image for Brenda Waworga.
593 reviews667 followers
March 19, 2020
There are books you wish to love.. and you feel bad cause you couldn't connect with the main character and you can't understand the mental health story inside the book and you feel like you are a bad person because of that? that is me with this book!

I hate (duh what a strong word) the main character Harley, she is literally one of the most selfish person i have ever read, being an ambitious one is okay but meaning to hurt your parents and bestfriends and people who genuinely love you for the ambition isn't something i can forgive easily 😑

I love the diversity aspect on this book tho, about being biracial and also feel disconnected with cultures and your large family, i also like the cute romance story and the easy to read writing style

I think i will come to the conclusion this book just was not work for me, i just can not stand the main character at all and it ruined the whole reading experience for me
Profile Image for BookNightOwl.
977 reviews174 followers
March 12, 2020
Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman is my first book I have read from this author. Thank you Netgalley and Simon and Shuster for a copy of this ARC for an honest review.

Harley Milano comes from a family of Circus Performers as well as her family owns the most famous circus in Las Vegas. She wants to be a Trapeze Artist but her parents want her to stay in school and go to college. Then one day Harley feels like her parents are just not listening to her dreams so she decides to join their revival circus Maison Du Mystère. Harley feels this is the only way she will become what she has always wanted to be.

I loved the story. The characters where all so different. I enjoyed the chemistry between Harley and Vas. I enjoyed how this story took place around the circus and learning the in and outs of the circus life. The writing style was beautiful. Such a fun read!
Profile Image for The Nerd Daily.
720 reviews345 followers
February 29, 2020
Originally published on The Nerd Daily | Review by Nathalie DeFelice

I was swept away by my emotions while I was reading Harley in the Sky. I don’t think I’ve ever related so much to a character, and I think it might portray the story of lots of young people that might also feel the same way. The topic of mental health was not one I was expecting to encounter in a story about trapeze artists and circus tents, yet it was exactly this story that made me weep uncontrollably. This story about identity and finding the place where you belong, while also asserting your independence is what my soul needed right now, and I hope that it will find its way into the hands of kids who struggle to find themselves in books who also battle with mental health the way that Harley does in this book.

Harley Milano is a young woman who’s dreamed of being a trapeze artist her entire life. Her parents run a famous circus in Las Vegas, and she spends most nights under the big top, watching the artists perform and hoping to be in the place one day. After a huge fight with her parents who insist she go to school rather than pursue a career in the circus, she betrays her family and joins the rival circus Maison du Mystere. She suddenly learns brutal truths about this world she longs to be in, but also what it means to work hard for what you believe in. At the same time, Harley will need to come to terms with truths of her family’s past, as well as deal with the hurt she’s dealt her family with her betrayal.

Let me start this review by saying that I’ve never read any of Akemi Dawn Bowman’s books before, but when I started Harley in the Sky, I was swept away into this world of the circus. Personally, I have fond memories of going to the circus when I was a child, but this story takes that to another level. Bowman’s imagery is stunning. I felt like I was right there next to Harley, watching the lead trapeze artist with stars in my own eyes. Harley is such a complex character. She’s a hard working young woman with a dream, and she doesn’t want to let anything stand in her way. She’s also stubborn, reckless, and just a dash thoughtless, which is what catapults her into her quest to find out where she truly belongs.

For much of this story, Harley is dealing with the struggles of her identity. She’s bi-racial, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and American. She feels like a puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit into the mould people are trying to put her in. I identified with her struggles. Going further into this story, you also begin to notice that Harley is also struggling with some sort of mental health issue. It doesn’t go into specifics of what the issue is, but it certainly goes into symptoms that I think many readers can relate to, particularly anxiety. I don’t want to go into specifics because of spoilers, but it was this aspect of the story that had me weeping.

Of course, a little romance develops along the way, with a person who is also facing struggles of their own. I absolutely loved Vas because he provides readers with this quiet but deep comfort. Sometimes, people aren’t necessarily looking for someone to poke and prod, just someone who will listen. I loved the work he was doing behind the scenes, and how uplifting this winds up being for Harley. Everyone needs a Vas.

I wound up reading this 408 page novel in three hours. I love the way this story sucks you in, but more importantly, I love how the chapters are broken down. Of course you still have a traditional chapter structure, but Harley is travelling with a circus, so it was so neat to see a page detailing where Harley is in the country, but what week she’s on in her journey. I didn’t really think about the weeks until I started looking at her overall wellbeing, and it just adds another layer to the story. Each place in her story creates an impactful memory, and I think readers will feel that this is just one more reason to keep turning that page.

This story is a 10/10 for me. It spoke to my soul in a way I wasn’t expecting, and I found myself relating to a character on a number of levels. I feel like it’s nostalgic atmosphere will also draw in readers that are looking for stories of personal growth and perseverance. Please add this to your TBR!
Profile Image for Kay.
301 reviews57 followers
March 10, 2020
Many thanks to the publisher for sending me a free ARC in exchange for an honest review
all quotes taken from the ARC and may differ slightly in finished version!!

This. Book. This book. Was. Everything.

I had impossibly high expectations going into this book. I love Akemi Dawn Bowman’s other two books, especially Starfish, and I absolutely love the idea of the circus (The Greatest Showman is one of my favorite movies!!) so the moment I heard of this book, I knew that I had to read it. Most of the time when I have sky-high expectations I end up disappointed because there’s no physical way for a book to be so impossibly perfect but this book… this book was even better than I hoped and dreamed it would be.

The character of Harley Milano, and her dream of joining the circus and being a trapeze artist was so incredible and wonderful and fun to read about. Her passion and excitement for trapeze, the thing she loves so much, shines through the page so much, and it was like I could feel her joy with every sentence I read about the circus. The descriptions were so beautiful and evocative that I felt like I was there, I was flying through the air with her. Bowman really captured the feeling of falling in love with something so fully.

“I love the way it makes me feel as if the world is in reverse and upside down all at once–like there’s starlight beneath my feet and the ocean above my head, and every impossible dream can come true in a single whisper.”

Furthermore, the whole setting of the circus feels so absolutely magical and whimsical and I was just captivated the whole time I was reading it. It’s a contemporary, but it almost felt a bit like a fantasy, a bit dreamlike, with the circus that’s so enchanting it feels unreal. Trapeze artists doing rolls and flips high in the sky, a tightrope walker balanced high above the world, a girl throwing knives with her eyes closed and shooting arrows with her feet–it’s so enchanting and incredible, and the descriptions were so perfect that I could get swept up in the magic with each page.

As much as I love the idea of the circus, the main reason I was so desperate for this book is Akemi Dawn Bowman’s multiracial rep… it’s like nothing else. Harley is multiracial, the daughter of two biracial parents. She’s mixed Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and more (I think just general white not positive). As you might imagine, this leads her to have mixed feelings, almost a crisis, about her identity, as she feels like she fits into so many boxes, yet none at all.

She’s part Asian, so I’ll say that the Asian rep is wonderful! There’s talk of hong baos, Chinese folktales, and other Asian moments that were lovely to read about.

But I have to say, as a biracial half Asian person myself, as happy as I am that fellow Asians can feel represented in multiracial characters, I sometimes feel… almost a bit annoyed when reviewers gush about the Asian rep and ignore the white (or whatever race) part that’s equally a part of her. So after reading a few quotes in this book, I had to stop, reread the page a few times to make sure I read it right, and then just reflect on the fact that it’s so darn true and I’ve never seen that in a book before.

“Asian people call me ‘too white’ and laugh at me for not knowing enough about Chinese and Japanese culture. And white people only ever see me as Asian, as exotic–different from their version of ‘all American.’ When someone is biracial, it’s suddenly like, ‘no, you don’t get to claim all the things that you are because you’re not Asian enough.”

And another one

“I hate Halloween. People get understandably upset about people dressing up like they belong in another culture, but honestly? I’ve felt like that my whole life. Like I’m wearing a costume from someone else’s background. Like I have no real claim to all the different pieces of my family’s heritage.”

Anyways, I was hoping for a few snippets of being multiracial thrown in there to make me happy, and as you can see, they were certainly there! But then! This book goes above and beyond and celebrates being multiracial. It’s like a love letter to any multiracial person who has ever felt like they don’t belong. It celebrates the push and pull of different identities and cultures, and weaves that into a circus routine, shows how amazing and beautiful it can be, and I was just… sobbing.

I’m always on the lookout for not good biracial rep, but any biracial rep. Because there’s just so little of it out there. So I’ve eagerly read a few books about half Asian characters by full Asian authors and… while they’re good, and I really appreciate them, they don’t fully get it. They often have good Asian rep, and good ideas, but they don’t full capture how it feels to be in between, to be everything yet nothing all at once.

I have never felt so heard, so loved, in a book before. Ever.

Anyways, you can probably tell that I love the multiracial rep. But–there’s more! This book also has such incredible mental health rep, and I also related immensely to it, so at this point Harley is literally me okay.

There are various people obviously struggling with different parts of their mental health, with descriptions of a a character huge black cloud making everything seem terrible, a character having erratic mood swings from exhilarated and happy in one moment to absolutely despairing in the next, a character finding it really hard to talk to strangers and make small talk, and even a character feeling like she wants to die.

Yet there are purposefully no labels used for any of them, and I really liked that choice. Some reviews I see people saying “oh that’s bad anxiety rep” or “that’s not what depression is really like” or whatever, but in this book, none of the conditions are diagnosed, and I feel like that shows that everything isn’t black and white, and it’s on a scale, and what’s normal for one person might be totally different for someone else, and that’s okay. They’re working through their problems in their own way, and that’s okay. You don’t need an official diagnosis for anxiety to struggle with and overthink something as simple as making small talk, and know that your normal, and the victories you make over your personal mental health, is enough for you.

All of the relationships developed were amazing as well! Family, friends, and romance!

Harley desperately wants to join the circus, yet her parents want her to go to college, and this is what starts the whole plot of her running away with the circus. It’s really moving, particularly to anyone who has ever wanted something different from what their parents want for them.

Furthermore, Harley has to betray her parents in order to join the rival circus, and she spends part of the book struggling with that decision, struggling with doing what she knew was wrong, yet knowing that it lead to the right thing for her. The book really deals with the repercussions of these choices concerning her parents and her betrayal, and even her relationship with her grandmother and how that affected generations of family relationships and it’s all very moving.

I loved seeing Harley’s new friends in the circus, seeing how she would struggle to fit in and belong. She’s initially not accepted, and as someone who also struggles to make new friends, it was really relatable. She also deals with drifting away from her old childhood friend, and how their differences affect them, and the struggles with trying to preserve an old friendship when both sides don’t put in the same effort and their lives are changing.

Finally, I absolutely adored the romance! It was a kind of slow burn for most of the book, and there was so much tension and chemistry building up between them because hello? They’re rehearsing together in the literal circus how magical is that? It was super swoony and made me smile so much, but it was also just the right amount to not overpower the rest of this book.

TL;DR: this book is AMAZING it has circus magic, multiracial and mental health rep, and amazing relationships so READ IT NOW!!!



This book is the best book I've read this year easily. Maybe the best book I read counting 2019 too.
The multiracial rep... it's what I've been looking for my whole life and I'm sobbing I've ever felt so represented, so heard, so loved before in a book.

Profile Image for Jasmine.
437 reviews707 followers
January 28, 2020
I got this book in my September, 2019 The Book Hookup Young Adult Subscription box, presented by The Strand Bookstore, and I was pretty thrilled to read this as the synopsis sounds absolutely intriguing. What I appreciated most about this story was the beautiful, diverse cultural backgrounds of the main characters, Harley (Japanese/American) and Vas (Russian/English), and the supportive roles such as Dexi and Vivien. It was delightful to read more about the culture shock as well as how these people accommodate themselves to the circus life. Above all, I adored the natural chemistry between Harley and Vas from the moment they set eyes on each other. *SWOONS*

The only thing I disliked about Harley was that she acted like an immature, spoiled, and what's worse, ungrateful child not knowing how to put herself in others' shoes and whined about everything that didn't go along with her plans. I seriously had enough when Vas was the one constantly tolerating her and even sacrificing himself just to fulfill HER dream, whereas Harley still threw a tantrum (and eventually gave up) whenever she didn't get the spot she wanted in the circus.

Thankfully, Harley redeemed herself after Vas was, as always, generous enough to give her/them a second chance, by being the first one to apologize. Anyway, in spite of the character flaws, I still recommended this book to everyone! It'll be available this March and I can't wait to read more from this author.
Profile Image for Rosh.
1,441 reviews1,378 followers
September 9, 2021
Would you like to read a book where the protagonist...
A. serves as a good role model for young readers in terms of her behaviour?
B. does her best to understand the points of view of her family and friends?
C. doesn't allow anything to faze her but keeps her courage in times of difficulty?
D. stands by her decisions and actions, even when times are tough?
E. serves as an inspiration for anyone striving to follow their dreams?

If your answer is YES to any of these, please STAY AWAY from this book. What the book sounds like from the GoodReads summary hardly matches up to what the book contains within its plot.

Harley is our eighteen year old main character, whose lifelong dream is to become an aerialist in the circus. However, her circus-owner parents insist on her completing her education first. To prove them wrong and show the world that she can succeed as a trapeze artist, she runs away from home and joins a rival travelling circus. Soon, she realises that the world is not so easy to survive in.

So far, so good. From the summary, it sure sounds like an inspiring story. And it would have been, except that Harley is a mean-spirited, shortsighted, self-obsessed, whiny twerp. She sees the world only from her perspective. She doesn't hesitate to label others as being "rude", "unfair" or "selfish" but the own shortcomings are labelled as "my character flaws" and shrugged away. She wants everyone to accept her as she is and give her the best of opportunities as soon as possible. She's a girl who whines about others not liking her and yet not willing to do anything for others. In other words, she's yet another teenager who thinks she knows more than anyone else in the world. Sheesh!

All this would still have been ok if there were signs of a character transformation as the book progressed. But no, Harley remains the same till the end, and everyone around her end up apologising for standing in the way of her dreams. She makes a mistake, whines, decides to change her behaviour, makes another mistake, whines some more, decides to change, makes another mistake,.... endless iterative loop of this until a few paras before THE END.

This would still have been acceptable had the writing been upto par and the plot had proceeded with some semblance of normalcy. But no... The writer repetitively made Harley declare one thing in one chapter and contradict it outright a few chapters later. After a point, I stopped believing both Harley and the author. I've not seen such flat writing, random plot progression, and badly-created characters since The Henna Artist.

The only thing that was tolerable in the book was the handling of Harley's biracial background. Her feeling of "belonging everywhere and nowhere" is nicely expressed. There is a part in the book where she has a monologue about the Americans viewing all Asians the same way and not allowing for disparity within Asian identities. I loved those lines. And some part of the trapeze artist's life is nicely written. A few of the secondary characters such as Harley's mom and Vas (Harley's trapeze partner) are nicely sketched. So you see, the minor bits and pieces work. But if the main character is sketched in a haphazard way, nothing else can save your efforts. It's like having Salman Khan in the lead of a movie. Even if you have the best character actors in the star cast, the movie still sits on Salman's ballooned-up shoulders and more often than not, they aren't strong enough to save the film.

One question that was constantly coming up in my mind was, is this the kind of role model we need for our teenagers? Why can't YA books be more realistic and practical? After all, it's a genre that aims at the age range 12-18. So those on the younger side of this spectrum might be influenced very negatively from such leads. Plus, there is an "almost sex" scene which is slightly graphic. This book shouldn't have been tagged as YA at all.

Just in case there are some brave-hearts who still want to try this book (it does have a 4+ rating on Goodreads after all), you can find the audiobook free on the stories.audible.com site. The narrator of the audiobook is quite good in her tempo, enunciation, and character voices. The only part I found awkward was that even when a character was crying, she read the lines in a normal way. Emote, dear! How am I supposed to know that the character is crying if you read a line in a normal tone and then declare, perfectly relaxed, "she cried bitterly."

That lovely cover and title gave me so much hope, but I feel like I was thrown off a trapeze without a safety net below me. This was a huge disappointment.

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Profile Image for kate.
1,148 reviews925 followers
December 12, 2020
I will forever and ever be in complete awe of Akemi Dawn Bowman's talent for writing. The way she uses words is truly something else. She portrays everything with a clear, beautiful, simplicity that can only be achieved with pure talent and artistry.

So, what did I love about this book?

- Harley. Harley might have one of the most honest, raw voices I've read this year and reading through her POV was such a fantastic experience. Her ambition, passion and drive were intoxicating and the thought processes and actions it led to made her such an interesting character to follow and one unlike many I've come across. She was imperfect, confused and selfish at times but also cared so deeply. I loved following her journey as she grappled with the consequences of her actions causing both hurt and happiness for different parts of her heart. She had a ruthlessness I often come across in YA fantasy but rarely contemporary and I hugely admire Akemi for the way she crafted Harley's character.

- Vas. Vas was another characters who's growth and journey throughout the book was so enjoyable but also incredibly interesting to follow. Somehow this motor cycling, leather wearing bad-boy turned into a soft, kind hearted, socially anxious conductor and I loved him all the more for it.

- Harley's Family. Harley's family, but especially her mother, were some of the most interesting, complex characters throughout the book. I loved watching as their stories and motives were slowly unveiled throughout the book.

- Mother/Daughter Relationship. Going into this book, the last thing I expected was for one of my favourite part of it to be a mother daughter relationship but that's exactly what happened. Harley's relationship with her mother and the consequent conversations that came out of it blew me away. I felt every piece of raw frustration, pain and love they had for each other so deeply. Their relationship was somehow so complex yet so simple in that it bottled down to a mothers protectiveness over her child and a hesitancy towards/lack of communication causing an ever growing rift between them.

- The Romance. Harley and Vas's relationship made my slow burn romance loving heart oh so very happy. It built over time from instant intrigued to wariness to cool acknowledgement to friendship to 'we're something different than friends but let's not talk about it' to eventual 'yeah, you're cute and mine' romance. Yes, they were cute but they also felt brilliantly read and I loved their open discussions surrounding mental health, sex, identity and family.

- The World. The circus setting was just as atmospheric and magical as I'd hoped. This is the first contemporary circus set book I've read and I almost think I enjoyed it more? The fact that these were real people, working a real job and living in a life that was equally as unglamorous as it was glamorous, somehow made it all the more captivating. The descriptions of the setting and the circus acts themselves were truly cinematic.

- The Discussions Surrounding Mental Health. As always, Akemi explores the complexities of mental health and mental illness with care, sensitivity and nuance. Harley and Vas's honest and positive dialogue about their struggles with mental health was so encouraging to read. Scenes that encourage open dialogue about mental health that are met without stigma or judgement are so necessary and I thought Akemi did an excellent job at highlighting the positive impact having those kinds of discussions can have. In contrast, Harley's parents' hesitancy towards having this same discussion was explored brilliantly although . From Harley's extreme highs and lows (which, despite the word never being used, were heavily indicative of bipolar), to Vas's social anxiety, to Harley's mothers own struggles with what Harley thinks is the same issues she struggles with (i.e. depression and maybe bipolar), each issue was approached with care and honesty.

- The Discussions Surrounding Identity and Race. As the daughter of two biracial parents, with the Chinese, Japanese, Irish and Italian parts of her family and heritage often clashing, Harley struggles to find a sense of self and belonging within her identity and family. I'm white, so I can't speak from personal experience but the open and honest way in which this topic was approached, very much gave me he sense that this part of Harley's person and story was given the nuance, time and care it deserved and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I have a feeling this might be the longest review I've written all year but honestly? There was so much excellence in this book. Its pages are filled with magic, pain, love and ambition. It's a story of complexities; the complexities of family, relationships, ambition, growing up and mental health. Akemi Dawn Bowman has once again solidified her place in my mind as not only of my favourite authors, but one of the most talented voices and writers in YA.

TW: depression, references to suicidal ideation, racism
Profile Image for jocelyn.
430 reviews249 followers
March 10, 2020
Circus books are a niche I will continue to pursue, even though I know I often am setting myself up for failure. I'd heard good things about Akemi Dawn Boman from friends who read her previous books, so when I learned she'd be writing about an aerialist, I smashed the "want to read" button.

Here, we follow Harley, a teen so enraptured with the circus, she decides to pursue her dreams at all costs. While her parents do own a Vegas show and she's grown up around circus artists all her life, they want a more conventional and safer path for her. She disagrees. 

The standard fare of family expectation vs self desire is compounded by Harley's multiracial identity. Her and her parents are all mixed race white and Asian Americans. Harley is Japanese, Irish, Chinese, and Italian, and often feels that those quarters never allow her to fully be herself. She feels that she is only ever one thing at once, never four things at the same time. The nuance with which Bowman discusses the aspects of her identity are particularly poignant. 

Harley and her parents' inability to agree on what is best for her and her future lead her to making a big and impulsive decision. Not only does she flee Vegas, she joins a competing traveling circus and betrays her parents' show in the process. Harley knows her parents would be hard-pressed to forgive her for a transgression so large, but she also believes she was left with no other choices to be heard. She deals with those conflicting emotions, and yet she doesn't temper her ambition. I think this will particularly make Harley read as "unlikable" to some. It just endeared me to her even more. 

However, even with all of these wonderful elements already at play, my favorite was naturally the circus and Harley's love for it. Bowman taps into a feeling so deeply part of myself that I'm not even sure I can put it into words. I had to keep reminding myself that this was not a fantasy book because the way she breathes life into the circus is wholly bewitching. And it's clear that Harley feels the same way I do, that she feels that same gravitational pull. It is an aching, ethereal quality I've never seen anyone else capture before in literature. It goes beyond an appreciation for the aesthetic and nostalgia. It's the awe that comes with understanding what human bodies are capable of and the magic that we can create with only ourselves. 

Along the way to becoming a trapeze artist Harley also makes and loses friends, and has challenges to her mental health. There is never any labeling (largely in part because of the cultural stigmas of mental illness), but there is a definite allusion to a mood disorder. I understand that this is another typical aspect of Bowman's books and found it was handled skillfully. 

I am so happy that this was the first Akemi Dawn Bowman book I decided to try. I can see how this would be too character focused and slow for some. For me, the absence that came with finishing is not one I'd felt in a long time. 
Profile Image for Simant Verma.
246 reviews87 followers
March 27, 2020
Full review on: Flipping Through the Pages

Akemi Dawn Bowman is one of my favourite authors and like her first book Starfish, I loved Harley too. Trust Akemi to write about identity and mental health issues, and she would do absolute justice to these themes.

Harley in the Sky follows Harley Yoshi Milano, a teen living in Las Vegas, whose parents run the Teatro della Notte circus. Harley dreams of joining her parents’ circus and becoming an aerialist. But her parents refuse that because they want her to join college. She then leaves home and joins the rival travelling circus Maison du Mystère to pursue her dreams.

Both of Harley’s parents’ are biracial and that makes it difficult for her to understand all four different heritages of her. She feels like she exists in this in-between space. People told her how she’s ‘not Chinese enough’ but also ‘not American enough’. Akemi challenges the racial stereotypes and prejudices. She shows that Harley has the right to every part of her identity without anyone telling her that she’s ‘not enough’.

Through Harley, Akemi has tried to show a multi-layered character. Harley makes mistakes but she grows out of them and learns understanding and forgiveness along the way. Though ambitious, she always had good intentions and cared for others. She knows that putting her ambitions above her family and friends is not right, but at the same time, she doesn’t want to regret not ‘trying’.

Vas stole my heart the moment he appeared on the screen. I liked how broody and mysterious he was and took his time to open up. Somehow, whenever there was a scene of Vas playing, I wanted to hear his music on screen? I loved Popo, Harley’s grandmother. She provided some lighter moments in the story as well as the wisdom Harley needed about her heritage.

Everyone talks about a backup plan. and Harley says that why it is always that people who wish to pursue careers in the humanities streams are asked about that? And parents always have some pre-set goals for children and to achieve them they pressurize them. Harley’s mother uses different tactics to emotionally manipulate her. But behind all those, there is, of course, parental love and Akemi has shown this beautifully.

Depression is the core of the story and Akemi has presented it in a very subtle and realistic way. Harley’s emotions were generally all over the place and often she found it hard to get words out of her mouth. I was able to relate to her concerns, her rage and her fury. Akemi has also shown how people still don’t take mental health seriously. We see the neglect of mental health by Harley’s parents. Her family had a stigma surrounding the conversations related to this. Harley also talked about using ‘labels’ that until you put it inside some label, people don’t take it seriously.

This book also celebrates (found) family and the life of a circus. Harley’s love for the circus is infectious. You can’t help but dream about the big top, trapeze artists, shiny stage, costumes and the whole beautiful aura of it. Though in the beginning people of Maison du Mystère didn’t accept her, slowly she made a space for herself in the troupe through her hard work and determination.

The best thing about Akemi’s writing is how effortless it feels. It is always poetic but at the same time leaves an impact that is hard to forget. I was fully immersed in the story since the beginning. Akemi knows exactly how to balance between descriptive elements, characters, important issues, dialogues and pacy plots. Even the characters’ internal feelings and conflicts don’t sound boring. She has distributed this story into essential parts where each moment, whether it’s small or big, has it’s own importance and eventually leads to some important moments later in the story. You can’t help but be compelled and enthralled by the story of Harley and her dreams.

I came to a point now where I would read anything written by Akemi. And if you are someone who is yet to start reading her work, why not start with Harley? In simple words, just READ IT! Highly recommended.

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Profile Image for Jessica Haider.
1,791 reviews241 followers
August 9, 2020
Harley has just graduated from high school and lives with her family in Las Vegas. Her parents run a famous circus there. Harley dreams of being a trapeze artist and gets upset when her parents refuse to let her train on the trapeze and instead insist that she should go to college. Harley jumps at an opportunity to leave and join a competing circus as a trainee, even if it means burning quite a few bridges.

I find it hard to resist circus stories so this was a fun one for me. Harley is a like-able character despite the poor choices she makes. She is pursuing her dreams even if that means betraying some of her loved ones. She feels very guilty about her betrayal so that makes her more sympathetic to me. I also liked the dilemma she felt about who she was. Being mixed race she doesn't feel white enough OR Asian enough to fit in anywhere. This was a good mix of coming of age, family dynamics, circus atmosphere, with a touch of a love story thrown in.

What to listen to while reading..
Paradise Circus by Massive Attack
Human by Sevdaliza
Habits by Tove Lo
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Keane
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by Bono
The Trapeze Swinger by Iron & Wine
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,415 reviews392 followers
March 28, 2020
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
Profile Image for Anja H..
732 reviews449 followers
October 16, 2022

“Stars shine their brightest in the dark. So take this opportunity, and supernova the shit out of it.”

Ok but seriously, what's not to love about this novel?
It's set in the circus world. It's about a mixed-race girl who wants to be a trapeze artist. It's about mental health. It has the cutest love story. It's about family and chosen/found family.

I was kind of annoyed with the way Harley acted very impulsively at times, but I realize that was kind of the whole point of the mental health topic, so it kind of fit the story. Harley was just such a real character who made mistakes, made rash decisions, but who also stayed true to herself and was very honest with everyone around her. She had great character development, and the ending was perfect!
Also, Vas is my baby ❤️
Profile Image for Jess (Taylor’s version).
330 reviews100 followers
March 31, 2020
This was my first book by this author and I intend to read her other two books she has out. The writing style is just so easy to read and her descriptions flow so well.

This gave me The Greatest Showman vibes so, of course, had to pick this up. I really loves the setting and atmosphere of it all and I really enjoyed the characters and each of their relationships. The exploration of mental health in this book was really incredible too I couldn’t relate to it more if I tried.

My only wishes are that since this was a travelling circus that the stops on each town had been explored a bit more and that some of the cheesy lines could be removed. Other than that I really enjoyed this and would recommend.
Profile Image for Yusra ❥.
266 reviews
April 18, 2022
3.5* (might change to four??)
This book is super hard to rate because at first I was putting it down a lot but then I got really into it and even got misty eyed in the last couple of pages lol. I also thought the mc Harley was the worst. To like everyone, which def didn't help. She did some pretty unforgivable stuff, but at the same time I admired her ambition and dedication? I loved the circus setting and I really liked the love interest Vas. So overall I recommend if u don't mind characters that aren't likeable, have bad morals and are ppl u would probably avoid on real life. (That sounds super mean I did really like this book, and liked Harley is a character, she was super unique in that aspect.)
Profile Image for Charvi.
471 reviews2 followers
March 10, 2020
"I only wish my parents could see what this means to me. What it would mean to hold a dream in my palm, press it tight against my heart, and never let it go"

The story took us on a ride with a lot of twists and bumps but it all ended on a heartwarming note. I love how grounded this book was, nothing was exaggerated to make the readers happy, Harley had to face tons of obstacles and in the end, every argument and struggle ended in realistic compromises or the characters having to give up something.

I think Harley In The Sky explores some really important themes in a beautiful manner. The themes were of mental health and its dismissal, living with disorders, familial relationships that can be loving yet unsupportive at the same time and many many more. At one point Harley talks about backup careers being there only for people who wish to pursue careers in the humanities streams. That really touched my heart.

As usual, every time I read something by Akemi, I get swayed into its beauty. The author has an excellent knack for writing flowery descriptions without exaggerating and not making the internal monologues seem boring. It’s easy to get lost into her stories and you really don’t want to stop reading until you hit the end.

Full review available on my blog here.
Profile Image for Lauren.
825 reviews931 followers
March 21, 2020
4.5 stars

Akemi Dawn Bowman does it again!! My heart and my head are so full right now! She is truly one of the best YA contemporary authors <3

More thoughts to come.
August 22, 2020
If you enjoy a good YA/NA contemporary and "circus" is one of your buzz words, then Harley in the Sky might just be the book for you!

Akemi Dawn Bowman's writing is beautiful as always and Ali Ahn does a wonderful job of bringing the characters to life for the audiobook version.

Harley is trying to forge her own path in becoming an aerialist against her parents' wishes, all the while struggling with big mood swings brought on by her depression.
To me, the metal health rep felt really well done and it is something that has been very consistent across her other novels as well.

If Starfish and Summer Bird Blue made me fall in love with her, then Harley in the Sky only solidified Akemi Dawn Bowman as an auto-buy author for me. I can't wait to see what she brings out next!
Profile Image for Viv.
335 reviews40 followers
April 20, 2020

akemi dawn bowman surely knows how to write her contemporary ya doesn't she and this one is no exception (ugh her writing is always so heartfelt and the way she would bring up so many important topics/discussions within her works we love to see it)
Profile Image for Kelsea Yu.
Author 7 books122 followers
March 9, 2020
4.5 stars!

Once again, Akemi Dawn Bowman offers us a beautiful story full of passion, teens finding their place in the world, difficult family relationships, artist souls, a POC/biracial main character, neurodiverse characters, and so much heart. I'm in awe of the way she can incorporate such timely, vital discussions so smoothly and wonderfully into her books.

ADB's characters aren't always easy to love. They do frustrating or impulsive things. They hurt people when they themselves are hurting. They lash out and lash in.

They're also kids who are trying their best. Teens with dreams. Big dreams that they want -- need -- desperately to pursue. They're characters with room to grow, who could flourish, if only they'd been given a chance. I love that when ADB puts romance into her books, it's never the thing that saves anyone.

This is such a nuanced story, full with complex characters, ADB's gorgeous writing and the glamour and dark side of the circus. I highly recommend this one! It comes out TOMORROW (March 10) and it is freakin' BEAUTIFUL.

Thank you Simon Teen for providing a free advanced copy of the book. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Emma Ferrier.
323 reviews74 followers
February 28, 2021
I kept putting off writing this review because I so desperately wanted to do it justice, but I just don't think I can find the right words because I am so in awe with this book. I finished this three weeks ago and I'm still suffering a book hangover. I've barely read anything because this was just SO GOOD and I want need more.

Harley in the Sky is a beautiful book set predominantly within a travelling circus... a circus that rivals our main characters parents own. The setting was so fun and it felt really atmospheric to me, but what really captured me was the characters, mostly that of Harley, our main character. I really related to her. There were moments where she was talking about how she felt or things she goes through that I connected to so hard. It was as if I were talking about myself at parts and it was so powerful to feel so so close to a character. My heart is bursting just thinking about it.

As always, Akemi's writing is beautiful and her storytelling is just like none other. I am so honoured I got to experience this story early and I cannot wait for everyone else to get their hands on it <3
Profile Image for Emily.
91 reviews7 followers
January 24, 2020
“Relationships are like most living things-if you don’t nurture them, they’ll die.” -Harley in the Sky

Harley in the Sky is about chasing your dreams and sticking it out when things get tough. It’s a story about having the courage to go after what you want, but being conscious of how what you do impacts others.

I didn’t really feel it with this book. I didn’t like any of the characters, including Harley. And a lot of the interactions between people felt forced and unrealistic. By the halfway point the plot hadn’t really progressed as much as it could have. There were also numerous characters who have mental health conditions but never really dealt with them. Harley probably is bipolar and by the end, she says that she has learned to cope with her moods but we see no evidence of that whatsoever. It was probably intentional, but none of the character’s mental health issues were named and I feel like they should have been. It felt like the book was trying to shy away from actually confronting mental health.

Overall, this book was fun to read because of the circus aspect but I didn’t really like anything else about it.
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