Akemi Dawn Bowman’s new upcoming novel, Harley in the Sky, explores the life of an aspiring trapeze artist and her struggles with satisfying the people around her. Harley, who has been raised in her parent’s circus her entire life, has dedicated herself to pursuing the trapeze. On the other hand, her parents have a very different plan for her: to go off to college and find a more stable plan. Their constant struggle ultimately leads Harley no option but to run away and pursue her trapeze dreams elsewhere– at a rival circus. The people she hurts to get there and the lessons she learns about family, friends, drive, and persistence, are all extremely important.
Harley’s relatability is something that really struck me in the novel. She is far from a model character in the novel as she consistently hurts her family and her friends during her chase for her trapeze dreams. But part of what makes this novel so relatable is that imperfection. Harley is the definition of what it means to work hard and succeed and she shows readers that success is not simply handed to them. Instead of being blessed with any superpowers or gifts, Harley’s success comes through grit. The story Bowman tells also illustrates the harsh reality of wanting to pursue a dream. Although her parents don’t think that she is particularly grateful or respectful of them, readers are able to simultaneously see that Harley truly does struggle with disappointing and disrespecting her parents. Learning about the harsh reality of a dream shows readers that they are capable of achieving anything as long as they remain dedicated to their dreams.
One of my favorite storylines within the novel would have to be the developing relationship between Vas and Harley. The two of them are a perfect reminder of what love should resemble in the world. Their relationship is motivated by a shared amount of passion for what they love and both are able and willing to consistently make sacrifices for each other. Their beautiful relationship is more important now than ever as stories of abuse start to become more commonplace. The importance Vas places in Harley’s passion and her ability to tell her story shows young readers what true love can look like. Vas’s character is a beautiful and touching addition to the novel since he acts as a quiet mediator and really connects with the reader. His calm balances out Harley’s anxiety and makes the book an incredibly smooth read. The chemistry between both Vas and Harley is incredibly strong and when it was highlighted in the ending chapters, I couldn’t put the book down for hours as I reread it over and over again.
Something amazing about this novel is its ability to explore touchy and uncommon subjects. Most of the characters in the novel are from many different cultures, meaning that readers get to explore different cultural traditions and beliefs. Bowman does an amazing job respectfully discussing each culture and moves beyond stereotypes to create her characters. Specifically, I thought her use of biracial characters was definitely something new. On top of exposing readers to new cultures and identities, Bowman doesn’t shy away from the touchy subject of mental health, making hidden struggles a major part of the novel. It’s a beautiful reminder that a main character can have flaws and that that’s okay. Bowman’s inclusion of topics like these is powerful.
But my favorite thing about Harley in the Sky has to be Bowman’s ability to explore multiple sides of every conflict. She provides perspectives on every side of Harley’s escape, from her parents to a rival trapeze artist. Instead of casting anyone as a clear antagonist or protagonist, Bowman emphasizes that everyone has their own reasons for reacting to Harley in the way that they did. It forces readers to examine all the sides of the divide and understand that everyone has a reason for reacting in the ways they do. It’s definitely an important reminder to readers that when conflicts occur in day to day life, there are reasons people react the way they do. Her ability to dive deep into every character, from their personalities to their motives and stories, exposes the reader to a wide range of thought processes and makes the read all the more insightful and engaging.
Overall, Harley in the Sky was definitely not the read I was expecting it to be. While I initially thought that it was just a novel about circus life and a runaway girl (it is and Bowman pulled this off extremely well) it turned into a conversation about diversity, mental health and perspective. The novel exceeded my expectations in every way and definitely would be one of my top reads of 2020.
Featured image from Simon & Schuster