Hardback, 384 pages
“I wonder if that’s what life feels like when you make a change- like you’ve jumped ahead in time. Like your entire life just feels different.”
When I was in high school, I discovered my life’s dream in the music of my favorite band at the time, The Killers. All I wanted to do was to go to the place where they hailed from, Las Vegas, and wedge my way into a part of the traveling machine of music that was their musical tour…or any live musical tour for that matter. Since then, I have learned a lot, worked hard, and gotten very lucky. I am saying all of this because Harley in the Sky reflected who I am in a way that no other book has recently. Author Akemi Dawn Bowman tells the story of a girl who dreams of a life as a trapeze artist and goes to the extreme to make it happen. I didn’t exactly go to the extreme to make my own dreams come true, but I did experience four years of university away from home (which was huge for my Mexican family) and the harsh reality that left me disillusioned with the world that I so desperately wanted to be a part of at the start of my journey. I kept on going like Harley did and ended up with a job tangentially related to my original goal, but in a totally amazing way I never expected. It’s a nonprofit job with a yearly event featuring live music.
I think that I have a complicated experience with Bowman’s books because they feature complicated and flawed characters that are sometimes not very much fun to read about. I truly enjoyed Starfish when I first discovered it, but Summer Bird Blue was grating to me- especially considering that at the time I was also experiencing the loss of a loved one and couldn’t imagine acting the way that Rumi did in that book. Yet even if her books don’t always hit the mark for me, I think that her flawed characters are what makes them so interesting and has me coming back for more. I always get something out of every one of her books.
Halfway into Harley in the Sky, I was getting a bit impatient with the story and its main character. The author truly writes a story with an authentic voice of a teenager, which can be a little bit vexing for me, a person way out of the intended audience age range. Despite this, I found myself understanding Harley’s decisions, impulsive or not. It really brought me back to when I was 18 years old and chomping at the bit to run away to the glitz and grime of Las Vegas. It even brought me back to when I was 14 years old, when I would have intense mood swings that left me with friends drifting away, exhausted having to deal with such issues when they were only kids themselves. Like Harley, I never had a label to explain how I was feeling, but how Akemi explains Harley’s thought processes truly made that version of me me feel validated. Sometimes that’s all that we need to heal ourselves a little bit, which is what keeps me coming back to Contemporary YA and to her books specifically. Akemi’s characters are wonderfully flawed.
Another thing I love is her inclusion of biracial and multiracial characters and her confrontation of how mental health is dealt with in families. Her other characters beyond the protagonist are also wonderfully multi-faceted and I like reading their interactions. One thing that I do wish is that she would have gone more in depth with how Harley copes with her mental health in between the last two chapters of the book. I can appreciate that her and other characters have issues that are not necessarily diagnosed, which is true for many people who don’t have easy access to therapy, I just wish it would have been discussed a bit more. Other than that, the romance in this novel was super cute and just enough for my taste. Slow burn romance is my thing and this book delivered without taking over the book. Overall, I enjoyed it but feel like certain topics could have been developed more. I am really looking forward to seeing how Akemi evolves as an author and will be reading whatever other stories that she writes for us!
Content Warnings: Depression, mood swings, suicidal ideation, mood swings
What are your thoughts?
Have you read Harley in the Sky or any other books by Akemi Dawn Bowman? Have you read any books recently that have really resonated with you and your own life? Let’s talk in the comments!