A girl living among planets – Akemi Dawn Bowman.
This book is yet another hotly anticipated read from Akemi Dawn Bowman, the creator and author of Starfish and Summer Bird Blue, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. My experience with Harley in the Sky was no different, especially as I consumed the majority of the book in one train ride across part of the country, travelling home instead of running away from it like Harley, and (successfully!) attempting to hold my tears in as I read the final few pages.
Harley is a child of the circus. She was born there, raised there, so it is no wonder that she wants to continue to thrive there. It is where she belongs; more explicitly, she belongs high in the Big Top under a shimmer of starry-eyed lights and hushed shadows. Her parents, however, have a different plan for Harley altogether: college. She pushes and they push back, until they clash so much that it pushes Harley off the edge… almost. Dangling into a pit of fire with nothing but her dreams to fight for, she betrays the circus, her home and most importantly her family. She runs off to the opposition: the alluring, devious Maison du Mystère with a bargain that she’ll have to pay the price for.
There are so many things that I could touch on in this blog post, but the biggest theme for me was the balance between tirelessly going after your goals, doing everything you can to succeed and being careful who you hurt along the way… the ultimate question is: is it all worth it? Harley is a complex character. I see some of her in my personality, but other parts I would be horrified if her thoughts even crossed my mind. Nevertheless, she is a real, raw character with flaws, and it is refreshing to read – even if I didn’t agree with her mentality or her reasoning at times. Too many times do we have the perfect girl who makes one mistake and instantly regrets it. And too many times do we have a male protagonist who is seen as dominant and a go-getter. Harley strives forward and pushes on no matter what, no matter who she leaves behind, and becomes tangled in her drive and her ambition. I admire her tremendously, but my admiration is twisted with judgement.
The complex relationships that shroud this book are beautiful. Harley distances herself from her family, her best friend and everyone who she has left behind in order to become a part of a new family in a place that rejects her at first glance. Eventually, it finally feels like home after countless hours of hard work. She earns her spot in Maison du Mystère and along with it, the disbanded artists and clowns from across the globe. A particular relationship that struck me was that between Harley and Maggie. Maggie is the sensational closing act of Maison du Mystère, the star of the show and the girl who already has Harley’s dreams tied in a neat little bow. She is supposed to mentor Harley, teach her her ways, but she doesn’t which produces a long, complex battle like a tug-of-war. Maggie is the natural “bad guy” of the book – one of them at least – but she has her reasons and they are a lot closer to home than people will think.
Another relationship that I adore is that between Vas and Harley, the romantic element at the heart of this story. I am a sucker for young adult romances even at the age of twenty-seven. Vas is a Russian musician, the typical strong but silent love interest, with secrets of his own. He gets so lost in his haunting music it is as though he is a ghost himself. The tenderness, not-to-mention the yin and yang, between Harley and Vas is sweet and a lovely temperament, even when the truth hurts and the heartbreak is far too harsh to bear.
At the crux of the entire novel is identity and not knowing where you belong. Akemi Dawn Bowman writes about lacking an identity through being bi-racial – quadracial in Harley’s case – beautifully. Upon first appearance, the emphasis on Harley not knowing where she belongs is due to the circus and always being on the side lines, waiting her turn to be a part of the magic, the mystery and the awe-inspiring beauty that people dream of. Once you read a little deeper, you understand that her need to belong somewhere is because she has no idea where she belongs in society. She is too white to be Asian and too Asian to be white. Those statements make her believe that she is alien to everyone, that she cannot hold onto one piece of culture that she has inherited from her grandparents, let alone four. Books like Harley in the Sky are so precious to have in today’s young adult world of fiction because it gives a voice to those who feel like they don’t belong and opens the eyes of people like me, white and privileged, who know pretty much where they come from and aren’t confused by their race or their identity. It is a learning curve in a story that makes me want to read more books with protagonists who look different to me, to appreciate their stories and their cultures as well as my own.
All in all, Harley in the Sky is another fantastic book by Akemi Dawn Bowman that covers everything from mental health, identity, friendship, family and trying to find your space in the world whilst making mistakes along the way. All of that in 375 pages is quite a feat!
Love, Faye xo