Down in the Belly of the Whale

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 May 2018

Member Reviews

***Thank you to NetGalley for providing me a complimentary copy of the book DOWN THE BELLY OF THE WHALE byKelley Kay Bowles in exchange for my honest review.***

Harper believes she can sense when others are sick, almost like hypochondria by proxy, but she’s not wrong to be worried about her best friend Cora cutting herself or her mother’s add symptoms. Harper only wants to protect those she loves. Just because she can’t prevent bad things, she learns, doesn’t mean she can’t be help them.

I initially had difficulty embracing Harper, who speaks in banter-filled, hyperbolic sentences like no teenager, or person I’ve ever met. But, her heart is in the right place and all she wants is to help those she loves. Harper and the other characters all have unique and distinct personalities. Bowles writing is engaging and and I liked her use of words and definitions at the beginning of each chapter. I wish the dialogue had felt more authentic.

**semi-spoilers below**

My biggest complaint about DOWN THE BELLY OF THE WHALE is the inaccuracies and lack of research about child abuse and hospitalization after suicide attempts. For example, after a suicide attempt patients are on one-to-one supervision for their own protection, they sometimes aren’t allowed visitors and the supervision remains in place. Cora’s disclosure would have been witnessed by a nurse’s aid, a mandated reporter of child abuse. Doctors are required to report suicide attempts to child protective services. Another example, an outcry witness is who the victim tells immediately after the assault, not a friend told eight years later. Interviews wouldn’t take place in a safehouse for DV victims, which are better protected. While these may seem like picky details, there’s no reason not to get the facts right.

**end spoilers**
DOWN THE BELLY OF THE WHALE will appeal to tweens and younger teens and serves as a good example for speaking up for friends who are in trouble.
Was this review helpful?
Harper Southwood doesn’t have much going for her. She only has one friend, and the boy she loves doesn’t know she exists. To make matters worse, her mother is ill, and her best and only friend is a cutter. But Harper has a special ability: she can tell when people are ill. Not just tell; she can feel it. Her nose twitches, her senses heighten, all kinds of things happen when someone has a problem. Her special gifts become a nightmare when she carries burdens stronger than any high school sophomore should ever have. 

“I stand back, waving my hands in the air like directionless birds, and I want to shout, want to jump in, want to do something to stop it. I need the superhero X-ray vision and supernatural mojo that should be attached to troll powers.”

Down In the Belly of the Whale is a sweet, touching and inspiring coming-of-age tale about a girl who cares too much. It also deals with dark issues, like terminal illnesses, depression and suicide. Harper’s journey is sad and painful, but it is also sprinkled with hope. I love the spiritual aspect of the book. It made it more enjoyable. The downsides? The writing is a little stilted. Too much action, not enough stream of consciousness. I found a good quote (the one above), one of a few. I’m all for a gripping plot, but I’m a sucker for beautiful and lyrical writing. All in all, I enjoyed this book, and I give it four out of five dark roast coffees.
Was this review helpful?
WrensReads Review:

Thank you to the publisher for a review copy of this book.  All the words below are my own opinions and thoughts

This was a very interesting read.  There are a lot of issues thrown into this little book. I am going to keep my review short 

Harper and Cora both are dealing with separate things and have a lot of growth through the book. Sexual Assault and Illness are the big contenders.  I do feel as if this book had a lot of things thrown into it, so not all the pieces could be discussed and digested at length.  This story had a lot of promise to dig deep into one of the biggest problems we are facing today, and I feel it only touched the surface. 

It is still an enjoyable and something I believe a lot of people will enjoy.  The narrator of the story writes the way people talk.  For example, when someone stretches a word out like "waaaaay" or they mispronounce something, the author writes it the way it sounded.  I really enjoyed though, even though it does make it seem like a younger read than the topics it talks about.

Over all, I think this is a book young kids should read in order to be able to see the signs people are giving off around them.  There are more people than you think that are dealing with a lot of the issues in this book, including someone close to you I bet.  

Sometimes people don't know how to ask for help; sometimes they just need someone to see and care.

WrensReads | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram
Was this review helpful?
I honestly don't know how to feel about this book. While I do acknowledge that Down in the Belly of the Whale addresses important, often taboo topics such as suicide and sexual abuse, it did not feel authentic, the dialogue between the characters seemed forced and the characters themselves were one-dimensional. 

The plot started out really intriguing, with our main character Harper being able to tell when someone around her is getting sick - something she feels is useless because she cannot prevent the illness, only warn the individuals, but is special nonetheless. From that strong starting point, the story deterioriated into Harper drooling over a basketball player in her biology class, who she's dissecting a cat with. Yes, there is cat dissection in this book. 

Her character was so contradictory. We learn that Harper is very intelligent, someone who uses an 'elevated vocabulary' only to then ask what an MRI is five pages later. If Harper is supposed to be mature and way too clever for her age, why does she keep asking other people to explain words to her?

Looping back to the taboo topics once more, I do want to make clear that I admire the attempt to tackle so many difficult topics in one book. The problem was just that it often felt like, for example the cutting, was important for one sentence and then just ignored for the remainder of the chapter. Harper does not know how to help her friend who is cutting herself (which is understandable) but then doesn't really take any action to help her, either. She doesn't tell anyone, she doesn't try to get to the bottom of it. As someone who has experience with self-harm, it felt incredibly wrong to read about Harper not doing anything, only to then get a lecture from her mother on proper conduct around someone who attempts to take her own life. The entire book read like a didactic message: don't hurt yourself. don't keep silent. don't be a bad friend. All very true sentiments, but I do think this could have been relayed in a more appropriate manner.

That being said, I do like that the book tackled mental and physical illness, sexual abuse and self-harm, topics that do need more exposure in literature.
Additionally, I think it's important to place a trigger warning in the book.
Was this review helpful?
I was given an e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

The description of the book was interesting, but I wasn't able to connect to the writing or main character. The writing didn't feel authentically YA.and the dialogue felt forced. I did like how Harper was a sweet girl who wanted the best for her friends and family, and her "gift" was a cool idea too, but the writing wasn't strong enough to hold my interest. I also struggled with Cora's action. As a former cutter myself, I was glad to see that a book covered the topic, but it only took Harper to attempts to ask Cora why she hurts herself,  and her response felt like an after school special. Cutters often don't know why we do the things we do, and if we are able to articulate it, we don't share it right away. I did like the showdown between Cora's dad and Harpers mom, which led to the reveal of MS. Tackling the sexual abuse issue was a good idea, but I didn't think it was executed well. Again,  this book has great representation for mental and physical illnesses, but I would not recommend this book due to it's writing.
Was this review helpful?
Right after I started a new job at a new university, one of the students in my department committed suicide. 
It was a shock to everyone. He was well liked and popular. He was a talented student, with many friends. What on earth could have made him do this? Emotions ran from sadness to grief to anger to helplessness, and in the end there were no easy answers that could possible satisfy the many people he left behind. 
Kelley Kaye Bowles has created an incredible portrait of a young woman in a similar position. Harper Southwood surely views her best friend Cora as having it easier that she does. She sees Cora as beautiful and friendly, the one all the boys are crushing on. Harper, with her frizzy hair and awkwardness and clumsiness, is convinced she's a troll. But when Cora attempts suicide, it turns Harper's life upside down. Harper beats herself up, and has the same thoughts many do when a tragedy strikes a friend. How could I have missed the signs? How could I have not noticed her pain? Was I so wrapped up in my own issues? 
The great thing about Harper is that she really does have legitimate issues. Her mom has been sick. Her dad has been stressed out about work. This isn't the stereotype where the girl only cares about what boys are liking her. (Although that is present here, but in a humorous way that also helps the plot.)
Bowles' writing is lively and fun, yet still grounded and full of depth. The characters pop off of the page, all vividly realized. No one in this book is perfect, but they are all trying their best. They're real and three dimensional. They hide things from each other not to be mean, but because they don't want their loved ones to worry. 
This is a wonderful book that cleverly explored some powerful and painful emotions. Highly recommended. 
Victor Catano
Technical Director at the Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College
Was this review helpful?
Harper Southwood believes that she has the ability to sense when someone is already sick.  Not a great super power, but she goes with it.  As she struggles to figure out why her knee twitches around her bff, Cora, and her body doesn't do anything when around her ailing mother, Harper goes on a wonderful adventure into finding herself.

Cute, fun, and happy.  Even though there are various tough topics in this book (mentioning them might be a spoiler), I still found this book so happy and fun.  It taught some life lessons along the way, and Harper is a great protagonist!
Was this review helpful?
It was lacking and I didn't enjoy the story that much. Not much character development. I was kind of bored while reading this.
Was this review helpful?
With a quirky use of language and dialect, Kelley Kay Bowles has created endearing, believable, engaging characters inside a story with very contemporary themes – topics that are in the news now, as well as on the minds of young adults. 

Kelley’s experience teaching high school comes through in how the main character, Harper, talks to her friends and family, using made up words like “oogy” that perfectly capture the sentiment of the moment. Her use of internal monologue is delightful.

The story includes an introduction to the medical world that a teen might need to face, and to a small degree the legal world, in a way that is understandable, but not overwhelming, to young adults. I have lived through a trauma similar to one described in this book, and Kelley handles it in a careful, tactful and compassionate manner. She illustrates good role models for healthy families as well as a gentle treatment of dysfunctional ones.

Overall this well-written novel is dense with activity and drama, dealing with difficult topics that are on a teenager’s mind, in a sensitive manner that includes a good dose of humor and healing.
Was this review helpful?
High schooler Harper Southwood can sense impending illness in the people around her, but she finds her insightful ability more frustrating than useful. It’s just one more source of uncertainty for this self-described troll as she struggles to make sense of adolescence. Meanwhile, her best friend, Cora, is so weighted down with childhood trauma that she has become seriously depressed. And Harper’s mother is suffering mysterious symptoms that will lead to a frightening diagnosis. Then, just as her loved ones face the struggle of their lives, Harper’s power suddenly deserts her. If this empathetic teen wants to find her place in the world, she’ll have to learn where her true strength lies and, just maybe, overcome her doubts to become a hero.

As story narrator, Harper is at turns insightful and overly burdened by her sense of guilt at being unable to protect her nearest and dearest from harm. In true teenage fashion, she can’t distance herself from events. This is Harper’s story more than it is her best friend’s story or her mother’s story. And that’s a wonderful reflection of what being a teenager is all about: moving from self-involvement to recognition of others’ feelings and struggles. Supported by a hilarious, loving, and beautifully developed cast of character’s Harper begins to emerge as a mature (though still delightfully gawky) young woman. After all, her mother is a novelist who loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer, her awesome uncle can shove a strand of pasta up his nose then pull it out of his mouth, and her best friend hasn’t lost her fondness for knock-knock jokes, despite a painful past.

The novel maintains a brisk pace, and the major drama of the plot is set against a daze of regular high school life. So Harper dissects a cat with her basketball star crush, learns the art of the stage kiss, and laments her frizzy hair.

Down in the Belly of the Whale balances frankness with tenderness when addressing issues of illness, trauma, and teenage uncertainty. And it never once loses its compassionate, quirky coming-of-age sensibility.
Was this review helpful?
Wow, a MUST read for teens! Harper’s character embodies the important life lessons on courage and resiliency.  I was so enthralled with the story line that I canceled my plans for the day as I was pulled into Harper’s character and her journey of discovery on just how courageous and resilient she is. As a person living with a chronic disease and someone who helps others live their best life while facing the challenges of living with a chronic disease, the characters, the challenges and how each character dealt with it are as realistic as it gets! 
~ Nicole Schulte
Was this review helpful?
I have to admit, Down in the Belly of the Whale is not my usual read. But Kelley’s storytelling quickly engages the reader and her characters are well developed enough that I could relate to them even though I have never been a teenage girl. The plot—revolving around the kinds of tragic occurrences that, unfortunately, we read about on an all-too-regular basis these days—feels real and relatable. Watching Harper Southwood tackle her insecurities and issues common to almost everyone who ever attended high school grounds her character in a persona that you empathize with when she’s faced with far larger issues surrounding her family and best friend and you quickly find yourself rooting for her. The book is fast paced and well-written and, despite being thoroughly researched, Kelley never allows the story to become overwhelmed with details. The issues at the center of the tale are dark and daunting, but Kelley handles them in a very respectful way. While the overall story arc is simple, the characters and events are complex enough to add significant depth to its development and make the story captivating and enjoyable. I found that Harper’s quirky “superpower” added a unique and interesting wrinkle to the usual teen coming-of-age issues we usually get, and I found myself smiling as she sneezed. All in all, I found Down in the Belly of the Whale an enjoyable and captivating read and I look forward to Kelley’s next book.
Was this review helpful?
Read my 4-star review of Down in the Belly of the Whale by Kelley Kay Bowles
Was this review helpful?
This book touched me in ways that I wasn't expecting at all. The writing itself is quite simplistic but the story it tells packs a punch. With the two main plot points occurring throughout the book, I expected it to be confusing or hard to keep track of, but it was quite the opposite actually. The two main conflicts weren't distractions to each other but merely added an extra element into the mix that helped make things even more intense than they were.

As far as characters go, I quite liked the portrayal of all of them. I did feel that Harper was...immature? The way the book was written made her seem much younger than a high schooler - more like she was ten or eleven really. It might have just been the simplistic writing style, but especially for someone that old, she seemed a little clueless.

I really liked all the relationships that Harper had with people around her. The family dynamic was wonderful. They weren't dysfunctional by any means but they weren't perfect, and I really appreciated that. Uncle Pasta was a great character addition and added in some diversity that I was very glad to see. Him being gay wasn't a main plot point or his entire personality, but merely just a fact of his character. 

I did expect a little more from Larson, especially because of the way Harper fawns over him (which, by the way, extremely relatable!) but I liked how their relationship developed. Larson was, refreshingly, not a perfect boy kid like Harper thought and often fooled herself into thinking. 

The book was paced quite quickly which was helped by the writing style, but I liked it. It was straight and to the point, but most of all, it was relatable. Often, it is difficult to find yourself in books about such heavy and serious topics when you haven't experienced them, but between Harper's feeling out of place, acne, banter with Cora that I could completely see myself having, and an imperfect yet loving family, I felt connected, in a way, to these characters.

The only problem I had with this book was the slightly abrupt (and a little rushed) ending and occasionally, the writing style. I do feel as though the portrayal of character's emotions wasn't as vivid as it could have been. Though this is first person, I do believe some of the personalities and feelings of characters that were not Harper could have been shown better. One of the main characters who I wanted to learn more about was Harper's father. His characterization wasn't great. I also would have loved to see more of Cade but I definitely understand why I didn't.

Overall, I'm really glad I read this. Between the way it deals with such heavy topics and how real and raw it feels, it is quite the enjoyable read.
Was this review helpful?
Down in the Belly of the Whale is an engaging story about one girl's strange abilities and the struggles she faces while feeling like an outsider. I really enjoyed this novel and even read it in just one sitting.

Harper is a teenager and (like a lot of other girls her age) feels completely out of place. Apart from the fact that she does not feel too comfortable in her own body, she has the strange ability of sensing whenever someone around her is about to get sick. However, when two of the people she loves the most suddenly are threatened, Harper did not see it coming, and is thus even more afraid of the possible consequences... 

I really really liked this little story. The characters are relatable and especially Harper seems to be a quite though teen. I found myself laughing out loud at times due to her way of wording things while at the same time she is brave and more than ready to help the people she loves. But also the other characters, e.g. her friend Cora and especially her Uncle Peter (aka. Uncle Pasta) are really lovable. 

The writing style is engaging and makes you want to stick to the story and read it from cover to cover (and as the novel is quite short this is also absolutely doable). The only thing I could criticize is that the beginning felt a bit rushed - I would have preferred the novel to be a bit longer to give the reader the change of getting a bit more into it before the main events start off. However, this didn't bother me too much. 

All in all, a 3.5 star rating and a book I will definitely recommend to friends and my students.
Was this review helpful?
While I felt the ending was a trifle rushed/glossed over, this was an engaging YA story. The themes of abuse, illness/loss, and first romances blended nicely with humor and the main character’s quirks.
Was this review helpful?
4 cookies
I was given a copy of this book in exchange for a honest review
(So I wanted to try something new and do cookies instead of stars so here we go...)
First I want to thank this publisher for giving me the opportunity to review this book!
First off... Why did this take me forever!? And secondly oh my goodness... This book literally had me crying. It was really good! Now... On to analyzing! 
Harper: Harper showed some real character development throughout. It wasn't super strong, but it was still good. We saw her grow as a person as well. She became more confident in herself and thats awesome to have in a character. I give two thumbs up to this main character! 

Cora: Oh sweet Cora! (without giving spoilers...) Her story was hard to read. It was brutal, but I believed it should be. I haven't read really any books on this issue, and it really opened my eyes up to it. Anyways, her actual character was the witty best friend and she was actually really fun to read about. She struggled... But in the end, we see she has came a long way. 

Uncle Pasta: Uncle Pasta! This Uncle is honestly so encouraging to Harper. He is hilarious and always manages to get a little chuckles out me occasionally. 

Mr. Perkins: Before I go on a rant... This is Cora's jerk of a dad. He won't believe Cora when she comes to him with this burden on her shoulders and still won't believe her after the hospital. It just makes me shake my head all the way through his review. However y'all, he turns out ok at the end. But this is really only after things began to show, (sorry I'm speaking it riddles I am really trying to keep spoilers out) so Im sure its hard for Cora to forgive him. 

Isabella: This is Harpers mother. Isabella throughout the story is struggling with disease. Isabella's over all character is honestly awesome. She is a great mother, she stands up for Harper, and is always there for Harper when she needs her. Isabella is also a author and seeing her ask those nurses if she can add them in her book, made me literally laugh so hard!

Micheal (so sorry if I misspelled this!): Harpers dad had a really strong love for his family. It was actually beautiful how much he loved them. His character had a lot of backstory that shows at the end as well. His overall character was just bright and encouraging. 

Larson: This kid... He was so inconsiderate of Harpers feelings. Rude and just plain insensitive what was going on with Cora. I didn't like him at all, not even at the end. He didn't change and didn't grow. 

Cade: This little muffin! Cade was a really big help to Harper and Cora's cause closer to the end of the story. The time we spent with him, he was witty and willing to help. I WANT MORE!!!

Lets start with the cons: 
I didn't have many problems with this but I did have one that I wanted to address. So having the different issues like I said was good. I just don't think the author should have put all of them. I felt sometimes the author was rushing to put all the issues in with different characters, when in reality she could have just used one or two. And thats honestly my only issue. 

Lets end with the pros:
This story had a really interesting background to it. The different issues they put into the story really brought light to things we may not talk about on a daily basis. The characters and their personalities were fun and interesting, it really made me want to keep reading. I would totally recommend this book!
Was this review helpful?
“Down in the Belly Of The Whale” by Kelley Kaye Bowels is about a teenager who doesn’t fit in and finds that she was so concerned with her own life she didn’t see that her only friend was suffering from depression and her mother was battling an illness.  
The main character finds that she is only focused on her own life and is missing signs from those she loves that need help.  However, once she realizes she is doing this she immediately gets to helping.  I think this is a great coming of age story, showing that it’s normal to not feel normal.  This story touches on many current issues, such as pedophilia, rape, depression, suicide, death of a parent, homophobia  and illness.   I feel that each of these issues is so large, that putting all of them in one novel, for one child to deal with all at the same time, is far fetched.  I also feel like, the main character somehow turns all of the problems others have in a way that makes them about her, instead of the person it is happening to.  
I thought this book was well organized but didn’t give the chance to let each issue develope, this is why I have it a three star rating.
Was this review helpful?
I received this ARC copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. So thank you netgalley and publishers.
This is a story is about : Harper Southwood she is a teenage girl who can sense when people will get sick. She can’t predict her best friend’s depression or her mother’s impending health crisis. Being helpful is all Harper ever wanted, but she feels helpless in the face of this adversity. Now, she’s got a chance to summon her courage and use her brain to fight for justice. Harper must learn that compassion and internal strength are her real gifts, her true superpower. The back cover is as follows : My name is Harper, and I'm almost sixteen. Along with the typical teenagery turmoil, I have this bizarre ability to know when you're gonna get sick. But so what? My supernatural sense won't help you avoid that nasty flu bug—because if I feel it, you've already got it. It doesn't help me heal my best and only friend, Cora—she’s filled with so much fear and anguish. It doesn't help my mom, because there's something big and bad already inside her, and I haven't felt a thing. This isn't a gift; it's a curse.

This book was a lot different then I thought it would be. I loved that it dealt with mental health issues and depression, it is all to common these days so it's nice to be able to relate to the book. I haven't found many books that talk about these issues so I thought it was a great touch to help bring awareness to the seriousness of mental health patients and depression. It seemed a little slow at times and the writing was a bit choppy at moments but other then that it was a nice, quick read. I give it a 3.5 star rating..
Was this review helpful?