A contemporary story about family and friendship for fans of Eleanor Porter and L.M. Montgomery.
Harper Southwood is a teenage girl who can sense when people will get sick—but so what? 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 real adversity. Now, she’s got a chance to summon her courage and use her wits to fight for justice. Laugh and cry along with this irrepressible, high-spirited teen in her journey of self-discovery, as she learns that compassion and internal strength are her real gifts, her true superpower.
Down in the Belly of the Whale by Kelley Kay Bowles is a witty and ingenious Young Adult novel that addresses a multitude of tough subject matter in an eye-opening manner.
I don't know how Kelley does it, but she always manages to impress me. This time around, Kelley has a Young Adult novel that addresses so many tough subjects in one go! Topics such as self harm, child abuse, Multiple Sclerosis, loss of innocence, suicide and not so supportive parents are just some of the many that are tackled in this book. Each "issue" is brought into the story seamlessly and has plot lines throughout the narrative to deal with the issues. Most Young Adult books stay away from the tough yet so very real topics like these, so I have to applaud Kelley for taking the big leap in her story!
My teenage self would have loved a book like this, and I could have learned a lot in the process. On top of the subject matter, the book is written in the voice of a teenager (and it feels oh so real!). Just some of the quotes, such as "I'm going to wear a stunning pair of very expensive jeans that hug my curves like a two-year old with separation anxiety" make this book hilarious! This sitcom-like book creates a fantastic balance between realism and dark topics alongside the silly and goofy one-liners to make the book less depressing.
I did like the character development in this story - both Cora and Harper grow throughout. The change in their attitudes and view points was very obvious as the book went on! I think Kelley did a great job making these characters feel real and like teenagers. Bravo!!
The fantastical side of Harper being able to "sense" when someone is sick, and she's able to sense mental illness is a big step forward. Mental illness is not always seen as someone being "sick", rather it's just an issue to be dealt with. Having a book directed towards teenagers have this point of view makes me very happy and very proud of Kelley's writing.
Now for the tough part - the negatives. Were there negatives in this book for me? Yes. I felt the ending was rushed, which made some of the pieces being tied together feel less real. Is it necessarily a bad thing? No. It was just something that stuck out to me. Kelley ties up some of the loose ends nicely, but I would have loved a few more pages dedicated to these storylines. Other than that, this book felt flawless.
Would I recommend this book? Heck yes! This book was a fantastic Young Adult novel that I actually got into! I didn't want to put it down, and I didn't. I easily binged this book in one sitting, but it could easily be read in bits and pieces. If you like Young Adult novels, books that tackle dark subject matter (in a light-hearted way) or a splash of comedy, then you will love this book! I'd even recommend this to many adult readers, because of it's amazing way of tackling the rough subjects.
There is a bit of an asterisk on the recommendation side - this book could be a major trigger for some people. Keep that in mind if you plan to pick up this book! The darker sides of this novel may not be suitable for all ages and maturity levels!
Five out of five stars!
I received a free copy of this book from the author Kelley Kaye Bowles in exchange for an honest review.
🍪🍪🍪🍪 4 cookies I was given a copy of this book in exchange for a honest review https://youryareader.blogspot.com/201... (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: :) (end positive am I right?) 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!
The spirit, the voice and the viewpoint of a young teen come alive through Kelley Kay Bowles’s DOWN IN THE BELLY OF A WHALE. Step into Harper’s world and her mind as she witnesses the life she has always known become a roiling vat of turmoil she would do anything in her power to quell, if only she felt she had that power. Then again, with all of the bravado of youth, she just might…Get ready to laugh, to cry, to be angered and appalled as the innocence of youth is stripped away and the world becomes a frightening place to be in and Harper becomes a super hero in her own right.
An upbeat, yet insecure teen with a quirky outlook, a secret crush and the comfort of a strong family support system must come to terms with the pain her best friend has been hiding for years and is determined to be the support her friend needs.
Meanwhile, Harper will also learn that her mother, her rock, has a life-altering illness and she is determined to give back all of the love and support she has been raised with.
Kelley Kay Bowles has nailed the teen voice, the emotional persona and dealt with some pretty tough issues with a compassionate heart. Is this read for everyone? Yes, I think it is, but I also think it was written for teens and young adults who do not require what older readers do to “believe.”
Because I firmly believe that every topic in this book is relevant and appropriate, I shared DOWN IN THE BELLY OF THE WHALE with a young teen, I needed to know what she took away from this tale, because she is the target audience.
Her words: I totally loved Harper! She sounds like me! I was mad about her friend and her mom and I loved how Harper tried to help them both. There you have it, young teens can relate, understand the gravity of events and still take away positivity. Makes this a true gem at the top of the YA pile!
I received a complimentary copy from Kelley Kay Bowles!
Publisher: Aionios Books, LLC (May 5, 2018) Publication Date: May 5, 2018 Genre: YA Family Issues | Coming of Age Print Length: 241 pages Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble For Reviews, Giveaways, Fabulous Book News, follow: http://tometender.blogspot.com
Thank you to NetGalley & Aionos Books for providing me an advanced copy.
Trigger warning: Sexual assault/rape, suicide, self-harm.
So I finished this book in one sitting because it's a very fast and short read, and I suppose that's one of the very few positives I can say about it. That and I did kinda like the friendship between the main character Harper and her best friend, thought it was genuinely sweet at parts.
I can't really think of any other positives other than those two things, so I'm just gonna go in.
My main issue with this book pretty much comes down to the tonal problems. As you can tell from the trigger warning I put, this book deals with a lot of very dark, serious issues, however the tone fluctuates in such a weird way. One second it's all comedic and light-hearted, then it goes dark and unsettling, and then it goes right back to being happy and upbeat again. It just didn't work. I understood what the author was going for, I've seen this done well in other books before, but it just wasn't executed very well here.
I felt like all the serious topics that were present were simply just plot devices, and the way they were wrapped up was almost too easy and everything was handled too optimistically. I guess I found that... unrealistic. It's like the author had rose-colored glasses when writing it. If she had wanted to make a fluff piece, she could've easily done that, but the serious stuff--the suicide and especially the sexual assault and rape depictions--were so gut-wrenching that it just did not fit with the overall cheery atmosphere of the book. I hate to say this but I just didn't think it was handled carefully enough.
Another glaring thing I noticed that was really weird about this book was how often it felt the need to explain things. There'd literally be entire paragraphs that almost seemed copy-pasted from encyclopedias and slightly altered. I'm not accusing the author of doing that, I'm just saying it felt like that. There's three scenes in this book of the MC having to dissect a cat for her Anatomy class (sidebar; the "Oh No, I'm Partnered With My Hot Crush" trope is used here) and in each of those scenes, there's whole paragraphs of the teacher explaining the process and the organs point by point. Like... Why? How is that relevant to the plot?
Sometimes characters would just be having normal conversations and all of a sudden they'd just turn into a living Wikipedia page of information. I just thought it was so strange, and often times during this book I skimmed because, I kid you not, I felt like I was reading a textbook. It felt like homework. Even the chapters start with dictionary definitions of the chapter names, and it's not as if the chapter names were like, SAT words or something either. Most of them were pretty basic.
Basically all of this has made me realize that perhaps this book is targeted towards a younger audience. I think this particular brand of YA is more appealing for like, preteens. They even use f**k/f**king instead of just saying fuck/fucking. I can't even remember the last time I read a book that had censoring. Either a book had swear words or it didn't.
But yeah, I'm a twenty-one (almost twenty-two) year old gay man, so perhaps I just wasn't the target demo for this book. Perhaps young girls who aren't very knowledgeable about the things explored in it will appreciate it, learn a lot of interesting little factoids and have more of an emotional reaction, but I've just seen other books tackle these subjects with much more gravitas, so overall I was disappointed.
This is a rare time that I feel I need to give four stars even though I never got that into the book.
Harper has the perfect family and that's why she's found out she's a changeling, a troll, because how could she be part of that family? And she has a very useless superpower of knowing when people are about to get sick. That's it, she can't do anything to prevent it, she simply feels in her something is wrong. And that's how she knew her best friend was cutting herself. And even that seems to be failing because her mother has something the doctors haven't found out and she never felt it (and this one seems to come from the writer's personal experience.
This book is deep. It is told in a very light way, I even wondered if it wasn't children's fiction, but it goes deeper and deeper. I guess the title makes sense.
So why did I say I didn't get into it? I think the writing is sometimes to prolix, I'm sure the author meant something by it but it didn't get through to me. And even though that made it really seem like the narrator was a teenager—I so used to write like that back then!—, during the dialogues, Harper and her friend never sounded legitimately like teenagers.
Still, the story was beautiful, well researched, well written. The kind of story I think YA should have more, because it's genuinely good. I know, it's weird that I'm saying this when I personally didn't enjoy it so much. But I repeat the problem was me and not the book. In other words, this book won't please everyone, it's not a light read even though it may seem so. The characters has layers and some get quite dark.
I also recommend this for book clubs. Oh, there's so much you can discuss! One thing that bothered me the whole book and that took way too long for the parents to tackle on was this belief Harper has that she isn't part of her own family. How many other teenagers don't think like that in different degrees? And there's more I don't want to spoil anyone about.
This is a beautiful book.
Honest review based on an ARC provided by Netgalley. Many thanks to the publisher for this opportunity.
***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.
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.
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.
So this started out pretty well, I initially liked the narrators voice, liked her quirky mother and liked where I thought it was heading (illness). It headed there but in a completely flippant way and the twist with her friend was equally if not more frivolously written. The issue of rape was poorly dealt with. I mean how can the MC go within seconds from sympathy for her friends account of sexual assault to lamenting over an unrequited crush? I started to lose any connection with the MC and thereafter my interest and patience begin to wane. I trudged on to 47% by which point I just skipped paragraphs and then pages until that became as pointless as the story. The sudden DNF was as sudden as the turnaround on the MCs vapid personality so a reluctant but necessary miss for me.
I liked this story very much and read very quickly, as a page turner. I was especially entranced by the young narrator voice, the best facet of the book: Harper sounds like a very credible gifted teenager, clever and funny, in a self deprecating kind of way, and a bubbling mind, which frequently let her to obsess about some thing or another. She’s smart and wise, but can also be very short sighted in some situations (her infatuation with a boy based only on his looks for instance), marking her as still a very young person, and never an adult.
The other characters weren’t quite as good, but only for lack of correct exposition: at the exception of the mother, a strong figure with a delightful personality, most characters felt like not really stereotypical, but left at a first draft. Not because of a lack of skill, but more because of the choice of telling about a lot of things at the same time.
In general, even if I really appreciated the story and am looking forward reading the next author’s book, I had the impression of overabundance of themes used, at their disadvantage.
I applaud the author’s efforts to developed some strong situations for her heroine, but I couldn’t help thinking that it was too much for the book. In the end it felt a little more pedagogical than naturally included in the story.
Another point that felt a bit discordant was the funny and light beginning which suddenly sank in dark reality facts. Harper’s arch voice was suddenly lost, of course, she wouldn’t keep her sparkling tone, and I felt like jumping from one book to another one at full speed…
All in all I’m just quibbling, as usual, because contemporary YA book is my favourite, and I’m always spliting hairs about tiny details… shame on me!
To conclude I warmly recommend this book, for its endearing heroine and its story which doesn’t shy to show difficult realities and explains how the right attitude can make a real difference.
(A review copy (e-galley) of this book was provided by the publisher through netgalley)
I want to thank the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Down in the Belly of the Whale by Kelley Kay Bowles is a story about a girl with a strange ability to detect illness in others. Harper Southwood is a sweet, insecure teen, with a desire to help the ones she loves.
I enjoyed the relationship between the two main characters’ (Harper and Cora) and although Harper seemed younger than sixteen, she was very relatable. Who doesn’t hate their frizzy hair and have a crush on their lab partner! I also enjoyed many of the other characters, particularly Harper’s mom Isabella and Cade.
I would have liked to have seen Harper’s unusual "gift" be more central to the story. It’s an interesting twist on the teen-coming of age story. I felt that Harper’s mother’s diagnosis and living with a chronic disease were very well done.
While I applaud the author for wanting to address serious topics that affect teens, such as sexual assault/rape, suicide, self-harm, and homophobia, their treatment felt superficial and at times, took me out of the story.
All in all, it is an optimistic coming-of-age story, with great use of language, a brisk pace, and quirky, engaging characters.
Thank you, Kelley Kay Bowles! “Down in the Belly of the Whale” offers a refreshing take on today’s heroine! In this 21st century, where there is so much drama and so much angst eating at the hearts of our young adult population, it’s nice to read about a quirky and upbeat character, who can inspire a fresh perspective on tomorrow, despite the challenges of today.. Bowles presents some very real and ever-present issues and demonstrates that things don’t always happen as we would wish and there aren’t always clear explanations to things that perplex us. Harper, an ultimate empath (right down to her knees!) takes these quandaries in stride and still has hope and the quirky, contagious strength to move forward..
Some tidbits: 1. Down in the Belly of the Whale was clearly loved by its author, and that shows. There was such care put into presenting an honest story, and I can appreciate that. 2. Harper was totally adorable, and I love how she did her absolute best to help people. 3. This book actually features supportive, loving parents, instead of sending them away with a mysterious excuse and leaving the protags to figure things out, and I think that's positive and important!
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.
This is a YA contemporary that tackles a lot of issues, so the first thing I want to do is offer a warning to potential readers. If you’re looking at this review, I’d like you to know that this book deals a lot with mental illness and its triggers; that means subjects like self-harm, suicide, child abuse, and sexual abuse are addressed here so if you’re sensitive to those subjects, I’d steer clear of this.
First, let me detail the plotline of the story; this YA contemporary centers on self-proclaimed changeling and sophomore student, Harper who believes she has some sort of superpower. This power of hers allows her to sense when people are ill—specifically mentally ill. When she is near someone who is stressed emotionally, mentally, or psychologically, her body reacts; there are times where she sneezes, itches, or feels an odd pain in a certain part of her body all of which serve as a sort of alarm system that let’s her know when someone close to her is hurting. This may not be the sort of super power that gives you the strength to stop a speeding train or even make your cold coffee warm again, but it is a power that allows Harper the opportunity to show compassion and kindness when it is needed most.
This story dives into the hard things of life, at the toughest time to deal with—our teenage years—but its not without any smiles or humor. Harper is a quirky character determined to see the world through a fresh pair of eyes. Her POV is silly, a little morbid, and sometimes humorous; she is the breath of fresh air that is much needed in this seemingly deep pit of darkness we call high school. Watch as she tackles depression, self-harm, and other issues we’re often too shy to talk about and learn what it means to be a true friend.
Now, this story sounds like a good idea—and it is! But it isn’t put together very well. The writing is not bad, but it definitely follows every typecast you could imagine when it comes to YA fiction. Every character is a stereotype; Larson is the hot crush who is cool and chill and everything every teen wants their love interest to be. Cora is the beautiful best friend who—despite her great looks (white blonde chick) and despite her ability to be in the popular crowd—she willingly chooses to hang out with the rejects of the school. And by reject, I only mean Harper, our protagonist who is the ugly nerd crushing on one of the hottest kids in school—you guessed it! Larson, the star athlete. But she’s actually worse than that; she thinks she’s really unique and really quirky and much smarter than everyone around her because she reads and looks things up in encyclopedias and says words like whom and scintillating—which I guess is indicative of an enhanced vocabulary?—for a sixteen year old?
What I did not like about Harper was that she was just so nerdy in such an unbelievable way. I know its totally cool and relatable to have your main character be the nerdy underdog who comes out on top, but it is 2019 now and just not believable or entertaining anymore. Harper reads encyclopedias, *believes* she uses advanced vocabulary, and makes random references to Greek mythology because (I guess) she is smarter than your average teenager? Or because the author wants us to believe she is smarter than every other high schooler you will ever meet, but she isn’t, and so comes off as a very fake and forced protagonist who just irritates me.
Every other character is the same way; friends and enemies who fit every stereotype like some discount Lifetime movie cast—gay uncles who are more like cheesy characters from a 2002 sitcom, eccentric teachers whose entire personality is summed up to like … sandals. And a set of parents who were copied and pasted from some unpopular show on 90’s Teen Nick. Everything … everything was stereotypical and unbelievable. But what made it worse was that the issues brought up weren’t unrelatable.
Depression is a real thing, suicide is a real thing, self-harm, sexual abuse—these are all issues that need to be addressed but it felt like they were just a means to an end in this book. We want to teach teenagers not to cut themselves, and remind everyone that gay people are cool, oh and depression is not ok! So, let’s throw ALL of that into one book and make it work. It doesn’t work. I feel like one or two issues should have been addressed in a good way, instead of squeezing in five or six issues and addressing them very poorly.
Maybe pre-teens and tweens will like this book but anyone older than 15, or anyone who has read more than three books in their life, will not like this much at all. Good idea, great concept, but poor characterization, writing, and development ruined it for me.
*I received a free copy of this book on behalf of The Rebel Christian review services in exchange for an honest review*
I received a copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
I loved this story, it just felt like the tone was wrong. I couldn't connect with Harper's character mostly due to her way of speaking. Harper can sense illnesses in others due to how her body reacts when around them. I am intrigued by this idea and actually kind of liked how it played out. The rest of this story is full of really upsetting storylines that I'm going to avoid in an effort not to spoil it for you. However, I don't know if they were handled well. It went from one paragraph being full of dark events (I really do mean dark) to the next being too lighthearted. I felt like everything ended up all tied up with a pretty bow to quickly and the book ended pretty abruptly.
This is a quick read though and probably worth the time you would put in.
Harper is your average, everyday high school girl who thinks she is a changeling troll child and has the basic maturity level of a 10-year-old. She is just living her strange life when she spots self-harm marks on her friend's leg, which kick-starts the plot of this fantastically problematic book!
Things I learned about Harper, the main character of Down in the Belly of the Whale, within the first 10% of this book:
- She has said/thought enough problematic things that I have 24 highlighted sections in my Kindle already. - She doesn't think other human beings use words like "whom" or "perpetuating" and thinks that using words like these makes her weird. - She uses "obsessive-compulsive" incorrectly to describe her tendencies to 'rehearse' conversations — like most people do. At most, this is anxiety, not OCD. - She is literally a walking high school girl stereotype — whines about her hair, whines about math class, doesn't like attention, describes PE as "the definition of shame and sorrow." - Pretty sure she is store brand Mia Thermopolis, but that's neither here nor there. - She makes up inane names for people like "Ms. HAG-lione." - When she found out her best friend was self-harming, her first response was to say things like "I can't believe you would do something ludicrous like that," "I thought you were smarter than that," and "are you crazy?" - I don't know what else to even say, because after the part where she actually asks a depressed person if they're crazy, I rage-quit.
But wait, there's more!
- Harper has a gay uncle who is literally written as the most flat, stereotypical LGBT character ever — he dances and sings in the kitchen, he's always cheerful, he loves the BBC and musicals. Not to mention the author thought it was cool to write the following sentence: "Uncle Pasta and I are not genetically linked in the matter of sexual orientation. At least, I don't think we are." Is this supposed to be a joke? Because implying that homosexuality is genetically transferable is... irresponsible. - All of her high school teachers are similarly walking stereotypes. A cool female English teacher who wears overalls, tennis shoes, and no makeup; a weirdly intense PE teacher who wears extremely unfashionable clothes "out of 1972" and screams things like "Today we test your mettle!"; and a drama teacher who wears floral "broomstick skirts" and Birkenstocks while traipsing around the classroom dramatically. - Her father is also one of the most stereotypical characters ever. He comes home in a huge huff about work, and has his wife cook dinner because he "feels emasculated." He complains about his boss having an affair, he stays huffy until his wife yells at him about appreciating the good things in life, and then he pretends his wife's cooking is good with a "Sure, honey, it's delicious." Can't get more bland than this, folks. - This book feels like it was written by an older person who hasn't been in high school in decades and thinks high schoolers are stupid and immature. It comes off as pandering and weird and problematic in a lot of ways, especially the ones involving Harper being ridiculously cavalier about OCD and then calling her friend (who needs help) crazy. - It also perpetuates a whole lot of stereotypes, many of which are touched on above, but especially the "girls shouldn't want to sound smart in front of others, especially boys" and "girls are bad at math" stereotypes.
Basically, a lot of this book is (for lack of a better word) icky, and I'm only 10% in. Once we got to the point where Harper implies that smart people don't cut themselves ("I thought you were smarter than that,") and calls her friend crazy, I was like, no thanks. I'm good without reading the rest of this.
I also saw reviews (which I looked up after deciding to stop reading) talking about poorly handled rape situations and badly researched scenes in mental health facilities, and that hit the last nail in the coffin of this book for me. I don't need to subject myself to poorly handled rape scenes and I really don't want to be subjected to this book anymore.
Overall, things to think about:
- OCD is a real, serious disorder that needs to stop being used as a synonym for "anxious" or "meticulous." - LGBT+ people are not stereotypes and deserve better. - High schoolers are not dumb, and many use words like "whom" and "perpetuate" on the daily. Stop implying this is weird. - High school girls are allowed to be good at math and good at PE/sports. Please stop. - There are good ways to write a character who is ignorant — specifically, including something that implies they are wrong. Even if it;s written in first person, using lines like, "I can feel as it comes out of my mouth that it's the wrong thing to say" etc can do the trick! Please stop writing ignorant, dangerous ideas like "gayness is genetic" or "people who are depressed are stupid/crazy" and then not providing any context, especially in books meant for teens. - Just please stop writing the high school experience as one huge bubbling pot of stereotypes. - Stop.
Okay, guys. I'm going to stop going on about this book now — but I'm giving it two stars instead of one since I never finished it.
"When people around me are getting sick, my nose itches, or I start sneezing, or my body reacts in some bizarre way. It's not a gift or a power in my opinion, because it doesn't do anything for anybody. I can warn people to dive into the orange juice, I guess, but aren't you supposed to drink that stuff a lot anyway? Some help I am."......
Meet Harper Southwood. She’s a teenager with all the fears and hopes of a young girl. She has an uncanny ability to feel when others are getting sick. Of course it makes her feel like an outsider in her world. At least she has her friend Cora, and the cute boy she'd like to date. Her parents are ok, and her uncle is a great comfort to her.
When her mom suffers a mysterious sudden illness, and her friend suffers a personal crisis, Harper questions everything. Will Harper find her place in this world? Her family, and best friend Cora, and her special power are all at the forefront of her life.
With an interesting cast of characters, family ties and light comedy, it played well to the sudden changes in Harper’s life. I enjoyed this story more than I expected. The story took me in a direction I didn’t see coming. I like that. Unpredictable, and not your typical teen angst. Maybe the things you think you want in life are not really what you need.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. This book has content warnings for child sexual assault/rape, self harm, attempted suicide, body shaming, cat dissection, and hospitals.
Unfortunately, this book was not only incredibly poorly-written, but it was also extremely harmful in multiple areas. To start with the writing: this book was all over the place tonally. It dealt with some very dark topics in a rather carefree tone that came off as extremely flippant. The main character, Harper, is said to be intelligent but doesn’t seem to understand anything about the world around her, and this makes the book seem encyclopedia-like in places as she waits for the people around her to explain things to her. For example, after accusing her uncle’s new boyfriend of being a druggie because he needed to give himself a shot of insulin at the table and is explained the medical necessity of shots, she is STUNNED just a few pages later at the thought of a totally different character needing to give themselves shots on a regular basis, something that is incredibly unfathomable even after having the concept explained to her literally earlier the same day. It wasn’t charming; it was extremely annoying, and it felt poorly-executed.
The book’s handling of child sexual assault was even worse. Harper is constantly in “savior mode” despite having no idea what she’s doing, and even though nearly every move she makes is dangerous to someone or another she faces no consequences for any of them. Her best friend Cora attempts suicide and ends up in the hospital; it’s unrealistic because no one is actually keeping an eye on her despite her being suicidal, and Harper had ignored all of the signs of Cora being suicidal previously. After Cora admits that her uncle had sexually abused her and tells Harper that she does NOT want to report it because her father believes her uncle and not her and she doesn’t feel safe reporting because of that, Harper immediately ignores Cora’s wishes and takes it upon herself to report it. And Cora’s father lashes out physically on someone else because of it. The really strange part is Cora isn’t even the slightest bit upset with Harper for completely ignoring her and Harper feels no remorse or guilt for ignoring her friend like that. Reporting an abusive relative of a friend isn’t necessarily the worst course of action, but the way in which it was handled here where the person who reported against the victim’s wishes receives no consequences at all for her actions was incredibly unrealistic, and it rubbed me the wrong way.
Some of the other characters were… Interesting… Harper’s lab partner, whom Harper insists regularly that she’s going to marry, has this weird infatuation with the cat they’re dissecting, and it’s pretty gross. Harper’s uncle, who is probably the most likeable character in the book despite not being super likeable, is essentially the token gay character placed to show that being gay is “normal” and that’s about it. Most characters are forgettable messes without much in terms of personality, and those that weren’t forgettable were either caricatures or overly annoying.
The book also had multiple instances of fat-shaming and skinny-shaming that grated on me, and the book had a “discussion” about cultural appropriation that essentially stated that as long as you know where the thing you’re misusing came from, then misusing it is not appropriation. That’s… not how that works. At all. In fact, that’s deliberate appropriation, and it’s gross.
The only borderline redeeming quality about this book was some (and I mean some) of the discussion of multiple sclerosis, which is the only medical part of the book I even sort of trust because the author herself actually has MS. There were some learning moments there, but they really got buried in the disaster that was the rest of the book. This book didn’t really work for me, and it’s not one that I can recommend to others.
A teenager with a special ability to sense impending sickness finds herself facing not one but two major life challenges with the people closest to her. As she tries to navigate her fear and events that change without warning, she discovers her own resourcefulness as well as a new appreciation for her family. Author Kelly Kay Bowles gives readers a fairly likeable protagonist in the somewhat entertaining but ultimately unbalanced novel Down in the Belly of the Whale.
High school sophomore Harper Southwood has a theory: she must have been born to trolls and been adopted by a human family. What else could possibly explain the fact that she doesn’t fit in with any of the typical groups in high school? More than that, Harper’s talent for getting sensations when someone’s about to get sick definitely doesn’t seem human. No one else she knows gets physical impressions when someone will fall ill. What makes it worse is she can’t do anything about the illnesses themselves.
One of the best examples is Harper’s best friend, Cora, who comes to school with strange marks on her body. Harper swears they look like cuts, but Cora doesn’t seem like the kind of girl who would harm herself. Until Harper finds out that that’s exactly what Cora’s been doing by the worst method possible: she gets news that Cora has been admitted to the hospital after a suicide attempt.
Harper races to the hospital to see her friend and to demand answers. Cora shares with Harper what she’s never shared with anyone else before: when she was younger, she was the victim of sexual abuse. After losing her mother to cancer and the reappearance in her life of her abuser, Cora exercised control of her emotional pain by undergoing its physical manifestation.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, Harper’s mother has experienced strange symptoms lately. Harper tries to convince herself that it can’t be anything too serious. After all, the normal physical tics she feels with other people haven’t bugged her this time around. Surely her mom can’t be too sick. Instead, Harper’s mom gets a life-changing diagnosis, and now Harper finds herself almost completely convinced that she’s the child of the trolls. Only a troll baby could be so helpless in being able to help two of the most important people in her life.
Author Kelley Kay Bowles gives her target audience a wonderful protagonist. Harper is real and relatable, and her assertions that she must be part troll are endearing. They reinforce the idea that every teen goes through a phase in life when s/he feels out of place.
Less successful in the story are the two challenges Harper must deal with: her mother’s physical illness and her friend’s emotional one. While Bowles handles each individual challenge with sensitivity, it almost feels like two plots in one book. Harper spends quite a bit of time wringing her hands and bemoaning the fact that her age and lack of life experience doesn’t allow her to help her mother or Cora in a substantial way. Bowles may have wanted to show her readers that life’s trials come in all different shapes and sizes, but because she must spend precious story space on both the full effect that one single story would have gets diluted.
While some parts of the climax feel a little overdramatic and unrealistic, readers will probably take to Harper right away. I recommend readers Borrow Down in the Belly of the Whale.
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.
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 Best-selling author of Tail & Trouble Technical Director at the Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College
I want to thank the publisher and netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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 chance of getting a bit more into it before the main events start off. However, this didn't bother me too much.
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.
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.
Down in the Belly of the Whale started off well, the characters were surprisingly complex and plot was fresh and original. While the narration was a little more immature than I'd hoped, I was kept engaged by the short, sharp chapters and steady action.
Just over half way into the story, however, my attention began to dwindle and I felt that the story could no longer hold my attention as well as it had at the start. It felt like the whole pace of the story had suddenly slowed right down, which was certainly not something I had expected with this book. While I didn't feel particularly close to any one of the characters, I struggled on, Still wanting to see how their story would end.
Towards the end of the book, the narration got steadily more grating, until I no longer felt the desire to continue reading. While part of me still wants to know how the story concludes, overall, the effort I felt that I had to put into reading the book wasn't worth what I was getting out of it.
All in all, Down in the Belly of the Whale just wasn’t the rewarding read I was expecting it to be and while I liked the unique idea of the plot, in the end, the disappointing narration let the story down, leading to me DNFing this book. A 2 star read ⭐️⭐️.
I got a copy from NetGalley and Aionios Books, I am very grateful but please know that all opinions are my own.
“Harper Southwood is a teenage girl who can sense when people will get sick—but so what? 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 real adversity. Now, she’s got a chance to summon her courage and use her wits to fight for justice. Laugh and cry along with this irrepressible, high-spirited teen in her journey of self-discovery, as she learns that compassion and internal strength are her real gifts, her true superpower.”
Down in the Belly of the Whale was such a good read, it was touching without really trying. I initially had a problem with Harper being a little self absorbed, but I realized that she wasn’t… I was just in her mind, and that’s what makes it relatable.
I love the characters, especially Harper’s family, but I hoped Cora (Harper’s BFF) was there more. The writing was engaging to make me not stop reading. I feel like some of the issues in the book were not discussed so much, which I hoped it was. I mean seriously I wouldn’t mind more pages. They’re viewed from an outsider’s view so I understand if we don’t get to know more.
Harper Southwood is a great character with great development in the end.
I received an ARC of this book from netgalley.com in exchange for my honest review. “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 develop, this is why I have given it a three star rating.
Thanks so much for getting me out of this horrible reading slump! I enjoyed reading this book, I could relate to some of the characters in a way. Somehow, I wish this book would have been more keen on the idea of the unknown powers of the main character rather than the drama of other people. This book is displaying society issues, and in this way the plot line seemed to get carried away from what I thought would be the main focus on this book, Harper's unusual "gift". But at the end of the book, these things were in balance so it was a pleasant read.
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