3.5 stars: Review of DOWN IN THE BELLY OF THE WHALE by Kelley Kay Bowles

See full issue for 2018 10-08

The Rundown

Harper is a teen girl at Pine High School in Colorado. She thinks she can spot illness because she starts to sneeze around Harper anyone who is about to be ill. She lives at home with her happily married parents and her gay uncle. Her gift seems to work when she sneezes and her uncle seems to be coming down with a cold. Harper also insists she is a changeling or part troll because of her long, thick, frizzy hair, her zits and the fact that she is big and unattractive. At least, that’s what she thinks. Nevertheless, she has a crush on basketball-playing Larson, a cute boy in her class.

While she is hanging out with Cora one day, she notices scratches on Cora’s legs. Harper asks Cora about it and Cora insists a cat scratched her, but Harper isn’t buying it. They don’t look like cat scratches. Harper confronts her friend and Cora finally confesses she has been hurting herself to forget about the pain of life. Her mother died of cancer, and her father isn’t very attentive, so her sadness makes sense to Harper, even though she shouldn’t be hurting herself as a result. 

At home, things no longer stay happy and calm when Isabella, Harper’s mom, becomes ill and must go in for testing.

At school, she is distracted by her basketball-playing crush and is stuck dissecting a cat with him.

Things heat up as Harper’s mom still doesn’t know what is wrong with her and Cora confesses being abused by her uncle.

The Recommendation


The story started out seeming as if it were going to be a lighthearted comedy because of the playful tone of the first few chapters. However, about five chapters in, a lot of serious problems start to happen with her best friend and her mother. Cora’s life is basically falling apart and Isabella’s health is failing. There are some YA and middle-grade stories that deftly handle a serious topic, while retaining a comic feel throughout, but that aren’t many that can do this successfully. This book showed promise at the beginning and it could have worked well if only one person in the story had such serious problems. It seemed a bit much for a children’s book to have the two people closest to Harper experiencing tragedy at the same time. It went from humorous to extremely heavy in one chapter. While the problems mentioned were worth dealing with in a novel, it might have been better to focus on one problem only.

It was difficult to hear of these double tragedies and then see Harper worried about how she is coming across in class to her crush. It made her problems seem trite in comparison and didn’t help her likeability or it wasn’t easy to commiserate with the minor problems she was facing, when the world of her two closest relationships were falling apart.

The author needed to pick a tone and stick with it. Or gradually make the change from humorous to heavey, or just have threads fo the heavy for this to really work.

She deals with the issues of suicide, molestation, severe illness and also touches on gay themes while having to dissect a cat at school.

While there are award winning YA novels that touch on these themes, they usually only attempt to deal with one of the issues mentioned. Too many feels like problem overload. While the point of the story is the main character trying to navigate these issues as a teen, it may be a bit much for teen readers to navigate all at once also. Meat is fine in a story for young readers, but most meals have meat as part of the meal, not most of the meal. The story would have been better served if she’d kept the concept of balance in mind. This was 80% meat, which would make for a heavy meal, and, unfortunately, made for heavy reading.

The Rating Reviewer Rating: 3.5 Stars

3.5 Stars (out of 5): Pretty good. For the right audience, this could be great. Sure, there were some issues, but it was still worth the read.

The Pros & Cons

Pros: Dialogue, Emotional
Cons: Starts slow, Suspension of Disbelief

The Comparisons

For readers who liked these books and authors: THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z, THE WEDNESDAY WARS

The Links

More about Down in the Belly of the Whale on UBR

The Reviewer

Melody Delgado

Visit Melody Delgado‘s website.

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