ARC Review: Down in the Belly of the Whale by Kelley Kay Bowles

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Down in the Belly of the Whale

Author: Kelley Kay Bowles

Category: YA Contemporary

Publisher/Date: Aionios Books/5 May 2018

Edition: eARC

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36540511-down-in-the-belly-of-the-whale

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Down-Belly-Whale-Kelley-Bowles/dp/0998084476/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/down-in-the-belly-of-the-whale-kelley-kay-bowles/1127903090?ean=9780998084473

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.

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.

Final rating: 1 of 5 stars

January 2018 Wrap-up!

So, I just want to start off this post with a few stats:

  • Number of posts in January: 20 (including this one)
  • Number of review posts in January: 7
  • Number of non-review posts in January: 13 (including this one)
  • Number of non-review posts in January that have an exclamation point in the title: 8 (including this one…)

I may need to cool it on the exclamation points just a BIT.

Anyways, this was a big blogging month for me. For a large part of the month before school hit me hard, I was posting daily, and even after that I managed to post at least twice a week. Considering how sparsely I’d been posting through all of 2017 despite starting this blog in January of last year, I feel like I’ve done a great job of getting myself in more of a routine with blogging. I still need to work on that, but it’s a start. In January 2018 alone, I almost doubled both the number of posts I’ve written AND how many page views I’ve gotten on the blog — doubling my stats from the entirety of last year. My blog is still really small, but that felt like a huge accomplishment.

Reads for January

This was a big reading month for me, too! Here’s all I read in January:

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp — 3.5 of 5 stars — review here!

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson — 4 of 5 stars — For class, so one of my only permitted rereads. Review here!

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo — 3 of 5 stars — review here!

You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon — 5 of 5 stars — review here!

One Last Word by Nikki Grimes — 5 of 5 stars — an excellent poetry collection I read for class.

Hillary Rodham Clinton by Karen Blumenthal — 5 of 5 stars — a great biography with really nice writing.

Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy — 4.5 of 5 stars — review here!

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas — 5 of 5 stars — I was fortunate enough to have been assigned this book for class, so I got to bypass my “no rereads” policy to read it again. One of my favorites.

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson — 5 of 5 stars — review forthcoming!

Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed — 5 of 5 stars — one of my favorites of the month. Don’t pass this one up. Review forthcoming!

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M Danforth — 4 of 5 stars — review forthcoming!

The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke — 5 of 5 stars — review forthcoming!

Down In The Belly Of The Whale by Kelley Kay Bowles (ARC) — 1 of 5 stars — review forthcoming!

See All The Stars by Kit Frick (ARC) — 5 of 5 stars — review forthcoming!

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green (ARC) — 3 of 5 stars — review forthcoming!

The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding (ARC) — 4.5 of 5 stars — review forthcoming!

The Cat Encyclopedia for Kids by Joanne Mattern (ARC) — 3 of 5 stars — review forthcoming!

My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci — 2 of 5 stars — library book that fell flat for me. It was weird and I don’t even want to review it because I don’t care enough.

Krazy: George Herriman, A Life In Black And White by Michael Tisserand — 5 of 5 stars — wonderful biography of one of my favorite comics creators. Review forthcoming!

Queerly Loving #2 edited by G Benson and Astrid Ohletz (ARC) — 5 of 5 stars — a wonderful anthology of queer stories. Review forthcoming!

Reading stats:

  • Number of books read: 20
  • Number of books read during the 24 in 48 Readathon: 10
  • Number of nonfiction books: 3
  • Number of ARCs: 6
  • Number of books by marginalized authors: ~13
  • Number of books read for class: 6
  • Number of library books: 5

It’s worth noting that almost all of the books I read that weren’t by marginalized authors were either ARCs I received or books I read for class. I really like supporting marginalized authors, so I’m happy with that number.

I clearly have a lot of reviews I need to write still! This is largely because all of those books were either read during or right before the 24 in 48 Readathon, and if I’d been reviewing as I went during the readathon there was no way I could have finished it. It’s okay, though — you’ll see those reviews in the coming months!

On The Personal Side…

January was a pretty okay month for me. I took a few risks that were at least worth taking even if they don’t pay off, and I have some great ideas for new projects. I want to write a cute YA romance between two enbies, one who is very secure with who they are and one who is questioning her gender, and I also want to design an independent study course for the final term of my master’s degree on library resources for comics studies. I really hope that works out!

I am just a few short months away from graduating with my master’s, which is weird. This is my 20th consecutive academic year since I first started going to preschool in fall of ’98, and since I don’t currently have plans to get another degree after I finish this one, I’m looking at an actual break from academia for the first time in two decades starting in June. I’m not sure how I feel about that yet. On the one hand, school is stressful, but on the other I don’t really know anything else.

February is the month where I hope that I can fine-tune my new plans for an actual blog post calendar, and the month where I hope to do more of my own writing. I want it to be a great month!

How was your January? Did you read anything you just adored? Do you have any cool February goals or plans?

#24in48 Readathon Wrap-Up!

As I mentioned last week, the #24in48 Readathon was this past weekend! I managed to read the whole 24 hours, and I even won a book during hour 42. It’s not my only motivation for doing the readathon by any means, but during the previous one I’d won a hardcover of How To Make A Wish by Ashley Herring Blake, and I believe I won a galley of an intriguing thriller this time, and winning books is just fun. Here’s an overview of my weekend!

Stats:

Time spent reading: 24 hours 10 minutes 34 seconds

Pages read: 3,145

Books read: 10

Library books read: 2

Books read for class: 2

eARCs read: 6

Fiction books read: 8

Nonfiction books read: 2

Hours I spent doing homework instead of reading: ~5

Number of times I realized that I had an assignment due a week earlier than I thought it was originally due and had to scramble to finish it 22 minutes before the deadline: 1

Books Read:

  1. The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth — 4 of 5 stars
  2. The Girl With The Red Balloon by Katherine Locke — 5 of 5 stars
  3. Down In The Belly Of The Whale by Kelley Kay Bowles (ARC) — 1 of 5 stars
  4. See All The Stars by Kit Frick (ARC) — 5 of 5 stars
  5. The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green (ARC) — 3 of 5 stars
  6. The Summer of Jordi Perez (And The Best Burger In Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding (ARC) — 4.5 of 5 stars
  7. The Cat Encyclopedia for Kids by Joanne Mattern (ARC) — 3 of 5 stars
  8. My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci — 2 of 5 stars
  9. Krazy: George Herriman, A Life In Black And White by Michael Tisserand — 5 of 5 stars
  10. Queerly Loving #2 edited by G Benson and Astrid Ohletz (ARC) –5 of 5 stars

While I clearly read some books that I didn’t think were that great, I loved a lot of the books I read! That also got me all caught up on my Netgalley ARCs, though I still need to actually write the reviews for them now. Speaking of which, reviews for many of these books are forthcoming — stay tuned!

Did you participate in #24in48 this weekend? How was your experience? Let me know in the comments!

TBR Thursday: #24in48 Edition!

It’s still Thursday on the west coast for another 55 minutes. Fight me.

Today is a very special TBR Thursday — it’s the TBR Thursday where I detail my expected reading list for the 24 in 48 Readathon! This readathon session runs from January 27th at midnight EST through January 28th at 11:59 PM EST, and the goal is to read for 24 hours during that 48-hour period. Or as much as you can. It’s up to you!

I am, admittedly, making up my reading list as I write this post. I may add things. I may change my mind this weekend. Who knows? For now, here are my reading plans! (Which mostly involves catching up on ARCs!)

1.) The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

I am conveniently choosing to ignore the fact that this on my last TBR Thursday. Especially since my last TBR Thursday was actually on Monday. It WILL be read.

2.) The Girl With The Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

I need to read a historical fiction YA novel for class! And I own the ebook! Yay! This one is also a definite read for this weekend.

3.) Down In The Belly Of The Whale by Kelley Kay Bowles

I have ARCs I need to read! I’m going to focus a little heavily on the ones I have from NetGalley this weekend. I’ve only barely joined and need to raise my ratio quite a bit (because someone accidentally got auto-approved for four books during LibraryCon LIVE! without realizing that clicking = the book is on my shelf now… That’s how I got Reign of the Fallen!)

4.) See All The Stars by Kit Frick

See above thing about NetGalley. I’m excited for this one!

5.) The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

This was one of the once I got accidentally during LibraryCon LIVE! and I know absolutely nothing about it. I’m going to read it anyway!

6.) The Summer Of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding

The only ARC I have from Edelweiss! This is another one that I’m really excited for.

 

Reading is essentially going to take place entirely on my iPad this weekend, and I am okay with this. I need to use my Kindle app more since I already have so much good stuff on there!

Are you participating in #24in48, too? What are you planning to read?