Friday, October 17, 2008

Review: Belly of the Whale by Linda Merlino

I must have passed out because I don’t remember who put me on this gurney without a blanket.
[First Sentence]

Belly of the Whale by Linda Merlino
Kunati, 2008
Fiction; 199 pgs

I almost decided against reading Linda Merlino's book, Belly of the Whale. It hits too close to home. Breast cancer has affected not only my mother and both of my grandmothers, but I lost a friend to cancer this past summer and the wound is still too fresh. Even just thinking about her now, the tears well up in my eyes. She was such a strong soul. Outwardly, she never wavered in her faith and hope, but I imagine there were times when she did doubt and feel angry at the circumstances she was in much like Linda Merlino’s protagonist, Hudson Catalina.

Hudson Catalina's mother was a victim to breast cancer, losing her battle when Hudson was 14 years old. It was very difficult on the Catalina family, and Hudson took her mother's illness and death hard. She worried, too, that one day her own fate would be similar to her mother's, and it turned out she was right. Her battle with breast cancer sapped everything out of Hudson. She was tired and angry. She woke up one morning, having lost all faith and hope. Her husband and best friend, ever the optimists, did not understand the low that Hudson had reached. They weren't ready to give up--never would be most likely. Hudson felt alone.

Hudson's new resolve that her death to cancer was on the horizon would be challenged in a way she could never have anticipated. A night visit to the local market to pick up last minute party supplies for her daughter's 5th birthday would change her life forever.

Ruby Desmond, owner of the Whales Market, is strong in her faith and has led a full life. She knows what it is like to have suffered great loss. She understands a little bit about how Hudson must be feeling and Hudson finds herself drawn to the woman and her stories about the past. Willy Wu is also working that night at the market. Willy Wu is a simple man with special needs. It is obvious he cares about Ruby immensely and takes his job seriously. With a fierce storm carrying on outside the doors of the market, the three settle in for a long night not realizing that danger was just around the corner.

Linda Merlino captures the emotions of the characters in such a way that had me feeling what they were feeling as the story unfolded. What stood out the most to me was Hudson’s feeling of despair and complete loss of hope. Similarly, there is the character of Buddy Baker, who was in an even darker place for he had given up long ago. Buddy has had a difficult life. He is a product of his environment and as a result is full of anger and pain. He is in a downward spiral with no end in sight, and I felt that with every turn of the page.

Belly of the Whale is a moving story about one woman's internal struggle with the fate she has been dealt. And yet it is also a story about family and friendship as well as one of courage and hope even in the most tragic of circumstances. The story builds bit by bit, humor suffused with very serious situations. Linda Merlino is a talented writer who has written a heart wrenching story that had me in tears by the end.

Rating: * (Good +)

Be sure and check out the author's blog and her website. If you would like to follow Linda's tour in progress, visit the Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours blog in October.

Thank you to Tracee Gleichner of Pump Up Your Book Promotion for the opportunity to participate in this book tour.

Read what others had to say about this book:
The Book Czar
Bookish Ruth
Cafe of Dreams


  1. This is definitely the month for a book like that.

  2. Thank you for a wonderful review and for spreading the message of hope to all.
    My best, Linda

  3. Wendy, what a fantastic review.

    I agree that Linda did a stellar job of conveying Hudson's sense of desperation and loss of hope. It was so real I felt it myself.

  4. I have not read this novel, I commend you for havng the courage to spend time with a subject still so close to your heart. I know about cancer and have been lucky so far. Unlike two of my brothers both cancer victims, one who's wife passed after a battle of 10 years at only 40 of breast cancer, my Grandmother also with breast cancer at the same age, I never did get to meet her. I will leave it at this, a cure is necessary...the question is when and why it is taking so very long...

  5. Wonderful review, Wendy. A timely read for this month but I agree with Sylvie in commending you for reading this even when the loss is still so fresh and painful.

  6. Wow, this one does indeed sound like a tear-jerker. Breast cancer has also hit pretty close to home for me, as well. I'm not sure if I could read this or not. But, you make it sound really good. Thanks for reminding everyone about Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

  7. Kathy - Yes, it is. I hadn't really thought about it until I was getting my review ready for posting and suddenly I realized the coincidence. It was good timing!

    Linda - Thank you so much for stopping by! And for sharing such a terrific novel with us.

    Shana - Thank you. This book really put my emotions through the wringer!

    Sylvie - Thank you. I am glad I didn't talk myself out of reading this one because it was definitely a worthwhile read.

    I do hope that they find a cure for cancer soon too. It's a terrible disease that hurts so many.

    Nat - Thank you! Hudson was not much like my friend and so I was able to keep the two separate as I read--still, it was so hard not to imagine that my friend had had to undergo the same types of treatment, doctor visits, and everything else just as Hudson did.

  8. Lisa - I am sorry breast cancer has touched your family as well. I do think that this book is a worthwhile read, but maybe let some time pass until you feel ready to tackle it if you do decide to give it a try.

  9. Wonderful review, Wendy! I am so sorry that this has touched you so close to home. It is heartbreaking. It's nice to read a story like this that is full of hope.

  10. So sorry for your loss.

    Sounds like a powerful read. Not sure I could handle it, at least not right now. That cover certainly makes a statement as well. Great review!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  11. Thank you, Anna. I did think some parts of the book were harder to get through then others due to the emotional content, but I am glad I read it.


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