Reflections on Reviews

Two stars. Most writers look forward to their first reviews with a mix of excitement and dread. Will they be glowing? Scathing? Seasoned authors caution never to read reviews of one’s own work — even the good ones. But how many people can really resist that temptation?

As a writer, I understand the desire for good reviews, and how devastating the bad ones can be. I understand the frustration of reading a one- or two-star review by someone who clearly hasn’t even read the book. I understand that there are some reviewers out there who are mean-spirited, who will say terrible things about wonderful books.

But.

I think there is still a place for negative reviews. Not the kind that insult the author, but the kind that offer constructive feedback and start conversations that we need to be having. A blogger on Teen Librarian Toolbox addressed this more eloquently than I could ever hope to, so I’ll let you read her thoughts on it first.

Now for my own two cents. If a book glosses over a subject like rape or abuse, or if it fails to address these topics when they occur, I think reviewers can and should point this out. Especially if these books are written for teens, who may see those characters as role models. When characters don’t really consent to something, or when there’s confusion over whether consent is given, we need to address this. Following Teen Librarian Toolbox’s #SVYALit Project (whose tagline is “using young adult literature to talk with teens about violence and consent”) has made me more aware of how these topics are presented in the books I read. I don’t think getting something wrong makes a book terrible — in fact, I’ve read and enjoyed some of the books mentioned in the TLT post — but I think it’s important to be aware of that and able to talk about it with teen (and adult) readers.

The same thing goes for reviews about books with diverse characters. If a reviewer doesn’t like the way a minority is represented, I think he has a right to *respectfully* point this out. I don’t mean he has a right to attack the author or the book (I’m all for free speech, but I’m also a big fan of respect and common decency); but if the review mentions why the reader didn’t connect with the characters or the book, I see nothing wrong with that. Not every book is right for every reader.

And if writers only get good reviews, how will they know they mis-represented Hindu culture or depicted a less-than-healthy sexual relationship in a positive light? It’s easy for us to miss our own mistakes — that’s why critique partners are so wonderful. When our books are out there in the real world, they are affecting real people. We write to tell stories, and start conversations. Some of those conversations may be difficult to have, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them.

Again, I’m not championing Goodreads bullies or mean-spirited reviewers. But I do think people can — and should — say when something about a book upsets or doesn’t resonate with them. A negative review doesn’t mean I won’t read a book; sometimes I’ll read the reviewer’s thoughts and recognize that the things she didn’t like are exactly what I’m looking for in a story.

So, yes, those one- and two-star reviews hurt. But if we eliminated all negative reviews, we’d eliminate the chance for readers and writers to have some important and thought-provoking conversations.

What are your thoughts on negative reviews?

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2 thoughts on “Reflections on Reviews

  1. Publishing Insights

    Great post, I think it’s important for a reviewer to be completely honest about what they think of a book, and deliver their arguments in a professional way instead of just being mean.
    I’ve enjoyed many of your posts here and look forward to reading your next!
    Feel free to check out my writing about publishing: publishinginsights.org
    Sherry

    Reply
    1. Liz Osisek Post author

      Thank you, Sherry! You have some great insights about publishing over on your blog. I really liked your perspective on the Pearson-Saddleback collaboration. Books are competing with so many other forms of entertainment, it can sometimes be disheartening for publishers, authors, and educators. But on the flip side, I think all it takes is the right book at the right time to create a lifelong reader. The trick is making those connections!

      Reply

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