Sunday, October 19, 2008

Writing a book review - fiction

A book review describes, analyzes, and evaluates the quality, meaning, and significance of a book. It should not retell, and it is not a book report or a summary. A review is a commentary. Although no “right” way to write a review exists, some essential information is needed in each. Fiction and non-fiction books have differences not only in the content but also what components should be in a review. The components for a fiction book review can be adapted, though, for a nonfiction book. Let’s look at some suggestions to consider when writing a book review for a book of fiction. I will use a review written for one of my books in the examples.

First of all, do not give away the story, climax, ending of the book. Do use occasional quotes from the book to support or explain points made in the review.

The first paragraph should include the title of the book and the author’s name. Sometimes publishing information such as ISBN, publisher, type of book, and general subject matter is noted. Or the first paragraph can be a friendly introduction with the needed information worked into that intro or elsewhere in the review.

Example of a first paragraph: The Base Stealers Club, by V. Gilbert Zabel, follows the progress of a middle-school-aged baseball team as it plays its way to a championship. A part of the team also help solve a mystery plaguing the community. Published by 4RV Publishers, ISBN: 978-1-84728-220-0, the book appeals to those interested in sports, mystery, and adventure.

Other points to be covered, in different paragraphs, are as follows:

Characters: Are the characters flat or round? A round character is multiple dimensional. Round characters make a story line more interesting and believable; therefore, the analysis of the author’s use of three-dimensional characters or flat characters is important.

Example of character portrayal: Ryan Scott not only is an excellent athlete, but he also cares about others. He helps find the thief in the story; then he wants to help the young man who stole money from locker rooms. An instance where he acted as peace maker on the team is shown in the following excerpt: Ryan stood beside Colby, slipping his arm across the shorter boy’s shoulders. “Hey, Colby, settle down. Josh is just repeating what he heard. I’ve heard my dad say the same thing about some criminals.” With a slight smile, Ryan turned to Josh. “Josh, what does the preacher say about forgiving? What have we learned in church about forgiving others?”

Theme: The theme of a book may not be written word for word in the book, but the review should note how the author reveals or develops the theme or themes. Mention whether you, as the reviewer, agree or disagree with the author’s theme(s) and why.

Example of theme: The author gives support for moral values and actions through the book. Yet, the message isn’t preachy or blunt, but the theme flows throughout the story. The author’s opinions are solid and are ones that young readers need to realize and learn to accept.

Plot: Are the various elements of plot handled well? The elements of plot include introduction, conflict, climax, and conclusion.

Example of plot: The Base Stealers Club introduces the conflict, the problem, in the first two chapters of the book: both the start of the games leading to a successful season and the missing money in locker rooms. The suspense intensifies as the team plays and tries to help find the thief. The climax is unique, as is the reaction of team members.

Author information: How does the author's background help with the content of the book, or does it? Giving some information about the author, which can be found in the book or through research, many times helps one better understand the book.

Example of author information: V. Gilbert Zabel, who also writes under the name Vivian Gilbert Zabel, for adult level books, and Granny Zabel, for children’s books, played baseball and helped coach a baseball team. Her interest and background in the sport, as well as with children, can be found in the pages of this book.

Give a brief summary of the book: Give an overview, but do not give away the plot climax or conclusion.

Example of summary: The Jonesville Chargers, a baseball team of middle school-aged boys, pursues championship dreams and the solution of a mystery plaguing their team.

Give your opinion of the book: Tell how the book affected you. Say whether or not the book is interesting, entertaining, or memorable. Would you recommend the book to readers? Why or why not?

Example of opinion: I enjoyed The Base Stealers Club because I became swept up in the chronicling of a team’s season, games, and attempt to find a thief. This book will appeal to readers aged ten to fifteen who love baseball. Young sports fans will be better for having read the book.

Important note: Having correct grammar, spelling, sentence structure, and other components of good writing are as important in a review as in writing a book. Reviews are a form of writing.

The suggested components of a book review can be arranged differently or combined, and some others can be added. Some can be eliminated, but most of the information needs to be somewhere in the review.


Cross posted on Vivian's Site

5 comments:

Rena said...

Great post -- thanks for all the helpful book review tips, Vivian.

Rachel said...

Excellent post Vivian! I am going to share this with our review team. Thanks for twittering it!

Helen Ginger said...

Great post Vivian.

I don't think I could ever be a professional reviewer, though. But I'm going to save this.

Vivian Zabel said...

I hope this helps anyone be able to write a book review, even if they aren't a professional reviewer and never want to be.

The information will aid in writing a review for Amazon or for a blog entry, maybe for an author who asks if you would as a favor.

Just some of the bits and pieces of experience I've collected.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this concise and helpful guide. I plan to use it to improve future reviews at my site and on GoodReads. I hope more people from GoodReads and other book reader networks get a chance to read this.

Charlotte