“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is an old saying that means you shouldn’t judge something (or someone) by appearances only.
If you literally shouldn’t judge a book’s merits by cover art alone, then what should you do to learn more about a book (aside from reading it, of course)?
One option is to read a few book reviews.
If you have to write a book review for a class, your prof is assigning you the task of writing a book review to help a general reader learn about a specific book.
That’s all well and good, isn’t it? But chances are, right about now you’re asking, “So what exactly is a book review, and more importantly, can you help me write one?”
I can indeed help you learn how to write a book review. Let’s start by understanding exactly what it is you’re writing. Ready?
What Is a Book Review?
To better understand the nuts and bolts of a book review, let’s take a look at what it isn’t before we discuss what a book review is.
What a book review is not
A book review is not simply a summary of a book. While you’ll include some summary information in your review (more about that later), the entire review shouldn’t consist of one long plot summary.
A book review is not a literary analysis. While you’ll likely include some discussion and analysis of key points and literary terms (like theme, symbol, or metaphor), the focus of a review is not a pure analysis of the book. (More about that later too.)
A book review is not a literature review. A literature review informs readers about research completed on a specific topic. It reviews academic books and journal articles related to the topic. (You know, the types of sources you’d use to complete a research paper.)
What a book review is
In short, a book review is an evaluation of a book.
Ever read a film review on Rotten Tomatoes that says something like, “Don’t bother to see this remake because it’s melodramatic, a waste of 94 minutes, and the re-envisioned plot strays too far from to the original classic version”?
Makes you think about whether you’d actually want to spend your hard-earned money to see the movie, right?
A book review is the Rotten Tomatoes of the book world.
When you write a book review, your goal is to give readers a hint about the plot and, more importantly, to make a comment about the book itself.
What to Do Before You Write a Book Review
All right, now that you know what a book review is and isn’t, let’s focus on what you need to do before writing the book review. And then, I promise, we’ll get to how to write a book review in more detail.
Start by critically and actively reading the book
This seems like an obvious step, but my point in emphasizing it here is that you should actually take the time to read the book. Don’t rely on study guides or online summaries.
As you read, it’s important that you pay attention to what you’re reading. Don’t just skim through it and hope to remember everything.
To help remember the important stuff, take notes.
Write about the literary terms you encounter, the key plot points of the story, its themes, important characters, and anything else that strikes you as particularly noteworthy.
Don’t forget to jot down your own reactions too. Did you find some sections confusing? Were you engrossed in other parts and unable to put the book down? Maybe you found yourself laughing at scenes that weren’t supposed to be funny.
All of these types of comments and reactions may seem a bit scattered and unrelated at first, but they will ultimately help you develop a final, critical evaluation of the book.
Don’t forget: If you can’t write notes directly on the pages of the book, make sure to include page numbers next to your notes. This will be a big time-saver and help you find information later when you write your review.
Develop a focus and draft your commentary
After you’ve read the book, taken notes, and mulled things over a bit, decide what you’ll focus on in your review.
Remember, the goal of a book review is to provide a commentary on the book, so you’ll need to decide what your commentary will be.
Need help sorting out ideas? Here are a few questions to ask yourself that can help you find a focus.
- What is the historical context of the novel? Does the author attempt to keep the text historically accurate? If so, does the author achieve this goal? (If you’re reviewing a sci-fi book, can you suspend your sense of disbelief and believe in the characters and the story?)
- Are characters fully developed? Do any characters seem out of place or not effectively developed? Are there any characters who are particularly strong and seem to stand out?
- How is the pace of the novel? Are there any sections that drag on for an eternity and completely bore you to death? Are there scenes that move too quickly and leave you re-reading to fully understand what happened?
- What is the purpose of the type of narration used? If, for instance, the book uses first-person narration, is it effective? Would the story be more effective if told from a third-person narrator?
- Is the author trying to make a comment about society? (Think dystopian literature.) If so, is the commentary effective? Does it make readers think, or is it just too far-fetched to really make anyone question society?
Looking for a few sample student-written book reviews to see how others developed ideas? Take a look at these two examples from our database:
Want to read some professional reviews? Check out these book reviews on NPR.
How to Write a Book Review
Once you’ve read the book, taken notes, and developed some preliminary ideas for your review, it’s time to sit down (or stand if you prefer), and learn how to write a book review.
So let’s get to work, shall we?
What should you put in your outline (and thus put in your book review)?
While all course assignments may have different requirements, here are some general guidelines for what you should include.
Author and title of book
Include the author and title of the book within the first few lines of your book review. (Don’t rely on the title of your review to tell readers the name of the book.)
The theme or thesis of the book
You should be able to summarize the theme or thesis of the book in a few lines. Remember, this information should be a broad overview. Don’t go into too many details in the introduction.
The focus or framework for your review
Your goal here is to explain the angle or context of your review within a few sentences.
For instance, if you’re writing a book review about To Kill a Mockingbird, your focus might be racism, how the theme is illustrated in the novel, and whether the author effectively illustrates the theme.
You could also focus on the effects of first-person narration in the novel and whether the narration is effective and/or the best option for the novel.
The thesis statement for your review will be the point you want to make about the book.
For instance, you might write something about how Harper Lee tackles racism in To Kill a Mockingbird by creating flawed and potentially racist characters, such as Atticus Finch. You might comment on whether such characters are appropriate and/or effective in the story.
The summary of the book should be pretty short (no more than a paragraph or so). If you’re writing a book review for a course, assume that your audience has already read the book.
This means that you don’t need to write about every minor detail.
In most cases, the audience for your review will be your professor, so it also means that you don’t have to worry about including spoilers. Your prof will already know what happens in the book and will want to know what you have to say about the novel.
If, by chance, you’re writing for another audience, like classmates who haven’t read the book, you likely don’t want to include spoilers. No one wants to read a book already knowing the surprise twist at the end.
Evaluation and commentary
This section is the bulk of your essay and needs to include at least three or four paragraphs to explain your evaluation and commentary about the book.
Organize your key points of evaluation in an order that works best for you. For instance, you might group your ideas by examples of themes, narration, symbols, or other points in the book.
This section doesn’t have to follow the book in order of each chapter (though you can organize your ideas that way if it seems like the best fit for your paper).
Remember, if you’re quoting directly from the book, you’ll need to cite through in-text citation, likely in MLA or APA format. (Check with your prof to determine which citation style is required for your assignment.)
REMEMBER: Your evaluation doesn’t have to be all positive or all negative. A good book can have a few points that rub you the wrong way or just don’t seem to make sense, just as a (mostly) awful book can have a few shining moments.
The conclusion for a book review should wrap up your key ideas and highlight your final evaluation of the book.
The conclusion is your final chance to stress your evaluation, so make sure you don’t let this section fall flat. Leave your audience with something memorable.
Need a few more tips on how to write an effective conclusion? Read Loose Ends: How to End an Essay With Authority.
And that’s how to write a book review like a pro.
Looking for Even More Help?
If you’re in need of a few more writing tips to help get through this writing assignment, here are three additional articles that just might do the trick:
- Here Is the Right Way and the Wrong Way to Write Topic Sentences
- Why Eliminating Wordiness Is So Important for Your Essay
- The Ultimate Guide to the Perfect Word Choice for Your Essay
Have you written your best work but aren’t quite sure if your essay is all that? Learn how a Kibin editor can help.
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