(Look at the footnotes at the bottom of the page to find more sources and examples of book reviews) “A book review is a description, critical analysis, and an evaluation on the quality, meaning, and significance of a book, not a retelling. It should focus on the book's purpose, content, and authority. A critical book review is not a book report or a summary. It is a reaction paper in which strengths and weaknesses of the material are analyzed. It should include a statement of what the author has tried to do, evaluates how well (in the opinion of the reviewer) the author has succeeded, and presents evidence to support this evaluation.”1
“Readers sometimes confuse book reviews with book reports, but the two are not identical. Book reports commonly describe what happens in a work; their focus is primarily on giving an account of the major plot, characters, and/or main idea of the work. Most often, book reports are a K-12 assignment and range from 250 to 500 words.” 2
“By contrast, book reviews are most often a college assignment, but they also appear in many professional works: magazines, newspapers, and academic journals. They typically range from 500-750 words, but may be longer or shorter. A book review gives readers a sneak peek at what a book is like, whether or not the reviewer enjoyed it, and details on purchasing the book.”3
Before reading, consider:4
Title - What does it suggest?
Preface or Introduction - Provides important information about the author's intentions or the scope of the book. Can you identify any limitations? Has the author ignored important aspects of the subject?
Table of Contents - Shows how the book's organized -- main ideas, how they're developed (chronologically, topically, etc.)
Points to ponder as you read the entire book:
What's the general field or genre? Does the book fit?
From what point of view is the book written?
Do you agree or disagree with the author's point of view?
Make notes as you read, passages to quote in your review.
Can you follow the author's thesis, "common thread"?
What is the author's style? Formal? Informal? Suitable for the intended audience?
Are concepts well defined? Is the language clear and convincing? Are the ideas developed? What areas are covered, not covered?How accurate is the information?
Is the author's concluding chapter, the summary, convincing?
If there are footnotes, do they provide important information? Do they clarify or extend points made in the text?
If relevant, make note of the book's format - layout, binding, etc. Are there maps, illustrations? Are they helpful?
Is the index accurate? What sources did the author use -- primary, secondary? Make note of important omissions.
What did the book accomplish? Is more work needed? Compare the book to others by this author, or books in this field by other authors. (Use the books listed in the bibliography.)
Writing the Review:
Include title, author, place, publisher, publication date, edition, pages, special features (maps, etc.), price, ISBN.
Hook the reader with your opening sentence. Set the tone of the review. Be familiar with the guidelines -- some editors want plot summaries; others don't. Some want you to say outright if you recommend a book, but not others.
Review the book you read -- not the book you wish the author had written.
Include information about the author-- reputation, qualifications, etc. -- anything relevant to the book and the author's authority.
Think about the person reading your review. Is this a librarian buying books for a collection? A parent who wants a good read-aloud? Is the review for readers looking for information about a particular topic, or for readers searching for a good read?
Your conclusion should summarize, perhaps include a final assessment. Do not introduce new material at this point.
To gain perspective, allow time before revising.
Writing a Fiction Book Review
Note: You don't have to answer every question -- they're suggestions!
Points to Ponder:
What was the story about?
Who were the main characters?
Were the characters credible?
What did the main characters do in the story?
Did the main characters run into any problems? Adventures?
Who was your favorite character? Why?
Your personal experiences
Could you relate to any of the characters in the story?
If you could change something, what would it be? (If you wish you could change the ending, don't reveal it!)
Would you recommend this book to another person?
What type of person would like this book?
If possible, use one paragraph for each point you want to make about the book. It's a good way to emphasize the importance of the point. You might want to list the main points in your notes before you begin.5
I've never been to Alabama, but novelist Harper Lee made me feel as if I had been there in the long, hot summer of 1935, when a lawyer named Atticus Finch decided to defend an innocent black man accused of a horrible crime. The story of how the whole town reacted to the trial is told by the lawyer's daughter, Scout, who remembers exactly what it was like to be eight years old in 1935, in Maycomb, Alabama.
Scout is the reason I loved this book, because her voice rings so clear and true. Not only does she make me see the things she sees, she makes me feel the things she feels. There's a lot more going on than just the trial, and Scout tells you all about it.
A man called Boo Radley lives next door. Very few people have ever seen Boo, and Scout and her friends have a lot of fun telling scary stories about him. The mystery about Boo Radley is just one of the reasons you want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Scout and her big brother, Jem, run wild and play games and have a great time while their father is busy with the trial. One of their friends is a strange boy called Dill. Actually Dill isn't really so strange once you get to know him. He says things like "I'm little but I'm old," which is funny but also pretty sad, because some of the time Dill acts more like a little old man than a seven–year–old boy.
To Kill a Mockingbird is filled with interesting characters like Dill, and Scout makes them all seem just as real as the people in your own hometown. Here's how Scout describes Miss Caroline, who wore a red–striped dress: "She looked and smelled like a peppermint drop."
Dill and Boo and Jem are all fascinating, but the most important character in the book is Scout's father, Atticus Finch. You get the idea that Scout is writing the story down because she wants the world to know what a good man her dad was, and how hard he tried to do the right thing, even though the deck was stacked against him.
The larger theme of the story is about racial intolerance, but Scout never tries to make it a "lesson," it's simply part of the world she describes. That's why To Kill a Mockingbird rings true, and why it all seems so real.
The trial of the wrongly accused Tom Robinson takes place during the time of segregation, when black people were not allowed to socialize with white people. In that era, when a white man said a black man committed a crime, the black man was presumed to be guilty. The law required that they have a trial, but everybody knew the defendant was going to be convicted.
Atticus Finch, the quiet hero of the book, tries to persuade the jury that bigotry is wrong. His words are eloquent and heartfelt. He demonstrates that Tom Robinson couldn't possibly have assaulted the victim. Atticus even reveals the identity of the real villain, which enrages a very dangerous enemy. This act of courage endangers not only Atticus Finch but his family as well. They become the target of hate mongers and bigots.
Even though the story took place many years ago, you get the idea that parts of it could happen today, in any town where people distrust and fear each other's differences.
In a just world an innocent man should be found not guilty. But if you want to know what this particular jury finally decides and what happens to Scout and Jem and Dill and Boo Radley and the rest of the people who live and breathe in To Kill a Mockingbird, you'll have to read the book!