While the content of a review is subjective, following a formula to write a review can keep the piece organised and allow you to be more consistent with subsequent reviews.
There are a few ways to approach book reviewing, however, descriptive reviews and critical reviews are the most common.
A descriptive review will give your reader essential information about a novel through description and exposition, and outlining your perception of the aims of the author by quoting the text.
Critical reviews, on the other hand, summarise and evaluate the novel, its literary devices and suitability to genre, and assess its content with evidence from the text.
A critical review is the preferred option for an assignment or school assessment, so here are some suggestions for how to construct an effective critical review.
- Start by looking at the book and make a prediction of what it’s going to be like. Look for clues to the nature of the book from the cover, shape, thickness, font. Is hard cover, paperback, leatherbound? What does the cover illustration indicate the book will be about? Is there a blurb? What’s it like? How has the publisher described it? These clues will help you to determine the book’s target audience.
- Have a strategy for taking notes. If the book is interesting, your mind may wander, so give yourself some subheadings to follow. Themes, characters, criticisms, compliments are a good start.
- When you’re reading, take note of moments in the text that grab you, or moments that lost you. Make sure you are aware of the genre, author’s intent, purpose, tone and context.
- Start the review, and follow the below formula, filling in the gaps as you go.
- Give a brief description of the plot and a bit about the author (past works, biographical information which is relevant to the subject of the review and enhances the reader’s understanding of the work etc) > describe how the book affected you > explain how the author achieved the effect on you > put the book in context > if the book is fiction, outline and assess the relationship and function of the main characters in the novel > talk about the literary devices and how they worked/didn’t work > give your opinion and back it up with evidence from the book
- Make sure you include a statement of your understanding of the author’s purpose and how well you feel the author’s purpose has been achieved
- If it’s relevant, compare the novel to others by the same author or those within the same genre
- Don’t give any spoilers!
- Within your analysis of the text, you might want to consider the following details:
Character: from what sources are the characters drawn? Are they three dimensional or one dimensional? Are the characters well developed? How effective is dialogue? Is it true to character?
Themes: What are the major themes in the novel? How are they revealed, developed and used? Is the theme traditional, or new and original?
Plot: How does the plot develop? Are the orientation, complication, suspense, climax, resolution clear and engaging? What is the relationship of plot to character? Is there a sub-plot and how is it related to the main plot?
Setting What is the setting/era and does it play a significant role in the novel? Is a sense of time and place evoked? How?
- Proofread your work and make sure your opinion is clear and well substantiated.
- Check spelling of author and characters.
- Make sure your review is in present tense (Harry Potter discovers his parents died at the hands of Lord Voldemort, rather than Harry Potter discovered his parents died at the hands of Lord Voldemort).
- Give the book a rating out of five stars (optional).
- Give your review a catchy headline.
- Proofread again.