It’s always somewhat funny to me how such a common and simple thing can inspire a great amount of controversy. I think the most glaring when it comes to books and the book blogging world is the one surrounding negative reviews. It’s such a fascinating thing to me and the more I read about it the more I find myself amazed at how little I knew on the matter.
Now, I’ll admit, I haven’t been reviewing for an exceptionally long time. I was more commonly the sort of person who would loudly boast to friends and family about the books that I loved and loudly (albeit angrily) complained about the books I hated. And this worked for me, as a book lover, because I got to talk about one of my all-time favorite subjects and I never really had to put too much effort into it.
I spent some time on Tumblr for a while, back in my early college days and on the few occasions that I was inordinately disugsted with a book, I wrote a review. I rarely, if ever, reviewed books I loved. For some reason, I figured that my high rating spoke for itself. I’m glad to have evolved from that, in truth, but despite what has become a rather common rhetoric around me against the whole thing, I still write negative reviews.
I’ve thought long and hard on this matter. I was around when an unnamed author sent around a petition trying to ban negative reviews on Goodreads. I’ve read numerous blog posts and Twitter threads. I’ve seen author reactions to negative reviews and I’ve seen reader reactions to book bloggers who’ve made the decision to stop writing them. There’s definitely a lot buried in this singular issue.
In a way, it is exceptionally easy for a reviewer to write a negative review and assume a) that the author is not going to read it, and b) that all the other readers should know what was so awful about that book that we just hated. It was easy for me. I believe the first book series that I utterly tore apart was the Shatter Me series. My main thought on the matter was that a book with a lot of potential had just been destroyed by the utter ridiculousness of the abusive character suddenly having a bunch of convenient excuses for why he was an asshole, as though these excuses made each of his disgusting, lewd, and harmful behaviors forgivable and okay.
But the thing is, I didn’t exactly phrase it that way. I went on an all-out anger rant that I don’t believe ever fully got my point across. I’d have to go back and read it again in order to determine whether it’s a fair review. And, truthfully, I do actually plan to do so at some point.
And here’s the thing; negative reviews are important. Problematic issues in a book, such as an abusive character being romanticized, really need to be called out. Issues with character, writing, and plot should be addressed. But I think the thing a lot of people have a hard time with is the fact that there is a way to call out problematic notions and critique writing that isn’t going to deeply hurt an author if they happen to come across your review.
Initially, I don’t think I personally considered that.
But I think we all have to consider the fact that authors are people, too. And I, as a writer myself, know I would have an exceptionally hard time reading a bad review for something that I’d written. I’d likely have a massive anxiety attack and would fall into a depression for a bit, as I’m prone to do. I don’t imagine there aren’t authors out there who would feel the same as me.
And ultimately, I think it’s a bit premature and unrealistic to cease writing negative reviews (though if that’s your choice, I do support you in that). There are a lot of things in books that need to be commented on and sometimes those things will be negative. Like with the Shatter Me series, I genuinely believe we should be able to enjoy the books for what we liked. I know I did.
But simultaneously, negative reviews help us be aware of the issues. We should know what’s problematic about an abusive character being romanticized. I don’t particularly think young girls should be introduced to this character and think anything he does is okay, even with the excuses. If anything, the excuses make it worse because it turns a villain into this idea that hurtful behavior is okay if there’s an excuse for it. And young girls should know that if a person is being abusive, that behavior isn’t okay even if the other person is “trying to help them.”
Would these girls be aware of these serious problems without negative reviews? Definitely not. In fact, I’m pretty sure most people who’ve read those books aren’t aware of it. And I personally have a problem with how the books purport the idea that Warner’s abuse of Juliet is okay because he’s a broken boy who was trying to do the right thing even if he was disgustingly hurtful and damaging in the process. But it’s not okay and I think more people should know this. If there weren’t negative reviews, how would anyone know?
And, of course, not all books are going to have problems as serious as the Shatter Me series does, sometimes the writing will be subpar, sometimes the characters won’t be developed, sometimes the plot will be bad or nonexistent. And those things, too, should be critiqued in an honest and respectable way. The author, regardless of whatever issue we may have taken with their work, deserves respect. No reviewer should ever be harshly trying to tear down a book or hurt an author’s feelings. But we should be honest and we should honestly discuss the issues we had.
I now write both positive and negative reviews. I try to do my best to be respectful no matter what my opinion is. But I would never stop writing negative reviews. I simply view them as far too important in a great number of ways. But I can understand why they’ve hurt people and it certainly doesn’t feel great to review a book negatively when you’re aware that the author might end up reading it.
I think, ultimately, a good rule of thumb is to think about the author as you write a negative review and ask yourself if you are giving a respectful and honest critique of their work or whether, as I did once, you are angrily ranting about what you hated in a potentially harmful manner that doesn’t really get your full point across? And that’s what I think about, now, when I write a negative review. I don’t expect that the negative feedback will always spare the author’s feelings. It’s hard to read about what someone thinks was wrong with your writing. But I do hope that I provide the sort of feedback that is useful, honest, and uncruel.
What do you think of negative reviews? Do you write them? If so, why? If not, why did you stop? I’d love to hear your opinions!
Until next time, happy reading!