How to write a critical book review

Students often mistake a critical book review with a book report. While it’s understandable, a book report is primarily involved with the summary of the book’s content. Knowing how to write a critical book review also involves the summary, yes, but it requires more than just reading. You’ve to be capable of providing a critical evaluation of the book, its purpose, importance, along with its weaknesses and strengths. Knowing how to write a critical book review doesn’t just require you to express what you think about the book, but rather what drove you to think that way. You can’t simply say that you find the book brilliant – you have to write the reasons why you think it’s brilliant. In the same manner, you cannot simply dismiss the book as boring - you have to thoroughly discuss why you find it boring. Brilliant or boring, you’ll have to come up with evidence from the book itself and your own analysis so you can justify your claim.

Things to remember

  • Read and repeat - If it seems like one reading is not enough, don’t hesitate to read it again. If you think you understand the general summary of the book but are confused about some parts, list them down and read them again until you understand.
  • Summary is part of the review– A brief summary is needed and it should contain the book’s most notable highlights – conflicts, characteristics, themes, and ideas. If it’s needed, you may use quotes from the book.
  • Use of quotes – If the part you’re writing needs to be supported by quotes, go ahead. But be very careful because in a critical book review, quotes from the book should never outnumber your own words. The extent of your use of your own words determines your essay’s success. The more quotes you use, the lower your grade will be. Why? Because this is your own critical book review, which means you have to do critical thinking.
  • Critical – You’re the critic and being critical of the book is not all bad – it involves both good and bad. You’re asked to critique the book so you can develop the skill to point out elements in the book and combine them in a valid argument, and then, support your own claim.

The writing part

To serve as writing guide, you need to ask yourself these questions (in order):
  • Impression – What do you think of the book and why? How did you get to this conclusion? Give the reader a glimpse of your initial expectation before you started reading and what you thought when you were given the task of reading it. Was your impression correct? And if there was much public anticipation before its publication date, was the anticipation worth it? Answer these questions in a clear manner.
  • Thesis – What is the general message of the book? What is it trying to claim and prove? What is the essence of the story? Was it clearly stated? You may use quotes from the book or brief discussions of parts where the thesis statement is obvious.
  • Intention – What was the author trying to achieve when he wrote the book? The author – the person. How clear and understandable did he narrate the story and introduce characters? Feel free to state your own opinion. For example, was there a need for a particular character to die? Also, remember to explain thoroughly if the author was successful in making the reader realize the thesis of the book.
  • Author’s claims and evidences – Throughout the book, you will read some claims from the author that will be supported by evidence from much later in the story, or vice versa. Here, feel free to use quotes to further prove your point.
  • Book’s conclusion – Did you see the conclusion coming? Did you somehow predict how it would end or were you surprised by what ultimately happened? To prove this, you must discuss the little twists in the book and how well they were crafted by the author.
  • The reader’s background – Can the book be understood by a high school student? Or does it require knowledge of history? Talk about the qualifications that the reader must have to appreciate the book.
  • Factors – Was the story influenced by the characters, or by the circumstances they are in? Is it moved by clash of ideas or principles? Or are gender, family, race, friendships involved?
  • Accuracy – Did the author accurately depict the characters, their strengths and weaknesses, as well as tendencies? Was it realistic enough? If not, what elements could he have improved?
Follow these tips and you’ll be in good shape. Now that you know how to write a critical book review, the only thing you need write a better one is plenty of practice.

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