Subscribe to SLJ
Practically Paradise
Inside Practically Paradise

Can you ever say anything negative?

What happens if you read a book and DON’T like it? If you are a reviewer for SLJ, you identify the flaws and sit back to see if the author/ illustrator/ publisher/ reader responds. If you are a reviewer for Booklist, you just don’t write about it. 

What if you are a blogger? Just because you don’t like a book, does that mean you believe everyone won’t like it? What if you say something negative about the book and other people don’t go out and read other reviewers’ opinions? They might miss something they would have loved because they trusted you too much. The pressure is on. 

We are a society that doesn’t want to offend anyone. We’d rather not discuss some topics if it might cause controversy. And yet, sometimes I read someone else’s review and wonder if they read the same title I did. 

Take tonight. I was cleaning up after my son left Tuesday for Ft. Bragg and a possible stint in Afghanistan. He had wanted to take books with him and had to settle for just 9 in the duffle bag. (I hope they last him until payday tomorrow.) One title he was specifically looking for was Steven Layne’s Mergers. We had chatted about it and he was trying to recall his predictions for the sequel which he is insisting Steven write (Do you hear us, Steven?!). I found the book tonight in the closet in a box of memories so I’ll have to ship it to him. 

Unfortunately, the book had originally received a less than stellar review from an SLJ reviewer. At the time we both disagreed with the reviewer. The following month, the author had written a letter to the editor disputing the review’s "inaccuracies." Did the review cause other people to not purchase the title? Possibly. Did anyone take a second look after the letter to the editor? Possibly. 

I don’t really know about that particular title, but it makes me think about what I write and the impact I could have. I’d rather not have to defend the fact that I feel negatively about the particular book I’m reading right at this minute. I insist upon finishing it because I am having such a reaction to it and life shouldn’t be all sunny & sweet. I won’t even tell you the name or author so don’t try to coax it out of me. 

I wonder what you do when you have had a negative reaction to a title that everyone else thinks is wonderful. Do you honestly answer students when they ask your opinion? How do you phrase it? Will you lose your credibility if you are not totally honest? 

There are titles that immediately jump to my mind because they spark entirely different reactions:
The Giving Tree
In the Night Kitchen
Love You Forever 

What would you add?


  1. Christopher Harris says:

    I just can’t stand Goodnight Moon. Though I sat through the movie, I also have no desire to read the drivel that is Gone with the Wind. I also have no problem sharing this, though I would add that I probably like many books that others detest (military sci-fi, space opera, fantasy, etc.).

    The real challenge isn’t the level of honesty that we bring to reviews, but the level of honesty with which we engage in collection development.

  2. Diane,

    The questions raised are interesting. Have you read Gail Pool’s book, “Faint Praise: The Plight of Book Reviewing in America”? Thought-provoking read.

    Best, Kyra