A book review tells not only what a book is about, but also how successfully the author tells the
story. As a reviewer, you bring together the two strands of accurate, analytical reading and
strong, personal response when you indicate what the book is about and what it might mean to a
reader (by explaining what it meant to you). In other words, reviewers answer not only the
“what” but the “so what” question about a book. Thus, in writing a review, you combine the
skills of describing what is on the page, analyzing how the author tried to tell his or her story,
and expressing your own reactions.
How do I begin?
Ahh, an excellent question. Let’s keep it simple. Most reviewers start off with a heading that
includes all the bibliographic information about the book. There are many different formats,
but the following is a standard format.
Title. Author. Place of publication:
Publisher, date of Publication. Number of Pages.
Like most pieces of writing, the review itself usually begins with an introduction that lets your
readers know what the review will say. The first paragraph usually includes the author and
title again, so your readers don’t have to look up to find this information. You should also
include a very brief overview of the contents of the book, the purpose of the author, and your
reaction / evaluation. Here’s an example using Ted Dekker’s Three.
In Ted Dekker’s psychological thriller Three, Dekker masterfully delivers a tale of good and evil that leaves even the most seasoned reader’s mind spinning at the
conclusion. . .
You should then move into a section of background information that helps place the book in
context. This would include information about the setting and the main characters. Here’s an
example using Lois Lowry’s The Giver.
“Lowry once again turns in a new direction; this time to the future. Jonas lives in a world that many of us have longed for. There is no war, poverty, or family turmoil,
and so no fear, no hardship, no everyday discontent, no long-term terror.” (Booklist 1993)
Next, you should give a summary of the plot of the book, quoting and paraphrasing key phrases
from the author. Let’s continue looking at the review from The Giver.
“Jonas lives with his father, who's a Nurturer at the childcare center; his mother, who works at the Department of Justice; and his sister, Lily, who is a Six. Jonas
himself is soon to be a Twelve, an important age because each year at the annual Ceremony all the 12-years-olds in the community receive their life assignments
from the Elders. Jonas is named to the most prestigious and unusual job in the community--the Receiver of Memory. There is only one Receiver, and when he grows
old, he trains his successor. Jonas is both puzzled and frightened by his job, which requires him to receive all the memories of their world and the land that lies
beyond their community, Elsewhere.” (Booklist 1993)
Finally, you get to the heart of your review – your evaluation of the book. In this section, you
might discuss some of the following items:
How well the author has told the story?
Was the plot believable?
Were the characters well developed?
Was the story paced well?
What possibilities are suggested by the book?
What the book has left out?
How does the book compare to others like it?
What personal experiences or connections can you make that the reader would
appreciate hearing in order to decide if they should read this book.
Here’s an example from a review (School Library Journal 2008) on Suzanne Collins’ Hunger
Games which addresses the skill of Suzanne Collins writing in regard to characters and plot.
“Collins's characters are completely realistic and sympathetic as they form alliances and friendships in the face of overwhelming odds; the plot is tense, dramatic,
and engrossing.” (Jane Henriksen Baird 2008)
It is important to carefully distinguish your views from the author’s, so that you don’t confuse
your reader. Then, like other essays, you can end with a direct comment on the book, and tie
together issues raised in the review in a conclusion. Here’s the ending of the above review
about Hunger Games.
“This book will definitely resonate with the generation raised on reality shows like "Survivor" and "American Gladiator." (Jane Henriksen Baird 2008)
Keep in mind that a book review should not give away all of the secrets of the book. While it
might be necessary to give away some aspects of the ending in order to tell the story, try not
to give it all away. Finally, be careful that you don’t just write a summary. A good rule of
thumb would be that at least one third of your review should be analysis and evaluation. You
have to tell enough of the story so the reader knows what is going on, but you also have to
firmly give your opinion throughout the entire book review. Don’t just tack it on the final few
sentences of your review.
This document has been adapted from Indiana University’s Writing Tutorial Services Website. It can be
viewed in it’s original form at