New students often find university assignments unfamiliar and daunting. However, some of those assignments are similar to those you used to do back at high school, only re-iterated on a college level. A great example of these is a critical review of a book.
If you want to learn how to write book reviews – either as college assignments or as helpful advice for other book enthusiasts – read our book review guide.
What Is a Book Review
Traditionally, let’s start with the definition. A book review is a form of literary criticism in which you analyze the book as a whole based on its content, style, strengths, and weaknesses.
In high school, you might have been tasked with an odd book-review assignment, but as a rule, you would write book reports, that share the most basic elements with reviews, such as summary of the story and a short note on what you liked or disliked about the book. However, college-level book reviews require you to analyze the text deeper and, to an extent, more objectively.
To gain a better understanding of what book review as a college paper should look like, read a couple of book review examples and compare them.
Now, with the meaning out of the way, let’s get to the “how” of writing a book review.
Before Writing a Book Review
A book review can be tricky for college students to handle because despite being an assignment, it is not a strictly academic format. While academic papers require you to be factual and objective, reviews are all about opinions and personal taste.
How to write a book review essay keeping the right tone of voice? When in doubt, apply the golden rule of any text. Think what is good for your readers. You are reviewing the book to recommend it or to say that it’s not what readers might like: “I’ve read it, so you don’t have to”. Therefore, you should approach this assignment as honestly as you can. It is important, however, is to stay considerate. You might critique particular aspects of the book, but you needn’t be mean. The author has put work and vision into this piece – respect that.
Here are the steps to follow before you start writing.
1. Look at the book
What expectations you have based on the title and the appearance of the book? Note the design of the cover, the print, the paper, etc. What does it convey? Who is this book for? Does it feel like a collectible edition? Is it a book you would buy as a gift or something you would take on vacation?
2. Read the blurb and a preface (if any)
A blurb should give you a sneak peek into the book’s style and story. What impression do you get from it? What is the genre of the book? Who is it aimed at? Revisit the blurb and/or a preface after you’ve read the book to assess whether they do their job well.
3. Learn about the author
Is it a debut work of the author? Do they have any other works published? What are they known for? What is the author’s background? This information may help you to understand the author’s unique perspective as you read the book.
As you read, try to take notes of anything that catches your attention. It’s too easy to forget some details that might be important for your review. Here are some areas to focus on:
- Style and literature devices
- Main idea/argument
Jot down some quotes that you may later use, mind-map the storyline, conflicts, and themes in the book and how they relate to each other. You will need it to analyze the book as a whole on a deeper level than merely “I liked/didn’t like it”.
Book Review Template
The book review structure is not as formal as other types of written assignments. In fact, the book review format is much closer to professional critical opinion pieces you may see in magazines and online than to academic papers, such as literary analysis for example. Still, there are certain parts you should include.
This part provides essential information about the book and its author. Assume your reader’s ignorance and deliberately answer the following questions:
- Who is the author?
- What other books they have written?
- What is their usual style?
- What is the title and genre of this particular book?
- When was it published?
- Is the book a part of the series? Can it be enjoyed as a stand-alone piece or readers should read previous books to appreciate it fully?
Make sure you convey all this information naturally, in a conversational tone. Avoid sounding dry and clinical. You can start your review with a provocative statement about the book or tease a quote from a book as a hook.
Include a brief summary of the plot, but avoid giving away too much. It’s better to leave out the climax and the resolution of the plot, as well as some unexpected twists. Include enough to inform your reader about the setting, characters, and the kind of story it is, but don’t ruin the experience for them. Also, keep it short. The plot outline should not take up more than half of your review.
Here you provide the literary critique. Choose several points you wish to discuss – something you think stands out the most in this book. You may even limit yourself to one, particularly interesting aspect, for example, the language, the conflict, the world-building, character arcs, power dynamics, a particular theme, etc.
You are free to express your opinions, as a reader and a student. You don’t have to assume the guise of a dispassionate observer.
- What worked for you in this book and what didn’t?
- Did it resonate with you on an emotional or logical level?
- Do you think you have a bias towards the book’s story/setting/handling of sensitive topis?
Conclude your review with final thoughts and recommendations to would-be readers.
- What should they expect from the book?
- Will it be an enjoyable experience? Insightful? Disturbing?
- Does it deliver on its promise?
- Will it be interesting for its intended target audience?
Also, since book reviews are usually written for the recently published books, include information about the publisher, price, and the ways the book can be obtained, at the end of your review.
How to Write a Review of a Book You Don’t Have Time to Read?
There are times when staying on top of the curriculum is the race against time. Just remembered that tomorrow you must hand in a review of a 400-page book you haven’t even read? Don’t panic. Just say “Write my book review” and we will be happy to oblige.
Our professional writers know how to review a book and how to do a proper analysis to impress even the most demanding literary scholar. And make no mistake here – they’ve probably already read the book more than once.