As many of you know, I have pages on my blog, which get updated regularly – even if my blog doesn’t. One of the pages is a listing of my reviews of YA books. These reviews in their simplest form are simply one reader’s thoughts about a book. I recently finished and reviewed Cover-up by John Feinstein. I didn’t like the book. There were many reasons why I didn’t like it. This is my opinion and my opinion only. I gave the book one star. After I finished reviewing the book on Goodreads, the review posted to my Twitter account and the blog. And I went about my day.
I didn’t think twice about the review as I had seemingly more important things on my mind (like getting much needed highlights in my hair and what book I was going to read next). Later that day, I popped open my laptop cover to check in with my various social networking sites and maybe play some Angry Birds. Imagine my surprise when I had a response to my review. Who knew that people actually paid attention? However, that wasn’t as shocking as what followed.
The respondent disagreed with my review. So what? People disagree all the time. The respondent seemed a bit upset with me for panning the book because reluctant readers like Feinstein’s books, and how dare I pan a book so important in canon of young adult literature. Okay, so maybe I am overreacting a bit. However, I really was chastised for not liking a book that boys and reluctant readers (who usually are one in the same) like.
I felt the need to defend myself, so I did. My reviews are simply my opinion. I wear many hats, and one of those hats is reader. As a reader, I didn’t like the book. The writing was pedestrian. The characters were flat. The mystery was non-existent. I struggled to finish it.
I thought about it. If this is the type of book reluctant readers gravitate towards no wonder they’re reluctant readers. I can think of dozens of far more engaging and entertaining books for reluctant readers. But I’m not a reluctant reader. I’ve never been a reluctant reader. Then I wondered if the pedestrian style was something easily accessible to reluctant readers, and perhaps this could be a “gateway” book for those students. And then I shook my head a few times to clear it. Whether this book is a book for reluctant readers or not is not the issue here.
The issue is this.
I had an opinion. I expressed it. I was then told my opinion was wrong. Really? As an American, I’m used to having the ability to express my views. I’m not used to someone telling me what to think.
As a literacy community, don’t we give students all the tools needed for students to form an opinion and express those opinions? We let them freely express those opinions. We read and write and view media that broadens our viewpoints. We bat ideas around. We debate issues. And we do this respectfully and politely.
I started to think about how I present books I love to my students. I give them a place of honor. They become Schmidt’s Picks. Kids clamor after them. Books I don’t like, on the other hand, get much less fanfare. I give a quick plot summary, leave out my opinion and when asked my opinion, dance around the issue, and place the book in the class library. So while I don’t pan the book, I don’t talk it up either, which does a disservice to the book.
The response I got to my review of Cover-up really wasn’t that shocking. If the respondent to my review of Cover-up were the only negative reaction I’ve ever gotten about a review, I probably wouldn’t think twice about it. However, in late 2009 – early 2010 on Goodreads, I had a number of different reviews that were received very negatively. One person (not someone I’m “friends” with) actually verbally attacked me, attacking my intellect as well as my character. The book – Charles and Emma – in case you were wondering. I deleted the person’s comments and then contacted him and let him know how hurtful the comments were. We ended up having an interesting dialogue, and basically, the person was hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. It was an important lesson on internet etiquette. But I digress. We are allowed to have opinions. And opinions will differ.
Now the respondent to review of Cover-up did challenge my opinion, and it forced me to think about the way I review books as well as the way I present books in my classroom. After all this writing and thinking about the interaction, it did help me grow, and I appreciate that.
Until next time, see YA…