Reviewing the YA Book

Some suggestions on what writers and publishers want to know
Created by Carolyn S Hall - November, 2013

Have you ever heard the saying, “There are no new stories under the sun?”

Whether or not it is true, there is something to be said for many books today following familiar templates (strong girl battles the forces of a dystopian corrupt status quo to bring fairness and equality to the humans around her sound familiar to anyone?). What makes any story that seems like the same old plot line any different? Why, sometimes, does a new author, telling an old story, still transfix the reader?

The response to these very questions is exactly what that author, editors and publishers of a book most want to know when reading your reviews.

When writing a review of the pre-released books TKB receives from publishers, it is important to realize that the writers and the publishers already know what the book is about.  They want to know WHY (or why not) you connected with the book, what was it that impressed you about it (or didn’t) and why?

I know it can seem tempting to tell readers the plot of the book, but even another potential reader looking at a review on any given blog doesn’t want the whole plot told to them. That is a major spoiler alert.

When you watch a movie trailer, does it show the entire plot line? No! It just teases you with a few special moments, and the points of major conflict, in order to pique your interest. That is where the annotation plays such a crucial role within the blog post. It is like your mini-book talk, sometimes called the elevator pitch among writers. If you imagine yourself having written a book, and you happen to ride the elevator with an agent or editor who you want to represent your book. You’ve got until that elevator gets to their floor to “pitch them” on what makes your book truly unique.

The focus should stay on points such as:


For example, if the characters were super fantastic, you might say:

The characters were fantastic; this was the book’s strength. I felt like they were real people I was getting to know, that they grew and that I could relate to them.

Or, the opposite: The characters were so fake, it was like they were cardboard cutouts of people that you see in the Office Max store, telling you with a fake cardboard smile, “Buy this, buy that.” But you don’t believe them. They are so not real.


When the characters are talking, do they sound like adults instead of teens? Do they use out of date slang? Is it witty? Snappy? Sappy? Did it make you gag? Or almost want to write it down, it was so perfect?

Do the characters sound just like you and your friends? Did her mom remind you of your mom, the way she always did that thing? (You know the one.) Do they even seem so real, that their individual personalities play off each other in dialogue in such a real way, that you, the reader, feel like you are eavesdropping on a real conversation? When it’s really good, it’s fantastic. You know what I’m talking about.

Conversely, when a character says the same word, over and over, it can get so annoying it’s unbelievable.


Ever had a book move along so slowly that it seems that nothing is happening, and if you read it before bed, you fall asleep before you even get a page or so read? You might think, “what a good idea for a book, but the pace was so slow, I lost interest.”

Or, sometimes the action clips along so fast, your chest hurts with the thrill of the ride, like plunging over the top of a rollercoaster. You can’t wait to see what happens next. If the book is a thriller, then that is great pacing. If it is a story where the character and their emotions are something you want to experience fully, before being forced into the next chaotic scene, then the pacing may be too fast for the story.


Maybe your book takes place somewhere you always wanted to go, or better yet, if a fantasy, maybe the world created is so well-drawn, so detailed, you were able to put yourself right in the story, escape into this world so fully, you could hear, see, taste and even smell it. For a little while, you are living it.

Writing style: 

How effective is the writer’s use of language? Does the writing fit the storyline—does it flow and sound natural or does it instead seem stilted or affected? Can you spot devices used because they’re so obvious or are they seamlessly woven into the narrative? Does the writing respect you, the reader, or does it seem condescending, sentimental or moralistic?

The most important thing to remember when reviewing books:

Don’t just tell them you love it or hate it, tell them why! Tell other readers why they should read it. Make them want it. And they aren’t going to want it if you spoil it for them by telling them the whole plot.

Remember, the writers and the publishers, our main focus for reviewing in TKB, already know how the story goes. They want to hear why it is different, unique or special. So tell them that, and your reviews will be a fantastic success!

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