Sadly I had to put my discussion feature on hiatus for a little bit as I work long hours at the weekends and am usually too tired to post on Sunday evenings (and too disorganized to schedule beforehand!), but it’s back this weekend with something that’s been on my mind a lot over the past month – negative reviews.
Of course, there will always be negative reviews of books no matter how good the book may be to you. Every reading experience is individual and every reader will take away something different, which is why reviews are so great! I love reading reviews by reviewers who have a different opinion or take on a book we both read or are planning to read to see what they think. There are times when these reviews can be really helpful, such as calling out problematic representation, but are there times when negative reviews can be unhelpful or even harmful?
When Negative Reviews are Helpful
There have been so many times when negative reviews have saved me from subjecting myself to problematic representations, harmful narratives and/or triggering content. As someone who has multiple marginalized identities, reading books can sometimes be a minefield when it comes to avoiding particular content, such as transphobia, so reviews can be really helpful for pointing out what the issues are, how extensive they are, and allow me to make a decision as to whether it’s a book I want to read. There have been a number of occasions when I have seen reviews by book bloggers or on Goodreads which have pointed out harmful content and which have helped me to avoid picking up those books and/or supporting the authors.
However, I don’t always read reviews before throwing myself into a book so can find myself unpleasantly surprised further down the line. In this instance, negative reviews can still be really helpful because they validate my experience of the book, help me to connect with like-minded reviewers, and can also help me to recognize other issues that I didn’t spot myself.
Of course, I have written a few negative reviews myself since I started book blogging and it is really cathartic to be able to share my experiences of the book, especially when it personally affects me. One review that always stands out in my memory is the one I wrote of Autonomous by Annalee Newitz last year, where I highlighted my experience as a trans reader and why I found the narrative transphobic and harmful. It reached quite a large audience on GR, helping other trans readers to stay away from it and educating cis people on what negative trans rep can look like – especially as many cis readers hadn’t picked up on it!
When Negative Reviews Are Not So Helpful?
During my journeys as a book blogger, I have encountered a few different times when negative reviews haven’t been very helpful and, in some cases, actually perpetuate harm – either to authors, to marginalized readers, and/or to marginalized groups of people.
Authors – Usually I fully condone not writing reviews for anyone other than readers. Reviews are written by readers for readers, and I think that’s so important. No reviewer should ever feel like they can’t speak their mind about a book for fear of backlash from the author, as has sadly been the case with several authors and book bloggers. There have been times though when I have seen negative reviews lead to a landslide of backlash against the author when it hasn’t really been deserved. I don’t really want to name any names here, but there are one or two very famous authors in the blogosphere that I have in mind with that statement, where I have seen their books torn apart without much justification. In one instance, it led to me to fully avoid the book because I thought it was going to be so awful but when I actually read it for myself it turned out to be a book that I really enjoyed!
When such things happen to diverse authors I think that it can have an even more harmful effect. Obviously, this is not to excuse diverse authors when they do make mistakes but I have definitely seen diverse authors, particularly black authors, disproportionately criticised, often by white “diverse” book bloggers. Diverse authors are something we desperately need and to see book bloggers who aren’t from that particular marginalized identity attempt to bring diverse authors down is something that makes me incredibly uncomfortable. Words hold power. Our reviews hold power. When negativity turns into a bit of a s*itstorm it can really harm the author, preventing them from getting further books published, causing them to withdraw from fans, or the publishing industry altogether. A lot of diverse authors who have also had to come forward and ask that reviewers stop tagging them on twitter when they share negative reviews as it can be extremely damaging to their own mental health! Remember, authors are also people and it can really knock someone’s confidence when they have to look through so much negativity on their social media.
Marginalized readers and/or groups – This another thing that I have witnessed, and experienced, a lot recently and it shocks me even more when it comes from “diverse” book reviewers. There have been multiple instances where reviewers call books out for being problematic, drag it through the mud and/or otherwise discourage others from reading the book and supporting the author when they are not #ownvoice reviewers. This is something I have touched upon in a previous discussion I had about #ownvoice reviews, but I think it bears mentioning again as the issue is persisting. Speaking from personal experience, I have seen it happen a number of times where cis reviewers trash a book written by/about trans people and call it out for being problematic, even when it has been reviewed well by actual trans people. These reviews are often very well received by other non-own voice bloggers who pile on the bandwagon and loudly denounce the book, even when questioned/called out by #ownvoice reviewers. Obviously, this can be really damaging as it ignores the voices of marginalized reviewers who are disproportionately represented in the book blogging community and has led/can lead to diverse book bloggers feeling like they’re not welcome. We should be doing more to boost diversity up, not tearing it down.
Obviously, this is a very complicated and nuanced topic so I hope I have handled it with at least some tact! All opinions are my own and none are intended to cause harm to anyone or incite a flame war over whether X book is problematic or not. It is a discussion post related explicitly to discussing negative reviews, rather than the actual books themselves!
How do you feel about negative reviews? Do you feel that there are both positive and negatives, or do you feel they are primarily good/harmful?
Please leave your comments below and let me know what you think ❤