Practice Analyzing and Interpreting a Review

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  • 0:01 Common Elements of a Review
  • 1:23 How to Analyze a Review
  • 1:57 Analyzing a Book Review
  • 7:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

We often read film and book reviews to see if the film or book is worth checking out. But to effectively analyze a review, we need to read it in a different way. This lesson shows you how to do that.

Common Elements of a Review

When we're not sure if we should check out the latest war film, best-selling novel trilogy, or flashy restaurant down the street, we often check out reviews to see what others think. A review is a report that gives someone's opinion about the quality of a performance, product, book, event, etc. Professional reviews are typically written by knowledgeable critics who are well known in their industry. They provide a detailed assessment supported by specific facts, details, and/or examples.

There are a few common format elements in a professional review. For the sake of clarity, we're going to focus on a book review. However, all of this information can be slightly altered to fit whatever is being reviewed. In a professional book review, the introductory paragraph typically includes:

  • The title, author, and the publisher
  • A clear thesis stating the reviewer's opinion of the book

The body paragraphs usually include:

  • A concise summary of the book (details on characters, setting, and plot for fiction or an explanation of main points for nonfiction)
  • Details and/or specific examples to support his/her thesis

Other information that might be included:

  • A comparison to similar pieces
  • Connections to literary trends
  • Background on the author

The conclusion should:

  • Restate the reviewer's main points
  • Leave the reader with a strong impression of the piece reviewed

How To Analyze a Review

When analyzing a book review, we need to ask ourselves five important questions:

  1. Does it have a clear, concise thesis in the introductory paragraph?
  2. Is the summary of the book brief yet thoughtfully explained?
  3. Is the thesis well-supported with specific examples and details from the book?
  4. Does it conclude with a powerful statement that reaffirms the reviewer's thesis in an interesting way?
  5. Does the review persuade readers to read or not read the book based on the reviewer's thesis, support, and critical analysis of the book?

Analyzing a Book Review

John Green is the New York Times' bestselling author of such books as Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars. Below is a book review that he wrote, which was published in the New York Times in 2008, entitled 'Scary New World.' In it, he reviews The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

'The past year has seen the publication of more than a dozen post-apocalyptic young adult novels that explore what the future could look like once our unsustainable lifestyles cease to be sustained. (Spoiler alert: It's gonna be bad.)'

'Amid this rising sea of dystopias, two books stand apart: The Dead and the Gone, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, and The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. While some young adult novels are content to read the way bad sci-fi movies look, both of these books transcend their premises with terrifyingly well-imagined futures and superb characterization.'

Green's introduction immediately tells us what books he's reviewing, who they're by, how they are similar, and his opinion of them. His clear thesis states: '. . . both of these books transcend their premises with terrifyingly well-imagined futures and superb characterization.' So, we now want to see if he supports this assertion with specific examples.

Also, notice how Green uses slang like 'spoiler alert' and 'gonna.' This helps establish his candid voice, and it's appropriately used since he's reviewing two young adult books. If he were reviewing two books about recently deceased authors, he would not write in this manner.

Now let's see if Green provides a concise yet thoughtfully written summary.

'Unlike most of the recent dark visionary fiction, The Dead and the Gone . . . explores an apocalyptic event not of our making: in the near future an asteroid hits the moon, changing tides and weather patterns so profoundly that human life in New York City becomes nearly impossible. Seventeen-year-old Alex Morales must take care of his family because his mother doesn't return home from her hospital job in Queens and his father is missing in Puerto Rico. . . What makes The Dead and the Gone so riveting is its steadfast resistance to traditional ideas of hope in children's books. . .'

'But it is not without hope. . . Most of their help and support, though, comes from the church, and the tension between faith and disaster keeps the story taut. Pfeffer subtly explores the complexity of believing in an omnipotent God. . .'

Green provides key details to summarize The Dead and the Gone, but did you notice how the information he provided connects back to his thesis? He points out that this book explores an apocalyptic event that isn't man made, which sets it apart from many of the other dystopian novels popular at that time. He then provides interesting details about the characters and the main conflict that point to characterization and how well-imagined this fictional future is. He also shows that the author constructed a complex world that deals with family struggles, responsibilities, hope, and faith.

Now, let's see if he takes this further with critical analysis and examples or details to support his thesis.

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