Like basically every book blogger, when I write a book review, I include a number rating (out of 5) to indicate holistically what I thought. And like basically every book blogger that does that, I have a page on my blog that lays out just what each rating means. (Here, if you’re interested.)
And yet, lately, when I’m writing reviews, I have felt like I need to clarify my rating system. And since I’m a blogger who sucks at coming up with original post ideas, I decided that I could clarify how I choose my ratings with a discussion post.
So, what do I think you need to know about my rating system that isn’t abundantly obvious?
It comes down to this: I rate a book based on if I think it fulfilled its potential. This means that two books can both get 5/5 stars, while one can be waaaaayyy more memorable, emotional, and/or “important” than the other.
Why would I do that, you ask?
I look for different things from a fantasy novel than I do a contemporary novel. If I pick up a contemporary romance with a hilarious title and a cutesy cover, I am expecting it to cheer me up, make me laugh, and fill me with romantic butterflies. If I pick up a fantasy with a foreboding title and a dramatic cover, I am expecting it to take over my life with its gripping plot, its creative magic, and its fascinating characters.
I go into some books looking for a pick-me-up. I go into other books looking to be destroyed. Sometimes, all I want from a book is for it to change how I see the world.
Because of this, I feel that I cannot rate all books on the same scale. If I did, the only (or very nearly) books that would earn 5/5 stars would be intensely dramatic, 500-page-long fantasy novels with a dozen characters and twice as many subplots. (I’m looking at you Brandon Sanderson and Sarah J. Maas.)
That isn’t fair for me. If I go into a book looking for a cheery romantic story, and that book delivers a cheery romantic story and commented on a few of society’s flaws, then that book earned 5 stars.
At the same time, if I go into a book expecting it to have deep characters, plots, and world-building, and it doesn’t deliver, then that book probably gets at most 3 stars, even if it was a pretty good story.
So, how does a book earn 5 stars?
There is obviously no easy formula. My expectations, the genre, and the story itself set the criteria for the ranking. However, I would say that all books I give five stars have a few key things in common:
- They talk about society’s flaws.
- Their plot is complex. Bring on the subplots.
- The characters feel alive and realistic, and they grow over the course of the story.
- The writing is strong and complements the series.
- The story’s society—whether that is a make-believe world or a high school—is complex and nuanced.
- The story evokes specific emotions in me, no matter what mood I was in before I started reading.
So what do you think? Do you rate all of your books on the same scale? Do you agree with my rating system, or do you think it is unfair?