What Do You Do About Those Books You Rated High But Didn’t Actually “Like”?


If you don’t quite understand the title of this post, don’t worry – I’m sure you’re not alone. I had trouble deciding how to phrase it properly, and I still don’t think I did that great a job.

Basically, I’m talking about those books you give anywhere from 4 to 5 stars but didn’t actually like, because it’s difficult to “like” books with difficult subjects. These are the type of books that can make you so freaking mad that you want to throw the book, but it’s not the book’s fault – it’s the awful circumstances in the book, and it’s done on purpose. These are the books where your heart gets totally stomped on, and you love that, but you still can’t say you loved the book because how can you talk about love when your heart is shattered in pieces from the stomping of the book? Does any of that make sense? See – even when I’m just trying to talk about these books in an abstract way, I still have so much trouble figuring out how to say everything!

HateList One of the first books that I came up with as an example for this is Jennifer Brown’s Hate List, a story about a girl whose boyfriend shot and killed many of their classmates, a tragedy that many people believe she was involved with. Stories that involve school shootings are automatically difficult subjects, and this story was in particular a difficult thing to get through. The protagonist was a regular person – someone who let her anger get the best of her at times, had a method of getting all that anger out, and had to deal with the consequences of it.

When I finished the book and was writing the review, I had trouble deciding how to categorize it properly. I thought the book was powerful and good, but I couldn’t easily say that I enjoyed it because I really didn’t. I’m not the type of person who enjoys reading about school shootings, so that wasn’t surprising. Just because it wasn’t enjoyable, though, was no reason to give it a low rating – but how do I articulate that feeling?

I’m pretty sure I ended up giving Hate List four stars, a perfectly high rating for what I thought was a good book but didn’t totally blow me away. It took a while to really decide on that rating, though, and I still contemplate whether that’s the proper rating all these months later. It just leaves me so conflicted because I’m normally the type of person who rates a lot concerning how much I enjoyed a book, and it’s impossible to do that with difficult books that I didn’t truly love.

LiesWeTellOurselvesFor instance, as I write this, I’m reading Lies We Tell Ourselves, which involves integration in the 1960s. There’s loads of racism, obviously, and it just makes me so mad – but, unless things go majorly downhill, I already know the book will get at least four stars from me. It’s a truly powerful book that is good, but I can’t actually say that I enjoy it because I definitely don’t like seeing how cruel and ignorant so many white people could be simply because of skin color and old prejudices.

Does anyone else have this problem – deciding how to rate difficult books when they can’t rely completely on their emotions? I know I’m not the only person who rates emotionally, so I can’t be the only one, right?


11 thoughts on “What Do You Do About Those Books You Rated High But Didn’t Actually “Like”?

  1. I think I know what you mean. While reading ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’, I definitely didn’t enjoy it, or approve of it but the content was also what made me want to read it more. It was so hard to separate my feelings for what was happening and the facts about what was happening. I liked how Margaret Atwood made me think about this horrible world she created but I didn’t LIKE the book. AHH! It’s confusing.

    1. Exactly! Almost any book about difficult subjects, like sexism or racism or homophobia, are going to be hard to actually enjoy in the sense where you’re having fun while reading it, but that doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate the ideas and what the story is trying to say!

      (and sorry this comment is so late – I’m just now catching up!)

  2. Yes, I get exactly what you mean. Someone’s I rate books because they are so beautifully written or there are just some things about the book that impressed me even though I didn’t particularly LOVE it. It’s a hard thing but neccessary, I think to also base ratings on the elements within the book and how well done they are!

    1. Yeah, I think this issue goes down to rating based on emotions versus more objective things, like writing or characters or subject matter. I think I tend to rate at least partially based on my emotions and how much I liked a story, so it’s difficult when my emotions say “this book made me feel awful and mad and frustrated” and the more objective part of me is saying “but it has a great message, and a great journey to get from hellish point A to a better point B!”

      (and sorry this comment is so late – I’m just now catching up!)

  3. I can totally understand your situation.One perfect example from my side is We Were Liars by E.Lockhart.I can’t say that I actually liked it as a story or the characters,but still I gave a pretty good rating and review for it as I had to admit that it was a mind blowing book.

    1. I still have to read that, but I do know that it has caused a lot of different thoughts and emotions, so that definitely sounds like what I’m talking about! It’s easy to just focus on the difficult subjects, like school shootings or the Holocaust or racism, but sometimes books simply have not-so-nice people doing not-so-nice things that still manage to grip your attention and keep you really interested.

      (and sorry this comment is so late – I’m just now catching up!)

  4. Oh my goodness, rating books like that is possibly one of the hardest things in the world – like, on one hand, I didn’t like the book at all, but on the other, I was affected by it and it felt like a punch to a gut… and isn’t that what the author was going for? (I mean, if you enjoy books like The Hate List, I think perhaps you might have a different problem. ;)) So many tough decisions to make…

    1. True, I don’t think books like Hate List are MEANT to be enjoyed in the traditional sense, so that definitely has to be taken into account when you’re rating. It’s still so difficult to understand your own thoughts about difficult books like it, though!

      (and sorry this comment is so late – I’m just now catching up!)

  5. Yes! I know exactly what you mean. When I read ‘The Butterfly and the Violin’ (which is about WWII and the camps), it affected me greatly. But I felt odd saying it was the BEST book and going on and on about how much I loved it. I gave it 5 stars, but stated clearly in my review that I was trying to review more subjectively and take me out of the equation.
    Perhaps breaking down your rating would help? Rate ‘feels’, writing, plot, subject all separately and let your readers see clearly what you meant.

    1. Yes, things about wars and people being awful to other human beings are just so difficult to wrap your head around when it comes to rating! Breaking things down sounds like a good idea – I already have multiple sections in my reviews, like beginning, characters, romance, and end, but maybe I should include “feelings,” at least for the more difficult-to-rate books.

      (and sorry this comment is so late – I’m just now catching up!)

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