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!
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.
For 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?