The big idea
Whenever you're asked to decide whether something is good or bad--and then explain why on paper--you're being asked to write a *review* or *evaluation*. This is a valuable style of writing to learn, because even if you don't wind up writing book reviews for a living, you will still need to make big decisions as an adult about which car or house to buy, or which college to attend. The kind of thinking you need to use in writing reviews is the kind of thinking you need to make intelligent choices in life.
Before you begin
Step One: Decide What To Look At
The first thing you need to do before you start your review is decide what aspects of the item you are going to evaluate. What I mean is this: what is it that can be good or bad about something you're going to review? An example: when you're watching a movie, you can look at the acting, the special effects, the camera work, or the story, among other things. Those are all items you can examine and decide if they are well or poorly done. With a book, you can look at the plot, the characters, and the way that the author puts words together. With a restaurant, you can look at the food, the service, and the setting. In fact, everything has qualities you can analyze and evaluate; you just need to sit down and figure out what they are.
Step Two: Decide What Makes Things Good or Bad
Before you can decide whether something is good or bad, you have to figure out what you mean by "good" and "bad." Do you like stories that have a lot of action or a lot of character development? Do you like acting that's realistic or acting that's wild and nutty? Do you like authors to use a lot of complicated words, or very simple words? You decide. Whatever you like, apply those standards to the thing you are reviewing.
How to do it
It is now time to start putting your essay together. Here's a pretty simple format you can follow:
- Open with an introduction paragraph that does the following things:
- catches the reader's attention;
- identifies the thing you'll be reviewing (e.g., the title of the book or movie);
- identifies the author, star, or director, if appropriate.
- Write a full paragraph about each of the aspects you want to examine, making sure each paragraph does these things:
- opens with a topic sentence that says what the paragraph is about;
- has several detail sentences that prove the point you are trying to make;
- uses quotes or examples from the book or movie, if possible, to help prove your point.
- End with a conclusion paragraph that does the following:
- *briefly* restates the main ideas of the review;
- makes a judgment about the book or movie or whatever, saying whether it is good or bad (some reviewers give ratings, like four stars or two thumbs up);
- recommends that the reader go to the movie or read the book or buy a meal at the restaurant (or not, if it is no good).
Losing Joe's Place
by Gordon Korman
book review by Mr. Klingensmith
It's not often that one finds a novel as wacky and as full of unexpected surprises as Losing Joe's Place, a book by Gordon Korman. It is the story of Jason Cardone and his friends Ferguson "The Peach" Peach and Don "Mr. Wonderful" Champion, and a summer they spend in the big city of Toronto, subletting the totally cool bachelor apartment that belongs to Jason's brother, Joe. Joe's instructions to the three teenagers boil down to one main thing: DON'T GET EVICTED! The story shows us just how hard it can be to follow this one simple direction.
One great thing about the book is the way Korman developed the characters. Each person has a definite personality. The Peach is an engineering genius who needs to improve everything he sees. His "better than you are" attitude tends to get on everyone's nerves. Jason, our hero, seems to be allergic to work, and while his roommates spend the summer slaving away at a variety of jobs, Jason finds ways to avoid job interviews. At the same time, he becomes a genius in the kitchen, which helps him later on in the story. Mr. Plotnick, the boys' landlord and owner of the Olympiad Delicatessen, is one of the greediest and most annoying people you'll ever meet in a book, and the boys spend a lot of their time trying to find ways to get even with him. Perhaps one of the weirdest characters in the book is Rootbeer Racinette, a huge bearded giant who can chew a hole in an unpoppable truck tire and take a two-by-four in the stomach as hard as you'd care to swing it. Rootbeer spends the summer with the boys, taking turns getting the boys into and out of trouble (between bouts of Manchurian Bush Meditation and pursuing some of the strangest hobbies in the world).
Another great thing about the book is the plot. Just as it seems that the boys are going to finally solve their problems and have a great summer, another problem arises that they have to solve, or else they will have to go back home to Owen Sound as the total failures that their parents expect: they run out of money more than once; they fight over the love of a girl they meet in Toronto, and they wind up becoming the secret restaurant kings of the city, all because of a chocolate memory. Whenever you think that things can't get worse, they can, and the whole book builds toward the finish that you hoped couldn't happen...
Losing Joe's Place is a great book for anyone who likes to see somebody else have a whole lot of funny, funny troubles. The story is hilarious and keeps you on the edge of your seat, and the characters are strange and interesting enough to make you want to know more about what will happen to them next. Out of four stars, I would give this book at least three and a half.
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Copyright 1996-2004 by Michael Klingensmith