A negative review . . . or is it?

 

I knew when I published SHATTERED ANGEL things would be different than they had been when I published my first two books. SHATTERED ANGEL is different in many ways. It’s a difficult book about a difficult subject. I knew some of the readers who loved the Kingston books might not want to read such a dark book. But I was called to write it, and so I did.

In my search for acquiring reviews for SHATTERED ANGEL, I decided to give Kirkus a shot. I had to drop quite the chunk of change, but I took the plunge anyway. My target audience changed a bit with SHATTERED ANGEL, and I had hoped the promotions through Kirkus could help point me in the right direction. And I figured at the very least I’d get an objective review from a ‘professional’ in the industry. I liked that the Kirkus page mentioned they had someone who evaluated the entries and then tried to match the book up with a reviewer who enjoyed books in that genre. It’s not guaranteed the books submitted will get a positive review, but I was only slightly concerned about that. I didn’t expect a starred review (hoped maybe), but I also didn’t expect a negative one.

Well, I suppose I ought to rethink my expectations next time I submit for a Kirkus review.

I’ll let you see the review before I taint you with my observations.

 

Kirkus Review of SHATTERED ANGEL

A young woman who escapes a life of ghastly abuse finds herself once again held captive, facing a 24-hour deadline to rejoin her victimizer or be killed.

The novel’s chapters count down from Hour 24. The narrator, known as Angel, is bound up on the concrete floor of a warehouse far from any chance of rescue. Her captor, who has controlled her since age 7, is a monstrous man whom she hates “so much I never gave him a name.” Names are arbitrary in this world. Her captor is only “the man,” who purchased her from the home of her crack-addicted mother where she was kept in a closet. Imprisoned in a basement room for the next eight years, she had human contact with a series of minders, including Night Man, Day Man, and Cleaning Lady. Only the evil man’s son is given a name, albeit an invented one. He is called Isaac and becomes her savior and love. Although never detailed explicitly, the unnamed man is apparently a procurer in Nevada with a stable of prostitutes and extensive connections to organized crime, government officials, and law enforcement. The presumption is that he is all-powerful so there is no escaping his reach. He is grooming Angel, among other girls, to be a prostitute, enslaved permanently to his business. She is ultimately freed through a Byzantine escape plot but that state is short-lived. Beckort (Kingston’s Promise, 2014, etc.) has effectively built up the tension of Angel’s final ordeal through the chapters’ countdown. But the book’s content is primarily a repetition of horrors—countless rapes, assaults, humiliations, and beatings. Almost every character is unrelentingly grotesque and seems beyond redemption. The sinister man hisses, “Every part of you is so sweet, and you taste the best after you’ve been beaten.” Another, called Goon 2, says to Angel: “It’s going to be a lot of fun killing you.” Little more is learned in this tale of torture.

A litany of lurid and repulsive events involving a female prisoner.

 

Ummm . . . what???

I’ll admit my first reaction after reading this was tears. A lot of them. As stated above, I didn’t expect a starred review, but I certainly didn’t expect this. There’s only one positive line in the entire review. I closed it up and didn’t look at it again for a long time.

But it nagged at me. There was something about the review that just wasn’t sitting right with me. So I did the only logical thing I knew to do—I shared it with my tribe (a.k.a. my book club gals a.k.a. my best pals). I let them read it one by one without sharing any of my reactions. They were able to sum up part of what was bothering me—it’s not really a review. It’s more like a poorly constructed movie trailer. After looking at it with this new light, my disappointment turned to anger and frustration.

I read the review again. And again. I still find it hard to believe that out of the roughly 114k words in the entire novel, the two quotes they pulled were: “Every part of you is so sweet, and you taste the best after you’ve been beaten.” and “It’s going to be a lot of fun killing you.” Really? Couldn’t the reviewer find any other impactful quotes?

Through these rereads I realized what bothered me most about the review: It reads as a personal reaction to the book. While I never expected everyone to like SHATTERED ANGEL, I did at least expect that a paid review from Kirkus would be a bit more editorial. As a matter of fact, the review shows up on some sites in the ‘Editorial Review’ section. I’d say that means this one expectation of mine was fairly realistic.

But instead of a thoughtful editorial review, I got what feels like a knee-jerk emotional response.

Then it clicked for me. That’s exactly what I wanted. I’ve always said that the worst possible response a reader could have to my work is indifference. I want to cause an emotional reaction. And I especially wanted SHATTERED ANGEL to stir up a whole mess of emotions.

SHATTERED ANGEL is about human trafficking. The people who are involved in the industry are monstrous. The victims are imprisoned and enslaved permanently—because even if they are able to escape, their lives will forever be changed. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to a repetition of horrors. They have to endure countless rapes, assaults, humiliations, and beatings. It is an unrelentingly grotesque reality that is beyond redemption. Human trafficking is lurid and repulsive and is certainly more than a tale of torture for those who live it—it’s reality.

All the highlighted words in the paragraph above are included in the Kirkus review for Shattered Angel. So I’d say I actually hit the mark quite effectively. It just seems the reviewer wasn’t able to look past their own discomfort to realize that they did indeed learn quite a bit.

I no longer look at this as a negative review. In my opinion, it’s just a bad review. Which stings when I think about the hefty chunk of change I had to give them for it. But at least I know I was able to stir up a reaction in the person who read it. I hope it’s a reaction that sticks with them and drives them to do anything they can to help put a stop to human trafficking.

And I think I’ll stick to the unpaid reviews for use in my promotional materials.

~ Carrie

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2 Comments

  1. I think a real review should offer a take on what would have made the work better. I am honest enough to say that I can’t digest this subject matter very well-it haunts me. Reading this review makes me think the person who wrote it may not be so forth coming. It sounds like the reviewer had expectations of less realistic material

    • I agree. It was a subject matter that was very difficult for me to write about, so I totally understand. Like you said, maybe the reviewer expected the afterschool special version of this topic, rather than the Law and Order: SVU version I wrote.

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