I am a liar. I can’t be any more honest than that. Of course, you probably already know that I tell my truths in stories that are fiction, but always reveal the deeper things that I am really talking about.
This last weekend I was bitterly disappointed by a Pubby review. It was disappointing because, although the reader read the whole book, he or she obviously didn’t understand the themes of it. The reader recognized that the story was well written, but instead of judging the overall message of the book, the reader seized on a detail of the plot and accused me of writing a book that depicted twelve-year-olds having sex.
The book, Sing Sad Songs, is not about that at all. In the story the girl and boy are talking about a dream they shared. They are talking about it in private. But it is not a sex dream. At that point there is no mention of sex at all. But during the discussion, they share their first kiss. The boy kisses the girl first. She then kisses him back, even more passionately, and he puts his tongue in her mouth. Shocked, she pulls away. She asks what they are doing.
He tells her they are probably making love. Then he says he knows a way to do it that can’t make you pregnant. Using their mouths. They discuss whether they want to go further. They are about to choose not to when the girl closes and locks the door. There the scene ends. There the Reader stopped enjoying the book and instead started planning a review that listed all of my crimes in the novel.
The Reader decided to be offended again when the act is discussed again between characters. There is a scene when the three narrators of the book decide whether or not they should include such personal and private stuff in the story. And the girl later turns to her older female friend, a high-school girl who already has a boyfriend she is intending to marry. They talk about sex one more time, and the older girl tells her the important thing is to be honest with the boy in question and especially with herself. This last discussion is, I think, the most important part of the whole theme. It is a theme about being honest about how you feel. The girl is getting advice from someone who is older and wiser, telling her to be more careful and to be honest with the boy about it.
The Reader feels that my truth in this book is a crime and somehow unacceptable. The Reader wrote a toxic review that not only shames my book, but questions the reading ability of a former teacher who left the previous review and dared to suggest that my book was good enough for school libraries.
I love this book. It is one of the best things I have ever written. I wrote it very carefully. I knew when I left this plot detail in the book that I was taking a risk from blue-nosed old ladies. (I don’t actually know the gender of the Reader, who reviews everything under the name Reader.) Now the risk has snapped on me. I already went back and updated the novel. All I had to do was take out the oral sex suggestion and make the particular conflict in those three chapters be about the “French Kiss” using his tongue. A few sentences rewritten and a handful of different words chosen make a big difference. But even at its worst, the book was not explicitly describing underaged sex. It was not without a moral lesson attached, and it was really not intentional pornography. I got unlucky and triggered the censorship instincts of this Reader. And Amazon did not allow me to comment on this review, not even to say I had changed the part that offended the Reader.
And what’s worse, the toxic review will not only turn away potential readers, it will affect further Pubby reviews. Pubby expects the reader to buy the book (for a verified review) and then turn it into a book review in only four days. Not all readers on Pubby are as determined to read the whole book carefully as I am… and the Reader who zapped me is. They will, for the most part, look at the existing reviews and skim through the book or not even read it. I got one review on Recipes for Gingerbread Children for an excellent cook book, even though it is listed as a YA fiction novel. (Amazon already removed that review, as apparently the reviewer didn’t actually buy the book either. I didn’t get value for value on that one.) My only hope is that actual readers will take care of business through Pubby, reading this now-sanitized book before the average of reviews totally bottom out.
Looking on the bright side, Pubby has gotten me a good rating on Amazon as a book reviewer. I have 43 citations for helpful reviews. I always include information from the book to prove I read it, specifically talk about the things I liked or didn’t like about the book without spoiling anything for future readers, and clearly either recommend or not recommend the book. I have reviewed some terrible books. But not once did I ever leave a book-killing review like this one that now makes me sad. And I can’t argue that the reviewer did not do his or her job. Just that he or she was rather unkind.