Reading is an extremely, extremely personal activity. As it’s often said, no one ever read the same book twice—each of us brings into a book our own perspectives, values, preferences, belief systems, and experiences, all of which determine how we perceive a book and its contents. This is why opinions are largely subjective, and this is why I can love a book you hate, and I can hate a book you love.
Personally I’m really quite stingy with giving five-star ratings to books. Out of all the 679 books on my Goodreads ‘Read’ shelf, I’ve only rated 41 books five stars—that’s a rate of 6%! That sounds pretty low, doesn’t it?
Stinginess aside, what does a book have to have for you to rate it five stars? How does a book make that jump from ‘great’ to ‘WONDERFUL’, all caps? Where is the difference between a four-star book and a five-star book?
My review policy dictates that a five-star book “gets 90-99% of things right” and has an “interesting plot that stays away from cliches, or uses cliches but with (believable) twists”. They also need “realistic, flawed characters who have just enough to love”, are written in “a unique writing style”, and will probably end up in my ‘To Read Again’ list.
Generally speaking, every book that fulfils this criteria should end up in my five-star list, but it’s really not that simple. To receive five stars for me, a book has to be…
My number one reason for reading, most of the time, is for pleasure. Regardless of how diverse the characters, how interesting the plot, how prolific the author, if a book isn’t enjoyable to me 90% of the time I’m reading it, it most likely won’t get five stars from me.
2) Equipped with a likeable—if not interesting—protagonist.
I actually don’t need to like the protagonist to enjoy the book, but it very certainly helps when I don’t feel like shaking them and instead actually root for them! If nothing else, a likeable protagonist at least ensures that I care for them and want them to reach their goals, which means that right off the bat, I care about the story.
The greatest sin if I dislike the main character and find them boring. No matter how stellar the rest of the book is (plot, setting, pacing, etc.), if I’m not interested in the main character and couldn’t care less about them at all, the book won’t get five stars from me.
Despite not having a favourite quote or saying, I’m a sucker for pretty phrases and quotable lines. Good writing flows well, engages the reader, gets the point across without being too purple prose-y, and generally makes the book really enjoyable to read.
I strongly believe that 80% of ideas in this world are recycled ideas. There’s almost nothing new anymore, especially in fiction, and no matter the genre, there are really only seven basic plots.
‘Unique’ here for me means authentic. A book does not have to be original at all, but it has to offer at least something different to all the other books I’ve read similar to it. This difference could be in having a protagonist with a different personality (i.e. a YA protagonist who’s ridiculously lazy but has to be the leader of a revolution because <insert reason>), a twist to the typical plot (i.e. Cinderella is the evil stepmother), a change of point of view (i.e. having seven POV characters instead of just the typical two), etc.
5) Able to make me feel.
And by ‘feel’, I don’t mean that it has to reduce me to tears or make me laugh until I’m rolling on the floor—I mean very simply feel: happiness, satisfaction, sadness, heartbreak, fear, anxiety, frustration, annoyance, anticipation, etc.
It also doesn’t really matter whether the emotion is positive or negative—what matters is that I feel, because as long as I am feeling something, that means I care, and as long as I care about the book, well… I am a happy reader (though not always a happy person) and am much, much more likely to give it full marks.
What makes you rate a book five stars? Let me know in the comments! ❤