The worst review, by Deb Sarah

I was having dinner with my husband, another couple, and our five combined young boys at a casual outdoor restaurant in Charlottesville, Va., one evening last month. The kids were restless from being cooped up in the minivan on the long drive from D.C., and excited to see their friends. It was late – around 8:30 – and only one other family was dining nearby, so manners were, shall we say, sliding a bit. One of my boys got ketchup on his hand and dramatically said, “I’m bleeding!” There was, I believe, some discussion about burps. Our kids gobbled a few bites, then raced around the closed-off street surrounding the restaurant.

I kept glancing at the other family – a husband, wife, and college-aged daughter – to make sure they weren’t annoyed, but instead, they were laughing at our boys. I sighed in relief, because it meant I could eat dinner, rather than rein in my boys with the threat of no ice cream unless they sat quietly at the table for another half-hour.

Later that night, we bumped into the nice family on our hotel elevator. “Are you here for the book festival?” I asked. We reached our floor and our boys took off – presumably to go wait outside our room.

The man nodded: “Are you authors?” he asked.

“Yes, but you wouldn’t have heard of me,” I said. “I’m a debut author, and my name’s Sarah Pekkanen.”

He blinked. “I assigned your book for a review.”

Turns out it was Ron Charles – book editor for The Washington Post. But before I could respond, my oldest son came tearing around the corner – shirtless – with my middle boy in hot pursuit.

It wasn’t my most professional of moments, but here’s the good new: Ron Charles is a really nice guy.

Still, even if we’d annoyed him, it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference in my review (which he only assigned; he didn’t write it). I was lucky that the Post reviewer liked my book – but if she hadn’t, here’s what I would’ve told myself: A review is one person’s opinion on one day.

That person might’ve just broken up with her boyfriend. Or stepped in a mud puddle in brand-new shoes. Stubbed her toe, or argued with her boss. Or he might’ve won a scratch-off lottery ticket, sold his novel, or gotten the cute girl from the coffeeshop. Or even all three.

The fact of the matter is, none of us can control who reviews our books – or what mood that person is in when he or she cracks the spine and reads the first line.  And so before I started getting reviews, I gave myself a little talk (though not in public. People run away from me when I do that).

I told myself I’d get a horrible review and everyone I knew would see it. It would happen to run on the day of my high school reunion, and people would call to make sure I’d seen it, then surround me at my reunion while making sympathetic clucking noises with their tongues. Helpful folks would post in on my Facebook page, with frowning-faced emoticons. The review would very likely go viral.

And you know what? I’d survive it (just like I survived that spiral perm gone very wrong in 10th grade).

Because most people forget the wording of reviews – they remember seeing the book cover and the general description. So even bad press isn’t really bad press.

13 Replies to “The worst review, by Deb Sarah”

  1. OK, this is hilarious, both the run-in with Ron Charles (who I very much enjoy following on Twitter) and the frowny-face emoticons and the disastrous spiral perm.

    I wrote my own negative review as a way to brace myself! Then the worst review I did get was even worse than that. But, like I said yesterday, the dread of the bad review, for me, turned out to be worse than the reality.

  2. I loved reading this. So funny.

    Thankfully, it’s been my general experience that the anticipation I feel leading up to a dreaded event is much worse than the dreaded event itself.

    And Sarah had nothing to worry about: the Washington Post loved The Opposite of Me. “Spot-on portrayal of the existential dilemmas of young adulthood.” That’s some high praise. Kudos!

  3. Oh, Sarah,
    This was not only humorous but helpful! At my book launch party, as I was reading, my five year old got on stage and started playing the keyboard. I turned to see, and thought, “Oh, Wow!” Turns out that everyone in attendance thought it was part of the grand scheme. Gotta love kids!

    I can’t wait to read The Opposite of Me! I’m glad that it’s doing so well. Kudos!

  4. Sarah, just finished you book. Enjoyed it very much. My guess how it would end was wrong and, of course, I like that a lot.

    Once, at one of my art shows, I stood next a young woman and studied the painting she was looking at.

    She didn’t know I was the artist and I said, “It’s not very good.”

    She said, “I know. My boyfriend is an art major and he said the same thing.”



  5. Greg: Oh my you’re brave! I would never start a conversation that way–too many people want to agree that they might say something negative even if they *do* like it! (I’m impressed you can see the humor in the response enough to post it 🙂

    Sarah–I have always been tempted by spiral perms; you have cured me!

  6. Kristina, that’s a great idea to brace yourself (though your reviews have been lovely!)
    And Alicia & Jen many thanks!
    Michelle – I bet your son helped book sales!
    Greg, that is hysterical… but having seen your work I have to disagree!
    Lisa & Larramie – thank you for reading!
    Jud – I’m going to post those clips soon!
    And Emily: Beware the spiral perm. It was not my friend!!

  7. Very funny! The thing I always remind myself is that there are books with great reviews that I can’t read and books with bad reviews that I kind of like or even really like. It’s all subjective.

  8. Sarah…here is my most favorite quote regarding reviews…criticism..etc.

    “If nobody ever objected to a book, it would probably mean the book had nothing to say.” -Lois Lowry

    I try to remember that when I have to write a tough review and hopefully for the future when (fingers crossed) I will be on the other end!


    P.S. On a positive note I was asked to write an article for our local Columbia digital magazine about Summer Reads…my article is entitled: “Stylish Summer Reading” and includes you! The mag is very fashionable, edgy and completely stylish…I will e-mail you the link when the issue comes out beginning of May!

  9. I loved this post: the wild boys at the restaurant, the spiral perm, the self-pep-talk–are you sure we aren’t long lost BFFs? Sarah, this post was a breath of fresh air for someone who has a book in the pipeline. My husband is already prepping me for an emotional rollercoaster!! 🙂 xo

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