Let’s Talk: Tough Topic Tales

Recently, I read The Suffering Tree by Elle Cosimano. A few pages in, I ran into a bit of a dilemma which continued through the whole story. The protagonist deals with self-harm throughout the book. While the topic itself didn’t bother me, the way it was handled did (you can read more about it in my review.) But, it brought up an interesting question; should we hold books that cover tough topics to a higher standard than others, and, if so, how do we make sure the review is still fair?

I’ll be honest; I devoured The Suffering Tree. I read the whole thing from start to finish in a single day. For the most part, I enjoyed the story (though I did have some issues aside from the self-harm). Even with all that, I couldn’t bring myself to rate it any higher than 2/5 stars, because I felt the issue of self-harm was handled so poorly.

After a few days, once there was some distance between me and my initial review, I started asking myself if that was fair. I didn’t hate the book, after all. And there were some good aspects of it. I might have given it a (slightly) higher rating had the self-harm not been present. Was it fair for me to give it a lower rating, even though the story itself was pretty good? But I couldn’t get it out of my head that, as a book written for teens (the age group that seems to struggle most with issues of self-harm), someone should have pushed it to address the issue in a better way.

In this case, I decided to stick my original review, but I think it’s an important question to ask, especially since it seems more and more books (and other mediums) are being published that deal with some tough issues, whether it be self-harm, suicide, abuse, discrimination or something else entirely. And the fact that these topics are being discussed in literature is, I think, a good thing, but sometimes it’s handled poorly, and it’s something we should be ready for.


So what do you think? Have you run into a book that handled a tough topic poorly (or maybe really well)? How should we review books that tackle tough issues? Let me know your thoughts on the topic in the comments below!

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6 thoughts on “Let’s Talk: Tough Topic Tales

  1. I think a review/rating should reflect on EVERY aspect of the book, and I’m not just talking about the writing, world building and every other technical aspect, but also how the book made you feel. I mean, a book can be brilliant, but maybe it’s not for you. Will you rate it higher because you know it deserves it, even though you didn’t feel like it did?
    When a book includes something that makes you feel uncomfortable and visibly affects your reading experience, despite being pretty stellar on everything else, should you ignore that part of it and just focus on the better ones? I personally don’t think so. If the self harm aspect and how it was handled made you feel like you should give the book a lower rating, I think that’s what needed to happen. It’s there, it bothered you, it shouldn’t be ignored.
    Amazing post, Ryann! And kudos for keeping your original review 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!

      I hadn’t even thought of it in terms of the first part of your comment, but that’s a great way to think of it, and definitely makes me feel a lot better about keeping my review!

      As far as it making me feel uncomfortable, I had very similar thoughts when I decided to keep my original review, though you definitely phrased it a lot better than I did!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great topic! I say always stick with your original thoughts when rating a book. Now I will say that, especially in the realm of mental health, everyone is different. How they deal with it, experience it, heal from it, etc. So not every book dealing with self harm or depression will be all the same. But after reading your review it sounds like self harm was the focal point and then all of a sudden- nothing. And I as a reader would have probably liked to hear how she finally did learn to manage the compulsion. Hard topics are so difficult! They are usually very personal and everyone can react to them differently. What I loved someone else won’t like, and so on. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!

      Those are pretty much my thoughts, too! I don’t want someone to not read a book just because I personally didn’t like one piece of it. But at the same time, I figured I needed to stay true to my impressions of the book, because you never know how people will react to tough topics like self-harm.

      Liked by 1 person

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