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!