When I learned that he was reviewing True Talents for VOYA, I got a sinking feeling in my gut. Sure enough, the review was far from glowing. (Stick with me – this is not a whining post about a bad review. More is going on here than meets the eye.) Some of the phrases he used struck me as strangely familiar. I went back and checked the only other negative review of True Talents. The two reviews shared an amazing number of phrases. For those of you interested in literary forensics, I present exhibit A:
Kirkus: Eddie Thalmayer, aka Trash, awakens in a locked room, groggy from being overmedicated.
VOYA: Eddie Thalmayer, aka Trash, finds himself in a locked room, groggy and hallucinating from being overmedicated.
Kirkus: Trash sends out a telepathic message for his buddies to rendezvous in Philadelphia
VOYA: Eddie sends out a telepathic message for the guys to rendezvous in Philadelphia
Kirkus: Bowdler, a sadistic adult who seemingly works for the government
VOYA: Bowdler, a sadistic man who might be a government rogue agent
Kirkus: Trash is one of the special power teens from Hidden Talents's Edgeview Alternative School
VOYA: Eddie is one of the special powers teens from Lubar's previous novel, Hidden Talents
Kirkus: Torchie, Cheater, Flinch, Lucky and Martin round out the group
VOYA: Five boys-Torchie, Cheater, Flinch, Lucky, and Martin-are the other students
(The boys are listed in the same order. The odds against this are 120 to 1.)
Kirkus: the teens turn the tables on a deranged adult
VOYA: scheming to turn the tables on Bowdler.
The same person had written both reviews. Or, more accurately, he'd written pretty much the same review twice. (At the very least, VOYA should ask for half their money back.) As I was pondering that, and feeling it was unfair to have to live in a universe where someone could trash you twice, I heard a giant “click” in my brain. Everything went full circle. The discovery of the reused review solved the initial mystery: Why was this guy angry with me? Early last year, I’d posted and circulated a scathing attack on Kirkus and their anonymous reviewers. Bingo – as they say. I hadn’t realized he wrote for Kirkus. Maybe that was why he acted so cold. Maybe he was even the author of the earlier review whose grammar I’d mocked in that post. So, perhaps a mystery is solved.
Can I prove he has a grudge? No. There’s no way to do that. But I know he gave the book a 3Q 3P rating, which, if you are familiar with VOYA’s 1-5 rating system, is absurd. (Hidden Talents got a 5Q 4P, and most reviewers feel True Talents is a better book.) And let’s take a look at one part of the review: “The boys are fifteen but repeatedly carry out juvenile behaviors rather than maturing throughout the story.” Putting aside the quibble that Eddie is 14, the story takes place in a span of less than one week. How much maturing does he expect? No examples of this immature behavior are given. I know that the characters do some amazingly mature things, exhibiting courage and resourcefulness. So this seems pretty much like nothing more than a cheap shot from someone groping for a flaw to attack. (On top of all that, the phrase “carry out juvenile behaviors” is ungrammatical. You don’t carry out behaviors. But I digress.)
The other twice-told criticisms are equally bogus. Ironically, three of them -- the book doesn’t stand alone, there’s not enough action, and the humor is forced -- are all destroyed in a single sentence from the latest review to get posted. This, which I posted here just the other day, is from Genrefluent: “This thriller, a stand alone sequel to Hidden Talents will entice both avid readers and reluctant readers with its fast paced action and clever humor. “ Well said, Ms. Herald.
If you’ve read this far, you might wonder why I don’t just shrug it off, and not risk annoying even more people, including all of this guy’s friends. I’d be smart to let it go. I’ve received tons of great reviews. And, in truth, the combined circulation and influence of VOYA and Kirkus is pretty small. But that’s not the issue. I wanted to speak up for several reasons. First, I feel wonderfully smug that I figured out who wrote the anonymous review. It’s nice to know the name of the person who felt True Talents had “forced humor” and who felt compelled to trivialize the bad guy by comparing him to the principal in Ferris Bueller. If nothing else, we have proof here that anonymity definitely inspires people to be nastier than when they append their name to a review. Hey, R. W., how does the sunlight feel?
Second, as I mentioned, I don’t think it’s fair that a person can take two shots at a book, especially if one of the reviews is anonymous. Third, this could result in far more than two cheap shots. This librarian is often on award committees, so he’ll have plenty of chances to try to do more damage. He was on Quick Picks last year, and he’s on Best Books this year. If he didn’t have a grudge before, I’m pretty sure he’ll have one now. I'd like to hope that any future attacks he makes against my works will be taken with a grain of salt by other committee members. In the long run, I guess I really shouldn’t care what he did or what he might do. My book is a whole lot more enjoyable, and honest, than his review. And it’s not a rehash of something else I wrote.