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By the time one is in high school and from that time forward, a book report assignment will have evolved far from the simple plot summary of earlier years.  It will now be necessary to incorporate a number of the book’s features, in order to demonstrate the ability to analyze and evaluate a major written work, whether it is fiction or non-fiction.

Book Report on Works of Fiction

All works of fiction have the same elements – setting, characters, plot, theme, and point of view.  In a secondary or college level book review, these should all be addressed.

Setting:  When and where the novel is set can be a critical element of a major narrative work.  The setting is often critical to the theme and characters the author develops, as well as the conflict(s) that are introduced, developed and, ultimately, resolved.  Consider, for example the Hawthorne novel, Moby Dick.  In order to develop the credibility of the conflict of man vs. nature, and in order to make the ultimate destruction of the ship believable, it had to be set in Hawthorne’s own time – a time when vessels were subject to the whims of nature.  On the other hand, a novel such as Orwell’s 1984 had to be set in the future, in order to posit his themes.

Characters:  Characters have to be credible, and major figures have to undergo transformations as a novel plot progresses. What does the main character learn in the course of the plot development?  How do these changes in major characters promote the author’s theme?

Plot:  The plot is the backdrop for the author’s theme.  There must be a conflict(s) which develops through rising action, a climax and, ultimately, a resolution.  Be certain that you can speak to these elements of a plot in your book report writing.

Themes:  There is at least one theme, possibly more, in a lengthy work of fiction.  What statements are being made by the author?  Is s/he speaking to some aspect of human nature?  Is there an age-old theme of good vs. evil?  Often, it helps to review what others have said about the work, in order to develop a full understanding of the theme(s).

Point-of-View:  Authors use, first, second or third person narratives for a reason.  In Moby Dick, for example, the story is told by the lone survivor of the tale – a first person narrative.  In others, such as The Great Gatsby, a third-person narrative is more effective.  It is important to explain why the author has used a specific point-of-view.

Analysis:  A good book report provides an analysis of characters, plot, and themes.  Without this analysis, the review becomes nothing more than a summary, and this would be the expectation in elementary school only.  If you are struggling with an analysis, read what others have said about the book, before you begin to develop your own thoughts and insights.  

Non-Fiction Book Report Writing

Lacking a plot, the non-fiction work focuses on issues, people, events, etc. that are real.  When reviewing these works, it is crucial to understand the author’s purpose – to inform, to persuade, to teach, or to entertain.  This type of book report will include the following:

  1. A theme statement that includes the general point of the book and the author’s purpose for writing it.
  2. A brief summary of the content, usually easily obtained by the chapters or sections of the book.
  3. Analysis:  Did the author provide the information necessary for reader comprehension?  Was the writing clear, coherent and interesting?  Do you have increased comprehension of the topic by having read this work?  If the author’s purpose was to persuade you, was s/he successful?

Book reports generally follow the basic structure of an essay.  An introduction should include the introduction of the theme(s) and an opening statement about the author’s effectiveness in developing the theme.  The body paragraphs should each address one element of the narrative.  Conclusions should include your own reflections and evaluations of the work itself. 

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