VOYA Review Codes, Mind Your Qs and Ps

VOYA is unique among review journals in many ways, and one of the most important and obvious is our method of rating books.  VOYA uses a system we call “Qs and Ps.”  The Qs and Ps system includes a grade-level interest/recommendation code.  These ratings are based loosely on age groups, and include a designation for titles of interest to reluctant or struggling readers.

Based upon a 1 to 5 scale (1 is lowest, 5 is highest), reviewers assign their book a rating for the Quality of the title, and a rating for the Perceived popularity the book will have among young adult readers.  The grade-level ratings range from middle school through new adult.

Before discussing the different things to consider before assigning any rating, let’s chat about why this Qs and Ps system is beneficial to our readers.  Many librarians, teacher librarians, and other YA educators have very little time to read the entirety of more than 175 reviews. They often know exactly what type of title they are looking for and for which age group. The designations VOYA provides at the top of each review allow our readers to skim through the reviews section, looking for exactly what they need right then. The additional benefits of the yellow highlighting for any 5 rating and the designation for Graphic Format make it even easier for our readers to find the best books for their collections.

Every reviewer has, should have, or will have a bookmark that has quick and easy references for each rating for both Q and P, as well as the grade-level recommendations.  Refer to this handy-dandy explanation whenever you need it.  (Don’t have one??  LET ME KNOW!)

Assigning a Q(uality) Rating

There is a never-ending list of possible issues that will affect the Quality rating of a title—as many issues are there are individual reviewers.  To help you as you are thinking about what you will assign a title for its Quality overall, here are a few things to think about:

  • Is the writing fluid, easy to follow, and structurally sound?
  • Is the language in the writing beautiful, authentic, organic to the story?
  • Is the plot interesting and easy to follow?
  • Are the main characters easy to identify with, authentic, engaging?
  • Are the characters well developed— including secondary characters? Do they grow through the story?
  • Is the main conflict interesting, relatable, direct, and easy to identify?
  • Does the story offer some kind of hope by the end?
  • Is the story unique in its genre?
  • Does the author present an old trope but in a new, fresh manner?
  • Will readers want the story to continue—to stay with the characters in their world longer?
  • Is the timing/flow of the plot easy to follow, does it make sense for the type of story being told?
  • Does the tale seem “honest” in its telling?
  • Does the author “show” and not “tell?”
  • Are the relationships among characters complex and deep?
  • Does the story hook readers in some way—the plot, the characters, the action, the writing style?
  • Are there any major flaws in the writing, in the plot, in characters’ actions or words?
  • Are there disconnects/interruptions in the story that detract from the reading?
  • Is the writing style difficult to read, unappealing to teens?

Of course, these are just some examples of things to think about. You, as the reader of the book, keeping in mind the perspective of a young adult, may find other issues that you believe are relevant to your assignment of a rating.

Most importantly, be sure your words in the review body  support your choice for Quality rating.

Assigning a P(erceived Popularity) Rating

How can you decide whether a story you just read will be popular—and to what degree—among young adult readers?  Because you KNOW a whole lot of young adult readers, and you know what they like and what they don’t.  You read a lot of YA titles, and you know what is popular and what isn’t.  Trust your judgment when it comes to the Perceived popularity rating.  But, also consider these, and other, issues:

  • Is this a fast-moving story with action?
  • Is the story realistic for teens?
  • Does the story address issues that teens want to know about?
  • Is the story edgy?
  • Is there a hopeful ending—realistic, but also allowing some hope?
  • Is this a particularly popular type of story RIGHT NOW?
  • Will teens relate to the main characters?
  • Is this author the “author of the moment?”
  • Is the writing didactic, or condescending?
  • Is the plot so engaging teens will want to stay up reading it, not put it down until the end?
  • Does the story engage the reader right away and not let go until the resolution?
  • Does the book address emotional/social issues that teens deal with?

There are certainly other issues to consider, and these are just to help you if you are unsure about your Perceived popularity rating.

Let’s Talk about 2P vs. 4P:  Not all genre-specific titles will necessitate a 2P rating.  If a title is in a very popular genre, and has wide appeal in its plot, characters, and themes, it can be assigned a 3P or a 4P.  The 2P rating is for titles that have a very specific appeal to a very specific audience.  For instance, a book featuring a female protagonist whose entire life revolves around kick-boxing might merit a 2P, if the whole story involves her kick-boxing career.

Assigning Grade-level Ratings

The first issue to state here is that reviewers are not required to assign grade-level interest based upon the publisher’s stated age level for any title. Your discretion is much more valuable to VOYA readers than what the publisher indicates. VOYA’s grade-level rating options are Middle school, Junior high, Senior high, NA (new adult), Reluctant/struggling reader, and A/YA (adult-marketed book with cross-over YA appeal).  If the title is a graphic novel, include the G.

Your bookmark with the one-sentence explanations of the ratings includes age ranges for each level as well.  These are approximations, but may be useful to you in deciding which level to use.

Here are the things to keep in mind when assigning the grade-level interest:

  • How old is the protagonist? YA readers like to read “up.”
  • Are there content issues—graphic sex scenes, graphic violence, underage drug or alcohol abuse, rape—that would make the story appropriate for a reader who has the emotional and cognitive maturity to process such material?
  • Is the theme of interest to a particular age or maturity level?
  • What grade-levels would be most interested in the story?
  • What attributes of the story can you point to that support your choice for grade-level interest? Test yourself.
  • Are you leveling up because of your own biases about what certain age YAs should read about, or should know about? Or are you basing your choices on actual teen experiences and YA lives?

These are just examples. You will have reasons for your choices, and your review should reflect those reasons with informative examples from the book.

Reluctant/Struggling Readers:  This indicator is to let VOYA readers know that a book has characteristics that are relevant to these readers.  Here’s a partial list of those characteristics:

*        Is the book hi/lo?

*        Are there short, easy to read sentences?

*        Are the chapters short?

*        Is the book visually unintimidating – large font, wide margins?

*        Is the action quick and often?

*        Is the subject timely and engaging?

(A/YA) Adult-marketed, cross-over appeal:  This is a designation ONLY for adult-marketed books that will be of interest to young adults. It DOES NOT indicate that an adult will also love a YA title.  At VOYA, we assume adults love YA titles!  If you review an A/YA title, you must also include the grade-level interest of the young adults who will appreciate the title.

NO CODES REQUIRED

Two types of titles reviewed in VOYA do not get codes at all.  Those are:

  • Reference materials (titles that won’t leave the library/classroom)
  • Professional titles (for librarians, teachers, parents)

These titles require reviews that completely explain for whom the title is intended, what is covered in the title, and for what the title should be used.  The reviews for these types of titles should be self-contained, and should not have a need for a code to be assigned.  The codes VOYA uses are not designed to evaluate these titles.  Within your second paragraph, let VOYA readers know all the details they need to make a decision about that title—especially if a previously published title of the same subject handles the topic better or more completely.  This could save a librarian money!

DO I HAVE A PERFECT 10?!

Books that get both a 5Q and a 5P are called VOYA Perfect 10s.  These books are the ones that are the equivalent of titles like  Harry Potter and The Hunger Games in terms of their stellar quality and immediate, enduring, and unquestionable popularity.

Perfect 10s are the best of the best of the best.  A 5Q and a 5P should be given very judiciously, and very infrequently.  If you read a fantabulous, amazing, incredible book and wrote a glowing review, giving it a 5Q and a 5P, and send it to me, I will wait a period of time (for your adrenaline rush to subside from reading this fantastic book).  Then, I will email you to discuss if you truly still believe this is the best of the best of the best.  I will ask you to defend your decision, and I will let you know if your written review reflects the highest award VOYA gives to books.

If your written review does not reflect a Perfect 10 rating, I will ask you to rewrite parts of it to better demonstrate your opinion if you are still sure the title is a 10.

If your review contains criticism (could have had better xyz; parts were confusing, etc)—IT IS NOT A PERFECT 10.

There is no shame in admitting that maybe you were too excited right after reading it and maybe it’s really a 4Q 5P, or a 5Q 4P, or whatever.  We have all felt the thrill of reading a terrific book and wanted to shout to the world that it is the best book ever written.  Then, after a couple days, we realize that maybe it isn’t THE BEST book ever written – but it sure is a great book.

If you are consistently sending me reviews with Perfect 10 ratings, we will need to discuss your enthusiasm, and perhaps adjust your expectations a notch higher.

THIS BOOK IS JUST PLAIN TERRIBLE!

So, you’ve slogged through a book that is just awful, because you are a committed and awesome reviewer.  You read it, and now you must write the review.  But, this book has almost nothing to recommend it.  It’s very poorly written, hardly edited at all, and no young adult is going to read it, no matter what you promise as a reward.  Is it worth reviewing at all?

That depends.  Is the title from a large publisher with tons of great YA books?  Is it written by an author that most have come to expect great titles from?  Is it a sequel to a good book?  Is it part of a series that has been pretty good so far?

VOYA does publish reviews that alert our readers to a book that is just plain not worth purchasing.  Our readers deserve this information if it will be useful to them.  So, if you come across a 1Q 1P or a 1Q 2P title that you are assigned to review, email me before you write the review.  Let’s figure out if a review is warranted.

Go forth and review a book for VOYA – just mind your Qs and Ps!

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