“So, um, well, will you give it a read...please?”
Here at Kirkus, we pay a lot of attention to our last lines. So do our readers. I have heard multiple readers say that they just skip to the end of a review to get the Kirkus verdict, then they go back to the beginning to read how we arrived at it. Knowing this, we put a lot of effort into that last line.
When we love a book, we try to pour all our emotion into it. The review of M.T. Anderson’s savagely brilliant Feed concludes, “The crystalline realization of this wildly dystopic future carries in it obvious and enormous implications for today’s readers—satire at its finest.” “Transcendent” teases readers to discover what we so admire about Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson’s Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. And the simple, eternal reader’s wish for “more, please” sums up our feelings about Gerald Morris and Aaron Renier’s The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great. (Happily for us, there were: a whole clutch of Knights’ Tales.)
Similarly, we don’t hide our feelings when they are on the other end of the spectrum. “Utter dreck; even the most devoted fans of the series will feel cheated,” we declared of Vampire Mountain, the fourth in horrormeister Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak series. This led to a memorable publicity campaign at an American Library Association conference; Little Brown employees proudly wore and handed out buttons that read, “Ask Me about ‘Utter Dreck’.”
With our website redesign in January, though, last lines have taken on an even greater importance than before, as they are used as callout lines in many views. Many older children’s and teen reviews, written before the last line became part of Kirkus’ signature style, have, um, let’s say, “less than compelling” final lines.
Our review of Charlotte’s Web concludes with this tongue-twisting, not-particularly-conclusive line: “The three way chats, in which they are joined by other animals, about web spinning, themselves, other humans—are as often informative as amusing, and the whole tenor of appealing wit and pathos will make fine entertainment for reading aloud, too.”
Evidently written in a time before the concept of spoiler alerts, our review of Lloyd Alexander’s The High King renders reading the book moot: “[Taran] takes earth, fulfilling by his deeds the prophecy in the Book of Three; Eilonwy gives up her magic to be his bride.” (If you haven’t read the book or, indeed, the whole of the Chronicles of Prydain, erase that sentence from your memory and pick them up; they are totally worth it.)
Nonfiction in particular seems to get short shrift, as that last line has been an easy place to put all the information about backmatter that’s important to mention but doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else. Our review of Natalie Bober’s Countdown to Independence concludes by stating, “Excellent documentation includes index (not seen), chronology, reference notes, list of characters, and an extensive bibliography.” This might thrill a documentation nut but likely won’t pull in the lay reader quite the same way the second-to-last line might: “Stimulating, lively, and informative.”
Ideally, the last line should encapsulate Kirkus’ opinion and provide some conclusive guidance for our readers, all in a few, artful words. It’s a little like writing haiku: harder than it sounds. All of this takes me to some favorite recent last lines:
“Popcorn fun for the brain-munching set,” we said of a recent undead romp, Zombies Don’t Forgive, by Rusty Fischer.
Of Obsidian Mirror, by Catherine Fisher, a complex and far-from-standalone opener to a new fantasy series, we wrote, “Readers will be dazzled, captivated, frustrated and desperate for the next installment.”
And of Mary Wrightly, So Politely, by Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Maria Monescillo, a picture book about a little girl who’s almost too soft-spoken for her own good, we conclude hopefully: “So, um, well, will you give it a read...please?”
Who can resist that?
Vicky Smith is the children’s and teen editor at Kirkus Reviews.