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This novel is a glowing portrayal of Israel’s early days. Now it’s being ‘review-bombed’ on Goodreads

Author Talia Carner condemned critics who described her forthcoming novel, ‘The Boy With the Star Tattoo,’ as Israeli ‘propaganda’ — but she agrees that she’s written a Zionist book

Talia Carner found out about the Goodreads reviews when her friends started calling to check in. 

An Israeli-born former magazine editor and historical fiction author, Carner was preparing to release her latest title, The Boy With the Star Tattoo, set largely in Israel in the aftermath of WWII. Ahead of the novel’s release in late January, she wasn’t expecting to see much activity on Goodreads, an immensely popular platform that allows users to share ratings and reviews of their favorite books. 

But after a TikTok highlighted the book’s Zionist themes and Carner’s personal pro-Israel activism, she received a wave of negative ratings and reviews. The incident is just the latest example of the phenomenon of “review-bombing,” or attempts to tank a book’s rating on Goodreads, which has vexed authors as the platform becomes an increasingly important metric of success. 

The Boy With the Star Tattoo focuses on Youth Aliyah, a branch of the Zionist movement that started bringing children to Mandatory Palestine in the 1930s and facilitated the immigration of 15,000 child Holocaust survivors after WWII. It also touches on an incident in 1969 in which the Israeli military seized several naval ships it had purchased from France after the country halted their transport during an arms embargo. 

In December, a British TikToker with a substantial following, who posts about books, criticized the novel for portraying IDF soldiers as “heroes” and failing to address the Nakba, the Arabic term for the mass displacement of Palestinians during the creation of the state of Israel. The video also highlighted the fact that Carner served in the IDF, and pointed out her social media posts in support Israel and its military. 

“I want to emphasize that books that center the Jewish experience of the Holocaust and its implications are vitally important,” the TikToker said. “However, to platform this author, promote this book, and encourage others like myself to do so while Israel openly commits genocide on the Palestinian people, is appalling.”

Author Talia Carner condemned the “review-bombing” campaign targeting her most recent novel. Courtesy of Talia Carner

Around the same time, the novel started to receive negative Goodreads ratings. Most of the 52 one-star ratings were not accompanied by a review, but about a dozen users left comments saying that the novel promoted Zionist ideology. One accused the novel of trying sanitize [sic] the mass forced displacement and genocide of Palestinians by Israel.” Another simply said, “a big NOPE- we don’t support zi*nist propaganda.”

For her part, Carner agreed that The Boy With the Star Tattoo is a Zionist book. But she felt that many of the negative reviews constituted hate speech and reported them as such to Goodreads, explaining to the platform her belief that comments like “Free Palestine” amount to a call to “kill all the Jews and take the land.” (Palestinian advocates have rejected accusations that such popular slogans promote antisemitism or violence against Jews.)

Carner said she did not receive any response from Goodreads. Based on screenshots obtained by the Forward, at least one negative review had been removed. In a statement, Goodreads said it does not comment on individual cases. 

High-profile review-bombing controversies have roiled the publishing community. In 2023, the bestselling novelist Elizabeth Gilbert pulled a novel set in Russia from publication after a flood of angry Goodreads reviewers accused the book of being anti-Ukrainian. In December, a fantasy writer about to publish her first novel faced backlash after admitting to review-bombing several other fantasy writers without having read their books.

Compared to the furor surrounding Gilbert’s novel, opposition to The Boy With the Star Tattoo has been relatively modest. But as Carner’s supporters found out about the negative reviews, they started their own counter-campaign, leaving five-star ratings and glowing comments on the novel’s Goodreads page. As of publication, the novel has 169 five-star ratings — and its publication date is still over a week away. 

Carner said she is lobbying Jewish groups and literary organizations to take action against the platform. “Goodreads, as open as it wanted to be, has to change the way it manages itself,” she said.

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