Behind the shadows of famed dancers and comedians, the past year has seen the rise of a TikTok phenomenon known as “Booktok.” Despite only making up a small portion of the app’s users, the self-named community of avid readers and writers has surprising influence, routinely resurrecting years-old novels and allowing them a moment of glorious fame. During their time in the spotlight, fans give these books the star treatment, constantly discussing and debating favorite characters, plotlines, relationships and possible new content, all the while relentlessly promoting the novel to thousands of new readers.
As with all recommendations, it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually hit a bad one. While Tahereh Mafi’s “Shatter Me” series is evidently a fan-favorite, it’s decidedly not for me. The plot might be attractive and easy to pick up, but overall it feels dull and utterly predictable. Mafi’s endlessly-hyped character came across rather uninspired and cliché. The series seemed to fall into the sticky trap of post-“Hunger Games” mediocre YA science-fiction that strived and failed to duplicate Suzanne Collins’ success. Being one of the first recommendations I picked up from TikTok, the quality of “Shatter Me” was definitely discouraging and a poor representation of the Booktok community’s potential.
“The Cruel Prince” series, written by Holly Black, seemed to be a very low risk, medium reward situation. Black’s storytelling was easy to become invested in, and her plots are filled with exciting twists that hook the reader’s attention. The characters were a great balance of charming and infuriating, albeit a touch basic. However, I found the objective quality of the books wasn’t quite as high as my enjoyment level; they just seemed to lack that tantalizing, thought-provoking quality that all of my favorites hold. While I’m not sure this series deserves quite so much attention, it does fulfill its role as a satisfying read that would be an ideal warmup for someone just starting out on Booktok.
On the other hand, Leigh Bardugo’s “Six of Crows “ duology is everything a reader could want in a high fantasy series. When the books first rose to popularity in late 2020, the overwhelming wave of glowing reviews pitched my expectations quite high, but Bardugo somehow managed to exceed them. The novels are set in a masterfully crafted world known as the “Grishaverse”, filled with a complex magic system and raw, relatable characters. The plot is constantly shifting, progressing in enticing ways that have the reader hooked from the second chapter. Bardugo incorporates sophisticated, wholly important topics of grief, forgiveness and loyalty, all while tempering any potentially gloomy feel with crackling humor and swoon-worthy relationships. “Six of Crows ” is one of those fantasy worlds that just consumes you, lingering unforgettably in your mind between reads.
Despite its tendency towards mob behavior, Booktok succeeds in its most important goal: encouraging a greater audience to read. Through sharing and popularizing these recommendations, the community romanticizes reading and portrays the joy in reading for pleasure rather than for a dreaded school mandate. With the stress of deciding on a book and finishing within a deadline removed, the reading community has been irrevocably transformed into a grander, more accessible place. I might not pass on every suggestion I’ve received, but the amount of sheer gold unearthed makes the experience irrefutably worthwhile.