In the past year dozens of trends have come in and out of style on TikTok. They vary from makeup to culinary arts and all the way to clothing styles. However, one trend that continually stands out is the original late-2019 #BookTok.
Originally started in 2019 by influencer @kathyellendavis when she shared a series of books she recommended; it caught the attention of many as it was different from the standard TikTok content.
#BookTok has become a constant media spacethrough the efforts of book influencers such as Sara Carrolli and Destiny Sidwell. Their reviews are modern and approach the audience in a casual and warm way, making reading feel like a group activity. This has encouraged millions of teenagers across the platform to start reading; the hashtag #BookTok now has over 121 billion views. It is a space rich in recommendations across all genres and age ranges.
To test the quality and variety of recommendations on #BookTok, I read 5 of the most talked about books of 2023. I ventured across genres such as fantasy, thriller and even tried out a non-fiction memoir.
I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
“A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by iCarly and Sam & Cat star Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor — including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother — and how she retook control of her life.”
Trigger Warnings: Eating Disorders, Sexual Abuse, Mental & Emotional Abuse
McCurdy, Jennette. I’m Glad My Mom Died. Simon & Schuster, 2023.
This is one of the most eye-opening books I have read. Seeing Jennette McCurdy on TV as a child and now reading about the amount of pain she was hiding behind the scenes is astonishing. Her character on iCarly and Sam & Cat was assertive, temperamental and opinionated. However, based on the raw descriptions and brutally honest recounting of her mom’s tight grip on shaping McCurdy’s identity, I am now realising how contrasting her actress persona was compared to her real self.
I am delighted she had the opportunity to write a book of her own because the number of times she relates the restriction her mother placed upon her writing, and being seen as a sidetracking hobby from her acting career was shocking. It gives the book much more meaning and purpose in Jennette’s life.
If you are looking for a memoir that doesn’t hold back on the gruesome details and emotions experienced by child actors in the movie industry then this is a must-read.
When dealing with topics such as eating disorders, I was grateful for the level of detail she included in regard to the thoughts going through her head when approaching food and body image. I think that seeing her fail over and over again at recovering from her self-destructive behaviors and eventually accepting help from professionals was a magnificent show of character development that can help others struggling with body image issues.
It took me less than three days to read, which for a thriller reader like myself is a lot given the non-fiction, ordinary life component of this book. If it wasn’t for #BookTok, I never would have picked up this book, however, it was worth every minute spent reading it. I am in complete awe of this book.
Five Survive by Holly Jackson
“Eighteen-year-old, Red, and her friends are on a road trip in an RV, heading to the beach for Spring Break. It’s a long drive but spirits are high. Until the RV breaks down in the middle of nowhere. There’s no mobile phone reception and nobody around to help. And as the wheels are shot out, one by one, the friends realize that this is no accident. There’s a sniper out there in the dark watching them and he knows exactly who they are. One of the groups has a secret that the sniper is willing to kill for. Not everyone will survive the night.”
(Thriller, Mystery, YA)
Trigger Warnings: Offensive Language, Violence
I read this book in less than 24 hours. If that’s not a statement on the grasp it had on me as a reader, I don’t know what is.
It had every element that made the mystery genre entertaining. Every two or three chapters the author incorporated a plot twist making this book impossible to put down. The level of detail to which this book demands its reader to pay attention makes it beyond engaging.
I felt as though I was within the book, living through everything with the characters. Many thriller authors make the bad decision of including random metaphors in order to add personality to the characters but Jackson rawly describes all that her characters are going through.
Similarly, the variety of characters and the past they have gone through adds nuance to the enclosed and dangerous situation they are in. Each one of their personalities experiences the danger of the night differently, therefore there is definitely at least one character that the reader can relate to at all times.
Finally, the plot was well thought out and premeditated and even though I was fully engulfed in this fictional world, I was not able to guess the plot twist. And don’t believe I didn’t try to. While reading, I took breaks to walk my dogs or eat and every moment was spent talking about the book with those surrounding me in an attempt to crack the mystery. However, I was unsuccessful because the intrigue was simply that beautifully crafted.
This is a must-read. If you didn’t like Jackson’s other book, A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder, I would still recommend reading this because it’s a beautiful artistic creation with a death grip on its readers. #BookTok outdid itself with this recommendation.
Rock, Paper, Scissors by Alice Feeney
“When Adam and Amelia win a weekend away in Scotland, it might be just what their marriage needs. A self-confessed workaholic and screenwriter Adam Wright has lived with face blindness his whole life. He can’t recognize friends or family, or even his own wife. They both know this weekend will make or break their marriage, but they didn’t randomly win this trip. One of them is lying, and someone doesn’t want them to live happily ever after.”
Trigger Warnings: Miscarriage, Animal Abuse
Feeney, Alice. Rock Paper Scissors.FLATIRON BOOKS, 2023.
As a loyal and dedicated thriller reader, I can honestly say this book fell flat for me. I was able to predict the plot twist before hitting the halfway mark which is very disappointing given the praise surrounding the plot of this book.
I felt the characters were bland and lacked personality. The only times I felt like I knew anything about them was when they aggressively shouted about each other, reflecting their one personality trait – anger – which says a lot about the shallowness of their inner monologue. Similarly, the author included a lot of difficult-to-understand metaphors in order to compensate for the lack of essence coming from her characters which made my reading experience slow and tedious.
Nevertheless, there was a positive side to the writing of this book and that was the concept behind it. Even though I found the execution poor, the idea of having a character with a disability such as not recognizing faces in a thriller is a unique idea. Also, the countdown of the objects they gave each other on each wedding anniversary was a very absorbing technique to create suspense.
While this book is recommended on #BookTok by very popular influencers such as Sara Carolli, who claims “it had one of the craziest plot twists [they’ve] ever read”, I did not feel the same.
Gong, Chloe. These Violent Delights. Margaret Mcelderry Bks, 2023.
These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
“A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang — a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love… and first betrayal. But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. Roma and Juliette have to put their grudges apart and work together”
(Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Romance)
Trigger Warnings: Blood, Violence, Explicit Gore, Character Deaths, Weapon Use
The public opinion surrounding this book is that “it’s the perfect crossover between fantasy, […] and historical fiction.” That is an ambitious ideal.
Starting off with the negatives: too many words didn’t make sense in the context of sentences and were very clearly edited later by the author to make the book fancier. I reread entire pages due to the lack of clarity in the syntax of sentences. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a book with a broader lexicon this would be a good match for you.
On the other hand, given my *almost-perfect* rating, there are clearly a lot of positives. Firstly, the fact that this is a retelling of the classic Romeo and Juliette set in drastically different geographical and historical positions adds the perfect twist to the Shakespearean classic. I thoroughly enjoyed the angst and hate between their two families given the amount of political context provided by the author which made their mutual despise unmistakably brutal.
Besides, the world building was very well done making it clear to understand the visual appearance of both the buildings in Japan at the time, hand also the monstrous appearance of the villain. At all times throughout the book, the author always included detailed descriptions making this book feel like watching a movie. Not a lot of authors can engulf their audience as much as Gong did.
Lastly, the romance between the two characters was not spotlighted at all times making the little moments they had with each other that much more engaging. Their dynamic was not at all like the boring perfect rom-com one. It was fun and dynamic, therefore adding to the fantasy component perfectly.
So, can I agree with the statement that “it’s the perfect crossover between fantasy, […], and historical fiction”? Yes! Absolutely! It was a beautifully braided pretzel of all those genres. I have already purchased the sequel and am very interested in reading the new spin-off series published by Gong because #BookTok has already flooded my FYP with quotes from it.
Magnolia Parks by Jessa Hastings
“Magnolia Parks and BJ Ballentine are meant to be, and everyone knows it. They’re in the stars… just suspended in a strange kind of love that looks like hurting each other a lot of the time: She dates other people to keep him at bay; he sleeps with other girls to get back at her for it. But at the end of their every sad endeavor to get over one another, it’s still each other they crawl back to. As the cracks start to show and secrets begin to surface, Magnolia and BJ are finally forced to face the formidable question they’ve been avoiding all their lives: how many loves do you really get in a lifetime?“
Trigger Warnings: Drug use, Overdose, Cheating
Hastings, Jessa. Magnolia Parks. Jessa Hastings, 2022.
If your expectations for this book are anywhere around rom-com, then don’t read this. This book started shattering my emotional stability from the first page. If you are looking for brutally honest, emotionally broken characters with a beautiful found-family dynamic, then you can stop looking and read this.
Hastings introduces each of her characters subtly and slowly, nevertheless as you continue reading it makes you feel like you know them in real life. They all have extreme emotional depth and reading their inner monologues is never a burden to a reader, but rather a beautifully packed gift of openness and honesty. By the end of the book it becomes very clear that they rely on each other to exist and function.
I know I criticised some of the previous books for their inconsistent and confusing metaphors, however, Hastings used such beautifully crafted ones that I was forced to start highlighting my favourite quotes – which I had never had the urge to do. I wish I could express my own feelings as gracefully and deeply as Hastings managed to express her fictional characters.
One of my favourite quotes is, “Our eyes hold like our hands won’t. I love you, he blinks. Prove it, I sigh.” It’s a sneak peek of the protagonists’ ongoing strong bond. They have their own language and Hastings often allows the reader insights into their relationship by using subtle gestures such as this one. Hastings wrote a book that beautifully disobeys the usual cycle of romance books.
If I had to describe the feelings you will be in for if you read this, it would be like the feeling of making pancakes. You expect your first pancakes to be just as beautiful on one side as it is on the other. However, as soon as you flip it to the other side, you see the uneven burnt texture. This book feels like reliving the pain of making a first pancake over and over again.
This is one of the best #BookTok recommendations.
What’s my conclusion?
I started my reading journey due to the influence of TikTok, and given the fact that out of the 5 books I read based on TikTok hype, 4 were almost perfect scores, I will continue using the social media platform for recommendations. From my positive experience, I would recommend giving a try to books you see on #BookTok that seem interesting because you might just end up falling in love with words written on paper.