Lifestyle Reviews

BookTok: To Trust or Turn Away?

I read 30 books recommended by Tiktok… and deeply sufferest whilst doing so.

By Emma Aranda ’24

It is well known by now that TikTok has many niche corners and communities that one can see on their “For You” page; one of these communities is called ‘BookTok’. I had noticed that most of the recommendations seemed to praise the same few books, with most recommendations or TBR (to-be-read) lists mentioning at least one book from a list of 30 that I had compiled. Since September, I have read and reviewed each of these 30 books* to answer the question, how good is TikTok’s taste, and should we even bother to listen to it?

*For this article, I will only talk about the best 5 and worst 5 books, but my ranking of all 30 is included at the bottom. 

Top 5:

  1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Average rating: 4.3/5 (Goodreads)

My rating: 5/5

Talented, brilliant, incredible, amazing, show-stopping, spectacular. A Little Life absolutely broke me -I cried 3 times- but I would read it again with no hesitation. It follows 4 very different friends through their lives, starting in university, and their everyday struggles with maintaining relationships, living with trauma, and trying to survive in the world. This novel is literary fiction, meaning it is more oriented towards the growth of characters rather than being plot-driven, so it can be dense at times. It covers some very heavy topics (TW!!) and can be emotionally draining (although that’s just a testament to how well it’s written) and will take lots of time and commitment, but it is so worth it. You will find yourself loving all the characters despite their grossly human imperfections. There were several different points of view throughout the novel, but there were very distinct changes in tone, making it easy to tell who was narrating based on patterns picked up through their language, syntax, and topics they cover. This provided many different angles to one cohesive story and invoked sympathy for characters you would otherwise detest. I loved how there were different ways that the narrators expressed themselves, through different art forms or otherwise; I truly thought the writing was genius. Personally, I’m not usually a fan of large chunks of paragraphs with no dialogue, but this book kept me enraptured despite the absence of conversations. If you’re searching for a thick brick of a novel to read over the course of months that will emotionally ruin you… look no further. A Little Life is perfect. 

  1. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Average rating: 4.4/5 (Goodreads)

My rating: 5/5 

I’m sure we’ve all heard of this book by now, and I can confidently tell you that it is one of the few books that was not overhyped. This novel will shatter your heart with its enrapturing quotes and the yearning of young romance. It is Madeline Miller’s first novel (her second, Circe, was also on my list and is also brilliant), and it is one of the most beautifully written young adult romances currently going around Tiktok. It follows two young men in ancient Greece as they grow up together, one following the other into battle during the Trojan war. The forbidden love between Achilles and Patroclus has never appeared more desolate as the novel grapples with feelings of heartbreak, loss, and desire in this retelling of the classic Greek myth. Song of Achilles is easily one of the best novels on this list, as it will definitely become one of your favourites, despite the fact that it will make your heart flutter and then plummet, and you will almost certainly cry. 

  1. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

Average rating: 4.2/5 (Goodreads)

My rating: 5/5

This novel had a very unique concept that will be difficult to explain here; Addie was born in a small town in 18th century France, where she makes a deal with a dark spirit that grants her immortality. The twist is that nobody will ever remember her. For 300 years, Addie lives as a shadow, until 21st century New York, where she comes across a bookkeeper who remembers her after she steals a book. What could be so special about him that he is the first in centuries to know her? They tackle mysteries, relationships, emotions, fear, and reminiscence, all while Addie’s past gets pieced together in the background. I loved this book. Everything about it was executed perfectly. The syntax? Impeccable. The loveably flawed characters? Amazing. So well developed. The non-linear timeline that bounced back and forth from 18th century France to 21st century New York? Incredible. I loved how we were simultaneously discovering Addie’s past and following through her present life in a non-linear manner that wisely kept readers in suspense, all but forcing them to find out what happens next. So much about the story and how it became presented was brilliant; Addie, despite never being remembered, served as a muse for many artists, poets, and authors, whose pieces would be presented in each ‘part’ of the book. I loved that it was a fictional multimedia biography of a character. Aspects of the story come to life, literally, in the most genius way. The parallels were profound. Not only was the writing and format great, but the story itself was so good. There were twists and turns all the way through, keeping the reader hooked right until the very last sentence when the entire world seemed to come crashing down. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is easily a 5-star read. 

  1. Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid 

Average rating: 4.1/5 (Goodreads)

My rating: 4.8/5

Taylor Jenkins Reid has 3 books on my list -all of which are in the same universe- and while they’re all brilliant, Malibu Rising was my personal favourite. It follows 2 generations of the Rivas family: Mick Rivas, a famous singer and flighty husband and his wife June, and their children, Nina, Jay, Kit, and Hud. Each chapter swaps between the 50s/60s, providing a backstory to the family, and the 80s, where the main story takes place in exactly 24 hours. Within each chapter, we uncover a little more about each family member and how truly complicated the ‘golden family’ of Hollywood is. Within the siblings alone, there’s drama that has the potential to ruin relationships, and once Mick gets involved, the tension only thickens. Each little chunk of the story follows one person, showing their struggles and vices until everyone gets together at the most iconic and chaotic annual party of the 80s, and the storylines all get tangled together. This was by far the best aspect of the book, as the party became the event where everything came crashing down through drama, celebration, and heartbreak. While the novel had an overarching theme stressing the importance of familial relationships, it also felt like a character study at times, focusing less on the plot and more on those relationships. The technicalities of Malibu Rising were also amazing. TJR’s writing style had improved greatly and perfectly illustrated her story and even included brief mentions of characters from her previous books, like Daisy Jones and Evelyn Hugo. I loved that both the beginning and the end seemed detached from the rest of the story, centring around fire and the idea of rebirth, acting as a metaphor for the whole novel. While some situations just felt too awkward to read, it was a mess that I couldn’t look away from, and definitely my favourite TJR novel. 

  1. A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson → book 1 of 4 in series

Average rating: 4.3/5 (Goodreads)

My rating: 4.8/5

Pippa, a graduating senior, decides that for her Capstone project, she is going to solve the town’s abandoned murder mystery. 5 years ago, Andie Bell was killed by her boyfriend Sal Singh, who then committed suicide. Sal is guilty; the whole town knows this. But Pippa has her doubts about the validity of the police’s investigation, and when she begins her own investigation, her suspicions prove to be justified. Andie’s killer is still running around town unscathed, and there’s a chance they killed Sal as well. Pippa makes unlikely connections and puts herself in danger multiple times to reveal the truth: Sal did not kill Andie Bell. So, who did? A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a light but captivating read that I easily flew through, hooked until the very end. There were twists and turns throughout, none of which were easily predictable. The murder and the process of solving it blurs lines of morality as nobody associated is truly innocent, not even Pip, who is attempting to set the record straight. Ethical lines were crossed many times with all the morally grey characters. And while there was an epilogue that felt totally unnecessary, it didn’t take away from the story as a whole. Besides that, everything else about this novel was amazing, from the suspense in the story to the formatting of certain elements; the book used multimedia with emails, texts, maps, notes, and logs from Pippa’s Capstone project, all of which really draws the reader into the world of the small town of Fairview, creating an enticing escape. 

WORST 5:

  1. Punk 57 by Penelope Douglas

Average rating: 4/5 (Goodreads)

My rating: 0.8/5

There is almost too much to unpack. It doesn’t even deserve one star. I have… so many thoughts and none of them are positive. I put myself through 337 excruciating pages of absolute garbage. You think I’m being harsh, but you haven’t read this, and I hope you never have to. It follows 2 main characters, Misha and Ryen, from a dual perspective. They are best friends who have never met and only communicate through letters, as they became pen pals in grade 5. They live in neighbouring towns, so that makes no sense, but whatever. Misha transfers to Ryen’s school under the alias ‘Masen’ (I’m convinced P. Douglas can’t spell because what are these names) and decides he hates her when they meet in person because she’s a cheerleader and never told him in his letters that she was hot. The whole book is spent by Masen getting distracted from his ‘mission’ by Ryen’s hotness and pursuing her with creepy and very assault-y tactics. Nothing about this is ‘romantic’ and every relationship is toxic and deserving of jail. I don’t understand how being bullied and publicly humiliated on multiple occasions creates the foundation for the relationship we’re supposed to be rooting for. I wish I could burn this from my memory. It gets 0.8 just for the comedy of the discussions this book has gotten online, but otherwise, it’s so bad and makes no sense. For your own good, don’t read it.

  1. From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout → book 1 of 6 in series

Average rating: 4.3/5 (Goodreads)

My rating: 2.4/5

From Blood and Ash is a controversial book in the BookTok community; many people love it for its graphic depictions of intimate relationships, while others conclusively agree that the book is trash. Personally, I believe that the plot had potential: Poppy, the Maiden, had been chosen by the Gods from birth to live among the Ascended, meaning that she has never had any control over any aspects of her life, until the Dark One and his followers infiltrate the palace. Poppy is then forced to flee and travel through the most treacherous villages of their land in order to ensure her survival. The execution of this plot, however, was sub-par at best. The world-building was not great; whole new societies and roles were created, as well as intricate geographical plans that were confusing. The reader was given absolutely no further explanation of this new society or way of life and was left confounded for 400 pages. The main character, Poppy, was annoying (and a total pick-me), as were the rest of the characters. As for the storyline, despite being badly written, it was going quite well until the last 6-8 chapters, when everything went downhill. From here, the love interest became grossly masculine and possessive, and (SPOILER!! Although you shouldn’t even read the book so it shouldn’t matter) turned into a wolf that ate people (???) making the novel less enjoyable with every word written after. Overall, it was an entertaining read in that it was cheesy and comical, but the twists were predictable, the quality was bad, and the world was confusing, compiling it into an uncomfortable and unpleasant reading experience. 

  1. Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover 

Average rating: 4.3/5 (Goodreads)

My rating: 2.6/5

Colleen Hoover is practically a saint to Booktok and all of her works are constantly being recommended, so I had to carefully choose which book I would read for this article. When I picked Ugly Love, I chose wrong. It is overhyped, overrated, and not nearly as good as everyone claims it to be. It is a dual-POV book following Tate, a nursing student, and Miles, an airline pilot. Tate is living with her brother, Corbin, when she discovers Miles passed out in front of their apartment. From there, is it nothing but hateful interactions with side notes of lust. They are both physically attracted to each other and decide that they have stumbled upon the perfect casual hookup situation. Perfect for them, maybe. Perfect for me? Not in the slightest. There was too much. At all times. Take a break. Relax for a bit. They did it in every other chapter, and if it wasn’t explicitly described over the course of pages, there were horrifying innuendos, making this beyond uncomfortable to read. I know that most people who like this book admire Tate and Miles’ relationship once they do get together, but truly, their relationship is SO TOXIC. If your partner sends you across the hall to your brother’s apartment in tears and feeling emotionally wrecked on multiple occasions, and has “2 rules: never ask about the past and don’t expect a future,” then maybe reconsider what you’re looking for. I’ll reluctantly admit there was one single quote that was ‘deep’ and ‘romantic’ that I can see why everyone’s obsessed with it but other than that, there were so many awful things about this novel. In Miles’ point of view, it was written in horrific prose, with bad syntax and RANDOM CAPITALIZATION or italics to stress an unimportant point. When Miles’ past is finally revealed, it’s a completely unnecessary tragedy that has no relevance to where the story could go, especially since it is introduced so late in the book. The timeline felt very rushed in some places and overall, not very well thought out. The best part about Ugly Love was actually Tate’s brother Corbin who made maybe 4 appearances but provided some much-needed comedic relief. This book was a huge letdown and was an abysmal introduction to Colleen Hoover’s supposedly terrific works. 

  1. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas → book 1 of 5 in series

Average rating: 4.2/5 (Goodreads5

My rating: 2.8/5

This is the first of a (currently) five-book series. It is written from the perspective of Feyre, a girl who has been forced to leave her home and live in the faerie kingdom in order to save her family. After killing a faerie in disguise, the ancient Treaty agreed upon by the humans and fae after the War, calls for her to either be a slave to the fae that appears at her doorstep or to be killed. Being the sole provider for her family, she thinks that she can escape the clutches of the High Fae, and allows herself to be whisked away, entering a magical world of tragedy, festivity, and romance, all of which she tries to run away from. This book is also controversial; on Tiktok there is endless praise for the series, with many people calling it “addictive,” but on Goodreads, it is quite surrounded by hate, as many people have condemned it for being, simply put, “stupid.” It was not a bad book, in fact, there were many brilliant qualities: the world-building was fantastic, as well as character development and description. Contrarily, the characters themselves are at times, utterly infuriating, and there comes a point where sometimes Maas’ typically great descriptions are a bit excessive and unnecessary (as seen in the travesty that is chapter 27). The plot is predictable, the romance is sickening and quite Stockholm-syndrome-y, and very graphic. However, it is an entertaining and quick read that reminds one of a poorly produced sitcom in that if you can get past the awfulness of it all, it becomes funny. 

  1. The Cruel Prince by Holly Black → book 1 of 3 in trilogy

Average rating: 4/5 (Goodreads)

My rating: 3/5

This is another YA fantasy, so it’s reasonable to assume that there will be a heroine and a dark, brooding love interest. Jude is our main character: her parents had been murdered by her adoptive father before he took in both her and her sisters to live in the Faerie world. She goes to school with Prince Cardan, who is (predictably) our love interest, and bullies her relentlessly. The plot is arranged so that they must work together to stop Cardan’s brother Balekin from being crowned High King at the coronation, in order to prevent his tyrannical rule. While the plot had the potential to be compelling and exciting, the book focused more on Jude’s feelings towards Cardan. They have a bully-to-lovers relationship arc that is unsatisfyingly predictable from the first page. However, the progression of the relationship was far better than other bully-to-lovers stories (ie. Punk). Jude and Cardan don’t end up together at the end of the story, which was honestly one of my favourite aspects of this book. It didn’t follow the typical formula for YA fantasy, making the growth of their relationship refreshing, as it continues to build over the next few books in the series. The world-building of this novel also was done very well, making Jude’s circumstances and surroundings easily imaginable. There were a few good twists and quick action scenes with battles, but the novel itself did not pique interest until well over the halfway point. Unfortunately, the execution of a plot with good potential ended up being more focused on Jude being harassed, which got repetitive and boring very quickly. Apparently, Cardan gets better in the next 2 books, but I don’t know if I’m willing to subject myself to finishing the series. 

In conclusion, TikTok’s book taste is very questionable. Some of the books I read became some of my favourites, and for others, I literally wanted to become illiterate while I was reading them. The better books, I noticed, are more depressing, and seem to dabble in non-linear storytelling a lot more. The worst books tended to be fantasy. Not that fantasy is typically this bad, just that these recommendations are. Another common trait across the bad books was the romance aspect: everyone is bullied, mistreated, or subjected to some toxic behaviour from their partner. Also, 90% of the characters are ‘not like other girls’ and absolutely infuriating. The most common thread, however, is that in every single book on the list, regardless of quality, there is romance with pages upon pages of yearning, problems, or something that just won’t make life easy. So, there you go. TikTok likes to subject itself to misery. 

Here is my ranking of books from best to worst from the 30 I read. Don’t feel compelled to read anything past #23, The Spanish Love Deception, which was pretty mid.

5 starsA Little Life
Song of Achilles
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
4.5 – 4.9Malibu Rising
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder
Red, White, and Royal Blue
Circe
Six of Crows
4 – 4.4The Book Thief
Daisy Jones and the Six (read with audiobook!!)
The Love Hypothesis
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
It Ends With Us
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
The Midnight Library
The Silent Patient
They Both Die at the End
3.5 – 3.9The Hating Game
People We Meet on Vacation
Beach Read
Normal People
We Were Liars
3 – 3.4The Spanish Love Deception
Shadow and Bone
The Unhoneymooners
The Cruel Prince
2.5 – 2.9A Court of Thorns and Roses
Ugly Love
2 – 2.4From Blood and Ash
0 – 1.9Punk 57

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