To read or not to read?: How BookTok has repopularized young adult fiction

Infographic depicting BookTok hashtags
Aasha Turner/Staff

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In moments of silence, TikTok users might find themselves frequently swiping through the lighthearted videos that compose the app — choreographed dances performed by popular creators, simple baking recipes or fashion inspiration. The creativity TikTok evokes through its features allows for a broad scope of content that encourages users to participate in trends that incorporate their passions and hobbies, anything from knitting a Harry Styles-inspired cardigan to recommending beloved novels. 

Specifically, content related to literature on TikTok has generated its own sphere of discourse. Commonly referred to as “BookTok,” this side of the platform focuses on all things books: book recommendations, tips for aesthetically pleasing bookshelves and edits related to literature-based fandoms. 

With heightened demand for new media to indulge in during this period of harrowing challenges, many young adults have embraced literature as a form of escape. Reigniting former literary passions, TikTok users have turned their attention to the app to praise the novels that have helped serve as a brief getaway to worlds confined within bound pages. While these recommendations positively reinforce the timely impact of well-crafted literature, the resurgence of young adult fanbases, the romanticization of particular themes and the popularization of certain novels on this social network demonstrate the ways in which the consumption and sale of literature has drastically changed in the past year. 

Many literary fandoms have rekindled enthusiasm for the novels that make up their fanbase on TikTok, encouraging those who have not yet indulged in these stories to give them a chance. Following the news of the “Percy Jackson & the Olympians” television series coming to Disney+, fans of the series began making edits, “POV’s” and fashion videos inspired by characters in the novels. The Harry Potter fandom similarly utilized TikTok as a means to promote fanfiction and theories surrounding the series long after the book series’ conclusion. 

In this way, BookTok has served to reignite creativity to fanbases desperate for new content. Through a revitalization of novels that shaped the childhoods of many who are now young adults, even younger generations on the app have been exposed to foundational novels in young adult literature including “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Simultaneously, this emphasis on young adult literature has comforted many adult readers, bringing them back to simpler times when their greatest worries stemmed from quizzes that revealed their godly parent and their Hogwarts House. 

Along with this emphasis on nostalgic fandoms, BookTok capitalizes on TikTok trends in order to entice those who may not be familiar with literature to read based on their desired aesthetic, favorite romantic tropes or even their astrological sign. 

Photos of typewriters, libraries and plaid blazers commonly depict one of the many academia inspired aesthetics romanticized on BookTok. The “dark academia” aesthetic is specifically used as a way to highlight certain novels such as Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” — a book that follows a group of classics students at a liberal arts college. 

Similarly, TikTok trends that popularize certain tropes make their way to BookTok, the most popular being the “enemies-to-lovers” trope. Based on users’ favorite tropes, BookTokers recommend novels that meet this criteria,including Holly Black’s “The Cruel Prince,” Sarah J. Maas’ “A Court of Thorns and Roses” and V.E. Schwab’s “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.” 

The popularity of BookTok and the novels that are recommended to young adults on the app have had a direct effect on bookstores and book sales, with both independent bookstores and chains such as Barnes & Noble taking notice of the broader scope of readers that are influenced by TikTok and updating their inventory to appeal to users. Barnes & Noble’s website has a section devoted to BookTok under “Teens & YA,” and tables labeled “#BookTok Made Me Buy It” also stand at certain locations, containing books raved about on the app such as Adam Silvera’s “They Both Die at the End,” Madeline Miller’s “Circe” and Casey McQuiston’s “Red, White & Royal Blue.” 

As of March 2021, #BookTok has over 6 billion views and will only continue to grow larger. With the announcement of many young adult novels being adapted into movies and television shows, including Kiera Cass’ “The Selection” and Adam Silvera’s “They Both Die at the End,” it is clear that the shared enthusiasm on BookTok will only persist as more of these narratives are brought to the big screen. 

Though the popularity of BookTok conjures many significant questions regarding the future of the book industry and the books that receive mass attention on social media, the importance of the BookTok phenomenon perhaps lies mainly with the readers who proclaim their love for books and the creative outlets through which they express this admiration. TikTok has demonstrated, at least through BookTok, that brilliant literature is written for a broad audience — the perfect book for you is waiting somewhere on a shelf and, through BookTok, you will surely discover it. 

Contact Sarah Runyan at [email protected].