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The Ultimate Review of Trending #Booktok Books: Are They Worth the Hype?

Books & Writing

Sat, January 06

Every BookToker knows that scrolling, collecting titles, and fan casting is nearly as much of a hobby as reading itself.

BookTok can be an amazing resource for readers to find the next addition to their TBR pile, yet the subcategory on TikTok is under fire from critics for its role in oversaturating the market with repetitive tropes and surface-level ideas. Some say this cheapens the industry and deceives readers, offering books that boil down to a mere few pages of performative tropes instead of a well-crafted plot, robust world-building, and profound characters. From tropes to genres to "just vibes,” BookTokers are using TikTok to seek out their most beloved plot lines.

Yet readers who once enjoyed the “classic” BookTok books such as the Cruel Prince and Shatter Me series have grown up, and as a result, BookTok has begun catering to an older audience with a huge surge in smut and sexual themes, oftentimes with violent undertones. This makes BookTok a somewhat controversial place, with recommendations that may not be appropriate for younger readers, and Wattpad-esque books that gain popularity for bandwagoning but lack the quality that makes them a worthy read.

Leave it to me, an avid BookTok scroller and reader, to help young adults sort through the rabble and find high-quality YA BookTok recommendations that still hit the nail on the head.

This Time It's Real - Ann Liang

Ages: 12+

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Are you a fan of the fake dating trope, C-dramas, and comfort characters?

This Time It's Real is a novel about 17-year-old Eliza whose essay about meeting her true love goes viral, earning her the respect and admiration of her classmates. The only problem is: Elizas essay is a work of fiction, and she can't let anyone know the truth lest she lose an amazing career opportunity. She strikes a deal with her classmate Caz, a famous C-drama actor: if he fake dates her, she'll help him write his college applications. But the deal spirals out of control and that's where the juicy drama comes into play.

As characterized by the dedication in the very beginning, this book is “for all the cynics who secretly still believe in love.” To many readers, the book is so much more than a romcom, but rather a story about fitting in, academic pressures, and finding love in family and culture. The cozy read is a bittersweet tearjerker with a happy ending. With relatable lines such as: “It takes so little for me to love someone, yet so long for me to move on,” young readers will find both humor and solace in this book. This book is definitely worth the hype - it delivers exactly what it advertises!

Heart Bones - Colleen Hoover

Ages: 14+

Rating: 2/5 stars

It's hard to step a foot inside of BookTok without having your feed flooded with Colleen Hoover content. Though most of her books are age rated 16+, her books are so popular that readers might find themselves drawn to novels like It Ends With Us and Ugly Love. Yet danger lies in the Colleen Hoover hype.

Many critics of Hoover claim that despite the age rating, the books are intentionally targeted towards youth, and indeed it seems that younger audiences enjoy getting their hands on her works. Yet readers should note that the author has become controversial because of the romanticization of abuse, grooming, and sexual violence in her stories. With such themes, impressionable book lovers may want to steer clear; however, as someone who was once also a young reader with a taste for romance and a language comprehension far above my grade level, I know that isn't likely to happen. So, Heart Bones, the infamous YA Hoover novel, may attract young readers who like romance and want to explore heavier themes and begin to transition into new adult genres.

Ladened with discussions around poverty, youth, and grief, Heart Bones follows Beyah Grim after moving in with her father following her mother's tragic demise. She meets the boy next door, Samson and despite their differences, they connect, and so begins a summer fling. It's an enticing plot for budding romantics, however; upon completion I surmised that many of the characters have a lackluster personality and exist merely as a plot device or for convenience.

It feels as if Heart Bones is driven by romance and tropes, yet the heavy themes are explored through a perfunctory lens that does not discuss the trauma that Beyah has experienced in a manner that is appropriate to the nature of the topic. The book is not worth they hype. Readers looking for a more nuanced novel with a unique plot, diverse characters and a heartwarming relationship should instead check out The Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera.

They Both Die at the End - Adam Silvera

Ages: 14+

Rating: 4/5

They Both Die at the End is a gut-wrenching tale (if you couldn't tell by the title) that explores themes of living and death, set in a beautifully written world with a unique premise. Adam Silvera has a talent for writing dark humor and using rhetoric that balances comedy with sorrow to create a compelling tale about life through romance and friendship.

Additionally, They Both Die at the End has fantastic representation that does not feel forced, featuring a gay Puerto-Rican, and a bisexual Cuban main character.

Set in a dystopian alternate version of New York, Mateo receives a notification from a company that informs people 24 hours before their death. Mateo meets Rufus, another doomed soul, through an app after their “death cast” call and they decide to spend their last day together exploring the city and talking about life and death.

This book is unique in that, even before you open the book, you know that these characters will die - you are reading their story knowing their inevitable demise approaches, forcing the reader to grapple with this knowledge as they fall in love with these insightful characters. It's definitively an emotional rollercoaster that's worth the hype.

The Sunbearer Trials - Aiden Thomas

Ages: 15+

Rating: 3.5/5

Perfect for the Hunger Games and Percy Jackson fans who love demigods and dangerous competitions with high stakes, The Sunbearer Trials boasts a complex cast of queer characters and people of color. The book emphasizes intersectionality and diversity, with the inspiration based heavily on Mexican mythology, yet some critics say that the diversity feels forced and capitalized upon for profit. Readers looking to the book for a relatable read may find themselves disappointed as the book lacks an exploration of the societal implications of diversity (i.e.: racism, economic disparity). That being said, the book accurately represents the personal complexities of intersectional, gender, and sexual identities themselves.

The Sunbearer Trials follows 17-year-old Teo, the son of a God who is competing in high stakes trials to win the honor of carrying the light of the Sun to the rest of the world. Despite being a “Jade,” - essentially lower-level demigod, Teo is chosen to participate. The issue: the loser of this trial is sacrificed to fuel the Sun God for the next decade. Readers can expect action packed fight scenes, perilous chases, and battles.

Ultimately, The Sunbearer Trials is a fascinating concept and is noteworthy for its inclusivity, however the world building and rhetoric is lacking as some of the jokes and dialogue read as immature. The book uses a lot of modern slang, references to Vine, cursing, and pop culture to make itself seem more mature and relatable without thoroughly embodying the personification of a modern teenager.

Readers will either love it or hate it depending on their personal preferences. It's mainly recognized for its diverse cast (rightly so), rather than the story/plot itself, so I'd say it is not worth the hype, but it's definitely suitable for a niche audience of young adult readers.

We Were Liars - E. Lockheart

Ages: 13+

Rating: 3.5/5

We Were Liars is a sophisticated suspense novel with a distinguished family, a private island, a group of friends, and most importantly: destructive love and treacherous lies.

We Were Liars follows Cadence, a 17-year-old girl who suffers from amnesia after a tragic accident on her family's private island. Cadence returns to the island two years later, hoping to recover her memories and find out the truth about what happened to her and her cousins, Johnny and Mirren, and her love interest, Gat.

With profound prose and quotes such as:

“A part of me died," he says. "And it was the best part.”

“Do not accept an evil you can change.”

The book is clever with intellectual undertones, yet the writing style is syntactically idiosyncratic with choppy sentences that creates a dramatic and emphasized narration, which may not be suitable for some audiences. We Were Liars uses the “unreliable narrator” concept to add suspense to the story, yet it can make the story feel convoluted and readers can have a hard time finding their flow. The book's implications traverse acute topics through the author's distinctive voice, lending an almost “dark academia” tone to the narrative.

The preferences and abilities of the reader will surely leave this book as an absolute favorite or a definite DNF. Though controversial, I would say it is worth the hype.

Honorable Mentions:

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is set in a richly built world with complex characters and storytelling, and an excellent execution of romance and the “found family” troupe. 5/5 stars - worth the hype.

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo is a short and sweet read that puts a unique twist to The Little Mermaid. Perfect for "enemies-to-lovers'' trope and strong female lead fans. 4/5 stars - worth the hype.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas is incredibly popular on TikTok yet despite being considered YA, it is for more mature audiences as sex and violence are prominent. The book has interesting concepts and world building but starts off slow and many find the characters unlikable. The book is a sort of high fantasy “guilty pleasure” read and the writing style is easily digestible, meaning it is both fun and a bit shallow. 3.5/5 star - not worth the hype.

Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross combines magic and history for a unique rivals-to-lovers read. Vaguely reminiscent of Narnia, Divine Rivals focuses of the unparalleled power of love. The book has a remarkable concept, yet some say that it's “just okay” and that its “lacking something”, perhaps because it's a duology and the second book has yet to be released. 3.75/5 stars - worth a read but not worth the hype.

Kaelianna McMillan
5,000+ pageviews

Writer since Jan, 2024 · 3 published articles

Kaeliana McMillan graduated from a bilingual Internal Baccalaureate program in Costa Rica before moving back to Florida for university. She is currently earning her bachelor's degree in criminology and genders studies and is an avid writer with an interest in intersectional feminism, art and pop culture, humanities, politics, health and theology/spirituality.