My Love-Hate Relationship with BookTok￼
This Valentine’s Day, I suggest buying yourself a little something to let you know that you love you. After all, there’s no one who knows you better than yourself! This year, I’m going to gift myself a new book—specifically, some romance. On my quest to find a good romance read, I’ve turned to a certain subcommunity on a certain social media app. I’ve turned to BookTok.
For those who are unfamiliar, BookTok is a sect of TikTok where creators share book suggestions based on particular genres and moods. The content ranges from “Books that will have you sobbing your heart out at 2 a.m.” to “Books that changed my perspective on life” to “Books I’d sell my soul to read for the first time again.”
I found one author who featured in almost every video: HRH Colleen Hoover, Duchess of BookTok. Since 2012, she’s produced 24 books and six series. Hoover’s ability to create dramatic characters, captivating scenes, and a gripping plot—all while including her fair share of spicy dialogue and passionate love scenes—pulls her readers in so deeply that many finish her novels in one sitting. I will confess: I did stay up until 2 a.m. reading It Ends With Us (2022), and I finished Verity (2018) in less than 48 hours.
It’s true that Hoover is an accomplished and talented writer. However, BookTok has placed her 24 novels on too high of a pedestal while pushing other lesser-known authors out of focus. Hoover found her fame in 2020, when everyone had time to breeze through books. The demand for her books grew so strong that it seems like she started to write purely for the TikTok audience. Hoover’s intended messages about female empowerment— some of her female characters triumphing over domestic abuse, childhood trauma, and child custody ordeals—have been obscured by the viral spiciness and salaciousness.
Verity and It Starts With Us are incredibly different novels in quality, and I’d argue the reason for this shift is BookTok. Verity has a constantly turning plot that takes completely unexpected routes. It’s also a book within a book, highlighting a creative and challenging writing method mastered by Hoover. It Starts With Us, written at the height of Hoover’s fame, has an incredibly predictable plot in comparison. The dialogue is incredibly cringeworthy and highly unrealistic. You can’t underestimate the effect of BookTok in contributing to these differences. The social media community and readers are now a vital part of her process; as she said in an interview with The New York Times, “The readers are controlling what is selling right now.”
After my metaphorical breakup with Hoover, I turned back to BookTok to find some new authors. If you’re looking to play the audience to someone else’s fictitious love story this Valentine’s Day, these are some great options.
At first, the lack of quotation marks in Sally Rooney’s Normal People and Conversations with Friends will confuse you. But I implore you to keep reading, because you need to find out how Marianne and Connell (NP) and Francis and Nick (CWF) end up. (They can be problematic, but you’ll secretly root for them.) Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy is a quick read, but will pull your heartstrings in every direction as you question if Belly really ends up with the right Fisher brother. Madeline Miller is beautifully descriptive and poetic in The Song of Achilles and Circe, both historical fantasy books, which serve as perfect palette cleansers among all the romances. Josie Silver and Jojo Moyes are masters of writing books you’ll need to see adapted into a movie. Both One Day in December and The Last Letter from Your Lover include multiple narrators and different timelines while blending mystery and romance to create page-turning stories. Tessa Bailey is a craftsman of perfect rapport between characters combined with a tasteful level of spice in It Happened One Summer. Julia Quinn is the queen of period-piece writing, and I suggest reading at least the first two Bridgerton novels if you don’t have the patience for all eight novels plus some prequel and sequel series she reported are coming soon.
Tik-Talking About Books
How “BookTok” Made Reading Cool Again
The power of TikTok has no bounds. Over the past year, TikTok users have created their own book club, full of recommendations and excerpts all to entice viewers to read their own favorite books. The hashtag #booktok has over 73.9 billion views, with that number rising by the second. However, with millions of users all trying to get people to read their favorite books at the moment, it can become a bit overwhelming. There are thrillers, romance, and even thriller romances. So here are the top three most popular books on “BookTok.” Are they worth it? That’s for you to read and decide.
- Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Following a rock band in the 70’s, Daisy Jones and the Six departs from the classic writing style found in novels and opts for an interview-style switching between the characters, almost written like a documentary. Daisy is an enigmatic protagonist with a one-in-a-million talent for songwriting and music, but an affliction for the party lifestyle of the 70’s. Daisy’s antics are balanced with the leading man of the band, Billy Dune. Billy is an aspiring family man and recovering drug addict who wants to provide a stable life for his wife and daughter. This book is a fresh take on a classic story that will transport you and have you smiling and even singing along.
- A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
If you want a book that will make you cry for 700 pages, A Little Life sure will. The story follows a group of friends through their lives over the years. The relationships of this group are tested and strained through each person’s struggles with addiction, childhood trauma, chronic disabilities, and more. This book is extremely dense and there is no reprieve so read at your own discretion.
- It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover
Colleen Hoover is the most popular author on BookTok at the moment, which was catapulted through the success of this book. It Ends with Us follows the main character Lily as she falls in love with successful neurosurgeon Ryle. Yet, Lily can’t forget about her first love, Atlas. The relationship between Lily and Ryle quickly turns toxic, and we follow Lily trying to break the generational abuse cycle started by her parents. This book will be lingering in your mind long after you have finished.
Book Review: Ugly Love
Book Review: Ugly Love
A Perfect Valentine’s Heartbreaker
Tully Mahoney ’23
Those who find themselves on “BookTok” have likely heard of Ugly Love. For those who do not, this novel is written by no. 1 New York Times Bestselling Author Colleen Hoover, a romance novel genius. Hoover has an exceptional ability to write with passion, create depth in her characters, and draw readers in from the first page. Ugly Love is yet another one of her truly unputdownable books.
Ugly Love is written from two perspectives: the first follows Tate Collins in the present day and the second follows Miles Archer when he was a teenager. When Tate and Miles first meet, they hardly like each other, as she finds him drunk outside her brother’s apartment. When he sobers up, however, they find they have a deep attraction to each other. The only caveat is that Miles has no interest in finding love and Tate has never been good at no-strings-attached relationships. Nonetheless, their undeniable chemistry leads them to follow two of Miles’ rules for romance: 1. Never ask about his past, and 2. Don’t expect a future. This is the point in the novel where the readers can tell the pair’s relationship is not going to end well. Indeed, ignoring the fact that she knows that abiding by these rules will hurt her, Tate accepts them.
Hoover does an exceptional job of maintaining the integrity of her characters’ perspectives. Some reviewers claim that the beginning sections of this novel are too sexually intimate, but it is clear that Hoover does this intentionally. Since the only narrative in present time is Tate’s, readers experience her mixed-emotions and confusion owing to Miles’ unpredictability in real time. The more time that Tate and Miles spend together, the more complicated their relationship becomes: the line between “friends with benefits” and coupledom begins to slowly fade. Tate becomes more invested in their relationship; Miles becomes more inconsistent. However, as the reader learns more about Miles’ past, it becomes harder and harder for them to hate him. Yet, readers are still left with a feeling of frustration as they know what Tate does not yet know.
Readers will get angry that Tate does not leave Miles given what they know about him, but she reminds readers that “love isn’t always pretty. Sometimes you spend all your time hoping it’ll eventually be something different. Something better. Then, before you know it, you’re back to square one, and you lost your heart somewhere along the way.” Tate emphasizes that not all relationships are easy and that it is hard to judge someone’s decisions when they are under the spell of love. She shows that sometimes, love takes patience and perseverance.
Many reviewers on Goodreads have expressed anger that Hoover gives Tate “a lack of self-respect.” Such dissatisfied readers claim that since Tate is unable to stay away from Miles despite the fact that he continues to hurt her, she does not respect herself. This would be a valid argument if Tate was unaware of her actions, but throughout the novel, she continues to show awareness of the situation she is putting herself in. She consciously subjects herself to less-than-respectful treatment because, as she says, “beautiful moments make up for the ugly love.” Hoover’s portrayal of Tate in this manner makes her feel like a real person: she is able to make her own decisions, even if that makes the readers angry. Indeed, readers are meant to hurt for Tate and wish she was given the treatment she deserves—everyone truly wants a happy ending for their favorite characters.
Hoover also uses an interesting writing style when narrating Miles’ past. When initially describing his first love, he says “Rachel. Rachel. Rachel, Rachel, Rachel. She’s like poetry.” From this point forward, his entire section is written in poetry because this is the way he views his life with Rachel. When she ultimately hurts him, this poetry disappears, demonstrating he no longer understands the world around him.
Ugly Love is the perfect novel to pick up for an early Valentine’s heartbreak. It deserves an undoubtable five stars due to Hoover’s beautiful prose and her ability to create characters who lift off the page.