Your guide to the most popular books on TikTok
A little over a year ago, the mobile app TikTok gained a significantly larger audience at the start of the pandemic, going from a Gen Z dominated platform to an app that seemingly everyone with a smartphone was on. The app’s impressive algorithm was able to create de facto communities of people based on their interests, including movies, LGBTQ+ community, raccoons, and of course, books.
BookTok, as it is affectionately called, has exploded in the past few months, as countless recommendation and reaction videos have made a real impact on the publishing industry, helping popular titles from 5-10 years ago reappear on bestseller lists, moving thousands of copies and catching the attention of film and television producers.
Below, I’ve created a guide to the most popular books on the platform, telling you everything you need to know about the biggest books of the moment, including whether or not they are worth your time to read.
They Both Die at the End
by Adam Silvera
Adam Silvera’s ominously-titled They Both Die at the End was a moderate hit when it was published back in 2017. It would continue to bounce on and off the paperback bestseller list until late-2020, when it would become a permanent fixture on the top of that list thanks to word-of-mouth on TikTok.
This speculative novel takes place in a world where you are alerted by Death-Cast on the day you are going to die. Two boys, Mateo and Rufus receive their End Day notifications and connect over an app called Last Friend, and they end up spending their last day together, trying to fit a lifetime into it.
The book is a popular one to create before-and-after reaction videos to. Despite the novel’s plain-as-day title, many readers are still emotionally walloped by the book’s ending (spoiler alert: they both die.) This book has been the poster-child for the BookTok phenomenon, and recently became the bestselling Young Adult novel of the year so far, hardcover or paperback, new release or backlist.
I’ve been a devoted fan of Silvera’s for years, so it has been wonderful to see his book become such a phenomenon over three years after its release. It has also helped some of his other novels reach a wider audience, notably his other speculative novel More Happy than Not, as well as his similarly emotionally damaging (in my opinion, more so) History is All You Left Me. They Both Die at the End is an emotional journey, but it’s one worth taking.
We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart
Success breeds success. That phrase is both the belief of We Were Liars‘ central family, the Sinclairs, as well as an explanation for the novel’s lasting popularity. E. Lockhart’s young adult thriller has enjoyed a long shelf life, maintaining a ubiquitous level of popularity since it was published way back in 2014. It would not be published in paperback until 2018, one of the surest signs of a consistent money-earning title (most books will cycle into paperback a year after their hardcover release, but publishers will stretch that window out if the book continues to sell in hardcover due to the higher price point.)
The novel tells the story of the wealthy Sinclair family, who spends every summer together on their private island. However, this seemingly perfect family has a lot of secrets, and our main character, Cadence Sinclair, wants to get to the bottom of why she can’t remember the summer she was 15 years old.
We Were Liars‘ calling card is its twist, as it features a major, narrative altering turn akin to Gone Girl. That twist has fueled its success, becoming a popular book to recommend due to its “you’ll never see it coming” nature. I had read it during the summer of 2014, shortly after its release, and while I had found it to be forgettable, the new hype surrounding it makes me want to plan a revisit.
The Song of Achilles &
by Madeline Miller
For a generation that grew up reading Rick Riordan’s reimaginings of Greek mythology, it makes sense that Gen Z would respond well to Madeline Miller’s novels, The Song of Achilles and Circe. These are certainly the most literary novels that are currently popular on TikTok, both were widely acclaimed upon their releases, with The Song of Achilles winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly called the Orange Prize.)
The Song of Achilles is a reframing of Homer’s The Illiad that is so effective, it has essentially led to widespread adoption of the theory that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. Circe is a retelling of The Odyssey, focused entirely on a minor character from the original text, the witch Circe. Both novels are showcases for Miller’s prose, lyrical and stunning.
These are two that I wholeheartedly endorse. The Song of Achilles is one of my favorite books, and Circe is equally beautiful. The teens are right about these ones.
A Court of Thorns and Roses
by Sarah J. Maas
Sarah J. Maas has carved out her own niche within the young adult fantasy realm, and developed one of the most loyal cult followings around. While her Throne of Glass series may be challenging for her legion of fans to full-throatedly endorse, you would struggle to find anyone speaking negatively about the A Court of Thrones and Roses series, despite some pretty obvious flaws.
A Beauty and the Beast retelling, Maas loads up on the romance and steamy scenes while cutting back on the plot as she weaves a story about a toxic romance between a normal girl and a faerie, before completely abandoning that girl’s book one suitor for another, more toxic faerie in the second installment. Foresight and plotting consistency is not why people read Maas, let’s just say that.
The ACOTAR series is nonsensical fluff, but damn if it isn’t readable. The definition of a guilty pleasure, you’ll drop a few brain cells along the way, but you’ll have fun doing it!
Shadow and Bone &
Six of Crows
by Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels are enjoying a spike in popularity thanks to TikTok, as well as the new Netflix adaptation, which premiered in late April. The show adapts Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows, both the first books in two separate series, though they do have interconnected elements and are set in the same universe.
The Grishaverse novels have been popular since their publication, but the Six of Crows duology catapulted the universe to epic heights, becoming one of the best loved books in the entire young adult fantasy sphere.
The Shadow and Bone trilogy is fairly standard young adult fantasy, with a particularly dull middle installment that makes it challenging to recommend the entire series. Six of Crows and its partner Crooked Kingdom, however, are completely enjoyable romps. A fantasy-set Oceans 11, the novels are populated with well-drawn characters and sky-high stakes. While reading the Shadow and Bone trilogy beforehand enhances the story, Six of Crows is still plenty enjoyable without the context of the Grishaverse as a whole.
Red, White & Royal Blue
by Casey McQuiston
Red, White & Royal Blue features a concept so perfect, it’s hard to believe it hadn’t been done before: the son of the United States President and the Prince of England despise each other, until they don’t, and a whirlwind romance ensues, making the President’s re-election campaign very interesting.
Fun fact: a friend of mine called me heartless when they learned that I did not care for this book. To be fair, Red, White & Royal Blue is a hard book to not like, and it won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Romance when it was released in 2019. However, it just didn’t work for me. To enjoy a romance, I have to buy into it early, and while the book sets up a “these two can’t stand each other” dynamic at the start of the book, that falls away so fast that it rendered the whole plot device useless. Enemies-to-lovers is one of the most popular romance tropes, and the superficiality of their “hate” made it seem like it was shoehorned in to sell the book on that trope alone.
That being said, I am in the minority here. This book has countless dedicated fans, and fans of romcoms will most likely get exactly what they came for with this novel. However, if you don’t like it, you can sit over here in the corner with me.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Taylor Jenkins Reid made a mid-career shift away from beach-ready romances towards layered mid-century period fiction, and has exploded in popularity. While her Fleetwood Mac-inspired Daisy Jones & The Six was her first blockbuster, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has enjoyed a major resurgence thanks to word of mouth on social media, which has fueled it towards becoming one of the most popular books on TikTok.
Aging actress Evelyn Hugo recounts her Hollywood career starting in the 1950s to a magazine reporter, spilling all of the details on her notorious seven marriages and what led her to leave the spotlight in the 1980s.
The book is written with a remarkable specificity, and fans of old Hollywood will revel in Reid’s reference points. Along the way, Reid unpacks the rampant misogyny of that era in painful detail, revealing layer after layer to our main character, as well as her unique connection to the reporter she has chosen to tell her story too.
Heartbreaking, propulsive, and so, so satisfying, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the perfect book to rip you out of a reading slump, and I highly recommend it.
by Victoria Aveyard
As a young millennial, it has been interesting to see the books that were popular when I was younger come back en vogue with Gen Z. In some cases it makes all the sense in the world, great books are great books, no matter how long ago they were published. However, in some cases, millennials are failing the younger generation by not warning them about the unsatisfying trap they are about to fall into. The Red Queen series is one such case.
When Red Queen was released in early 2015, young adult readers were immediately taken by the series. Set in a world that is divided by blood, with commoners having red blood, and the elites having silver blood and possessing god-like superpowers, Red Queen was a juicy political fantasy, hooking many readers (myself included.) What followed were diminishing returns at a staggering level, and by the time the fourth and final book was released, many readers were frustrated and annoyed, and the series would seemingly fall into obscurity like so many other unsatisfying YA fantasies.
Imagine our surprise when we found out that Gen Z proved the Red Queen was hard to kill, recommending the series opener in numerous videos (as of this writing, the first book is currently sold out on Amazon, just to give you an idea of the scope of its popularity.)
While there are certainly worse books, including a few on this list, it is hard to watch another group of people start a journey that has ended poorly for so many before them. If you do not learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it, and trust me, War Storm ends well for no one, especially the readers.
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