A flatlay of the most popular books on TikTok on a white background.
A flatlay of the most popular books on TikTok on a white background.

Just when generational hand-wringers started to worry that screens and social media might wreak havoc on the reading habits of young people, TikTok gave rise to a new generation of book-obsessed Gen-Z-ers. Search the hashtag #BookTok, and you’ll find millions upon millions of results recommending and reviewing novels, flaunting gargantuan book collections and effusing about favourite authors.

TikTok plays by its own rules: rather than reflecting the bestseller charts, the social media platform has itself become the cause of some books' massive popularity. When a title becomes a hit in the #BookTok community, it’s only a matter of time before it soars up the charts, too.

Below are some of the biggest books blowing up on TikTok recently.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (2019)

In 2019, after publishing three incredible collections of poetry – Burnings (2010), No (2013), and Night Sky with Exit Wounds (2016), the latter of which won the young poet the Whiting Award and the T.S. Eliot prize – poet Ocean Vuong released his heart-breaking debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Written in epistolary form, the book follows young man Little Dog’s letter to his mother, as he unpacks a family history and his own eventful life at the same time. Between Vuong’s gorgeous, poetic prose and its moving finale, the book has set TikTok aflame.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2017)

Mixing the glamour of the Golden Age of Hollywood with historical fiction, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has found a second life on TikTok after becoming a bestseller in 2017. Here, at the age of 79, fictional star Evelyn Hugo – herself a mix of Elizabeth Taylor, Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth – divulges to journalist Monique Grant the secrets of her life, in what promises to be a make-or-break interview in Monique’s career. Over the course of their discussions the two women realise their lives are more intertwined than first realised. The novel’s tragic ending is worth the 400-page wait.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller (2019)

In 2016, when Brock Turner was sentenced to just six months in prison after being found guilty of sexually assaulting Chanel Miller, the case went viral as an example of a broken and misogynist justice system designed to protect perpetrators. Three years later, Miller released her captivating memoir, Know My Name: The Survivor of the Stanford Sexual Assault Case Tells Her Story. In her powerful and haunting account of the event and her life afterwards, she mixes humour and poignance, providing a model for making sense of trauma. On TikTok, the tale of truth and resilience continues to move young readers seeking to build a better world.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (2020)

Watch any #BookTok post, and you’re likely to come across The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, V.E. Schwab’s latest novel, and a veritable TikTok phenomenon. When a young Addie LaRue finds herself bound to a forced marriage in the 1700s, she prays to the gods, and one finds her – and grants her freedom and immortality, with the caveat that nobody will ever remember her after one encounter. Lonely and stranded to time, she witnesses the historical events of the ensuring centuries until the present day in New York. There, she meets a man who, having made his own deal with the gods that whoever encounters him can see what they desire most, can remember her name; it’s what Addie desires most, after all. The twist? When the two meet, Henry only has 30 days to live…

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (2019)

One of this list’s more unconventional inclusions is Erin Morgenstern’s immersive, 500-page epic. Touching on styles like modern fiction, folk tales, metafiction and biography, The Starless Sea tells the non-linear tale of Zachary Ezra Rawlins as he stumbles across an authorless library book that includes, amongst other text, biographical details about his life – including an episode from his youth in which he came across what might have been a magical door. Throughout the rest of The Starless Sea, Zachary navigates the world on the other side of that door – and its fantastic, fateful ending has made it a TikTok sensation.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover (2016)

Of all her 11 novels, author Colleen Hoover has called It Ends With Us “by far the hardest book I’ve ever written” – the 2016 bestseller was based on the relationship between her parents. The novel follows protagonist Lily who, having built herself the life she’s always wanted in Boston, begins slowly building a relationship with the commitment-averse Ryle – until her first love, Atlas, reappears, forcing Lily to confront her past and decide the cost she’s willing to pay for love. If you’re a romance obsessive, It Ends With Us is an absolute must-read.

Legend by Marie Lu (2011)

First published a decade ago, Marie Lu’s extraordinarily gripping Legend — the first in a quadrilogy of YA novels set in a dystopian future, including Champion, Prodigy, and Rebel – has become something of a TikTok phenomenon. Loosely inspired by Les Misérables, this first entry tells the story of June Iparis and Day Wing, two teenagers born on opposite sides of the economic and political spectrum in a totalitarian Los Angeles: June is being groomed to one day lead the totalitarian regimes; Day is a wanted criminal. That the two must eventually cross paths, with scintillating results, is perhaps unsurprising – as is its TikTok success, given the 2019 release of the series’ finale, Rebel.

Normal People by Sally Rooney (2018)

Big on TikTok, big everywhere else, Sally Rooney’s second novel and follow-up to the massive Conversations With Friends is a literary juggernaut. Longlisted for the Booker Prize and now a hugely successful television series, Normal People follows the complex relationship between teenagers Connell and Marianne as they navigate young adulthood, an economic downturn, shame, love and more as they pass in and out of each other’s lives. As much a love story as an exploration of the personal histories that define us, Normal People is both critically acclaimed and a bestseller. If you haven’t read it yet, now’s the time.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2014)

Jennifer Niven’s 2014 young adult novel is a stirring tale of friendship, and a poignant treatise on grief. In All the Bright Places, two teenagers in suburban America meet one fateful day at the top of the town belltower, each having planned to jump to their death. When both convince each other to step down, the duo – Violet, a popular student, and Finch, labelled a freak by his peers – become unlikely and inseparable friends. Told from both Violet and Finch’s points of view, it’s an immersive, emotional story that’s been as much a hit on TikTok as its film adaptation was on Netflix.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (2014)

E. Lockhart’s explosive YA novel We Were Liars is an exploration of self-acceptance, morality, family and accountability for our actions – it’s hardly surprising that the book has blown up on TikTok, where young readers are themselves grappling with these big issues. The plot follows young Cadence Sinclair Eastman, who visits her wealthy family’s island ever summer until she’s 15, when she suffers a traumatic head injury in the water that changes her life. When she returns to the island two years later, everything has changed – and as she begins to piece together what happens, Cadence is forced to reckon with a different form of trauma.

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Image: Ryan MacEachern/Penguin

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