The best books that have gone viral on TikTok

Leah Cowan reveals some lesser-known titles that burst into the mainstream after gaining huge followings on TikTok.

27/04/2022
4 minutes to read
A picture of The Atlas Six and A Little Life next to the TikTok logo

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Tiktok, a short-form video-sharing social media platform, would not be the place for an enormous community of bookworms to develop. And yet, 'BookTok' is an ever-growing phenomenon full of fervent fans recommending their favourite reads. At time of writing, BookTok videos have amassed 28 billion views in total.

Here, Leah Cowan delves into the BookTok community and highlights some books that have shot to widespread popularity as a result of being featured on BookTok. 

The internet can be conceptualised as a two-headed chimera. On one hand (or head), it has spawned forums where bile can be spewed and hatred whipped up; platforms where exploitation festers, and spaces where companies and states conduct surveillance and mine our data. On the flip side, the internet has also enabled the creation of precious, cherished spaces where voices and perspectives that have historically been pushed to the margins can speak loudly and proudly. BookTok, a loose online community on the video-sharing platform TikTok, is such a space.

On BookTok, users (typically in their late teens and early twenties) share book reviews in the format of short, digestible video clips. There is a real sense of vulnerability, authenticity and open-ness which differentiates this community from traditional spaces where books are reviewed and recommended; a recent trend is for BookTok'ers to post clips of themselves crying while reading a book, urging others to jump aboard the emotional rollercoaster that novels so often take us on.

What’s most interesting about BookTok is its sub-communities. For example, on black BookTok and queer BookTok, books by authors who don’t adhere to the straight, white, privileged, often male profile that have forever dominated the publishing industry, take centre stage. Even on mainstream BookTok, titles which showcase a range of experiences and identities often receive the most hype. Some of the most-loved books on TikTok at the moment, such as The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and The Song of Achilles both feature queer protagonists (although notably, both are written by authors who identify as straight).

BookTok has had a remarkable influence on sales; it has propelled books to ‘go viral’ and created a renaissance of interest in titles many years or decades after their publication. In an age where corporations are clawing back control of the potentially democratising space of the internet, BookTok is ahead of the curve in showcasing titles which reflect a broad range of lives and experiences, and opening up the world of literature to ever-widening audiences.


Here are just some of the biggest hits of BookTok so far:


The Atlas Six

by Olivie Blake

Book cover for The Atlas Six

Dystopian fantasy novel The Atlas Six was originally self-published by Olivie Blake, and was then snapped up for re-publication after it rose to fame on BookTok. The story centres around the Alexandrian Society, who are a prestigious secret society of magical academicians who guard knowledge retained from the ancient The Library of Alexandra, and who subsequently enjoy a life of unparalleled riches and high status. A select number of highly-skilled magical practitioners are admitted to the Society each decade, and the book follows the attempt to join the society by one such cohort of six; among them embodying powers such as telepathy, and the ability to influence other people’s emotions. The novel went viral on BookTok, where it is praised for its ‘dark academic’ aesthetic, queer representation, nuanced exploration of moral questions of ‘good’ and ‘evil, delicious illustrations, and progressive politics. The Atlas Six is brimming with mystery, magic and enigma, and will leave readers eager for its upcoming sequel.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Book cover for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, inspired by Ava Gardner's lost memoir, spins a pacy, entertaining yarn. We follow magazine reporter Monique Grant as she embarks on a much-coveted opportunity to write a biography about faded Hollywood icon, Evelyn Hugo, while also experiencing the breakdown of her marriage. The book’s treatment of race and sexuality is a little heavy-handed and the reveal of identities are sometimes played for effect without much nuance. However, the novel is an enjoyable contribution to the genre of historical fiction. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a heartfelt tale of private love and loss outside of the spotlight, set against the bygone backdrop of glamorous Tinseltown.

A Little Life

by Hanya Yanagihara

Book cover for A Little Life

A Little Life is a sprawling, harrowing chronicle of friendship, published to wide acclaim in 2015. It follows the stories of four men in New York, and follows their life from university to middle age. The fabric of the novel is soaked with trauma; it spans experiences of child sexual abuse, chronic pain, sexual assault, and PTSD, and holds its characters in the steely grip of suffering and sadness without much reprieve. However the novel also enables space for flashpoints of redemption; of enduring friendship, and genuine care and affection in the face of adversity. BookTok embraced A Little Life, which met the criteria for gut-ripping tragic plotlines, which is a common theme among titles celebrated on the platform.

They Both Die at the End

by Adam Silvera

Book cover for They Both Die at the End

They Both Die at the End is Adam Silvera’s third novel, and found renewed fame on TikTok in 2020, three years after its initial publication. The book is a captivating work of speculative fiction with a powerful queer romantic story arc; the premise is a world where inhabitants are told when they are going to die. When the novel’s protagonists Mateo and Rufus receive the news, becoming ‘Deckers’, they both decide to download an app called Last Friend, which enables them to spend the final day of their life with a brand new friend: each other. The book explores profound aspects of the human condition including regret, opportunity, and the ever-present spectre of mortality that ultimately gives life potency and meaning.

The Song of Achilles

by Madeleine Miller

Book cover for The Song of Achilles

Set against the epic backdrop of the mythological Trojan War, The Song of Achilles charts a tender rite of passage' for Patroclus, exiled to the kingdom of Pthia, and Achilles, the son of Pthia’s king, Peleus. The young men’s steadfast friendship across the chasm of their different social statuses develops into love, catapulting Patroclus into war alongside Achilles, where they will face a powerful reckoning with themselves and their bond to each other. The Song of Achilles won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012, but has soared back to the top of the bestseller charts after finding renewed appreciation on BookTok.

Raybearer

by Jordan Ifueko

Book cover for Raybearer

Jordan Ifueko’s debut Young Adult fantasy novel is packed with mythology, folklore and heart-stopping plot twists. The story follows Tarisai, who grew up in isolation, and is sent off to the capital city of Aritsar, tasked with trying to join the Prince’s Council of Eleven. In the Council she finds comfort and community she has been deprived of, however, a spell cast at her birth means that she must kill the cornerstone of her new chosen family: the Crown Prince. Ifeuko’s Raybearer universe is an architectural tour de force; from the sounds and smells of the natural world to the range of spiritual practices observed across the empire, readers are plunged into a many-dimensional world. The novel shines brightest in its nuanced critiques of patriarchy, colonisation and inequality without segueing into earnest propaganda. Raybearer spins a beguiling and multi-layered yarn, which will leave readers hungry for the sequel.


More viral Booktok Books you'll love:

Red, White & Royal Blue

by Casey McQuiston

Book cover for Red, White & Royal Blue

What happens when America's First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

Alex Claremont-Diaz is handsome, charismatic, a genius – pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House ever since his mother first became President of the United States. There’s only one problem. When the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an altercation between Alex and Prince Henry, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family and state devise a plan for damage control: stage a truce. But what begins as a fake, Instagrammable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon they are hurtling into a secret romance that could derail the presidential campaign and upend two nations.