Inside ‘Booktok,’ the trend reigniting teens’ love of reading


It’s no secret that the number of teenagers who pick up and read a book each day for fun has been steadily declining since the mid-twentieth century. Now, more than ever, the majority of high schoolers seem to be ditching the written novel and opting for other leisure activities. In fact, a recent study shows that in the 1970s, about 60 percent of high school students read a book every day, and today that stat has gone all the way down to a mere 16 percent. 

Now, many people—mostly adults—have tried to come up with some plausible explanations for this phenomenon (there are, no doubt, many), and one of the most popular is young people’s frequent use of social media. 

It seems obvious enough that teenagers spending too much time on social media would have a direct effect on the dwindling number of young readers, but many of today’s young readers see social media and its effects in a much different light. 

“I love reading,” junior and avid reader Teresa Waterkotte explains. “I would not be the reader I am, or maybe at all, if it wasn’t for BookTok.”

BookTok: a community within the popular social media app, TikTok, where young people share their opinions, recommendations and just overall thoughts about books in super fun and engaging ways. And it’s not only TikTok. Instagram and other platforms have also fostered wonderful spaces for young readers. 

So, from the perspective of many high schoolers, social media is actually the leading cause of the revival of teenage readers, not the steady decline. 

“TikTok has increased the number of readers, because it’s such a popular app,” junior Sophia Petroff explains. 

Much like Waterkotte, Petroff found herself and her community through TikTok, Instagram and the space they provided for her to grow and interact with other young readers, something that has not been as easily accessible in the years before social media came into the picture. 

“[It brings together] people who have similar interests and are around the same age,” Petroff says. 

The idea of young people engaging in these online discussions with other young people plays a huge role in the rebirth of reading that we’re seeing in teenagers today. 

“I feel like BookTok has revived reading and made it seem fun and cool,” Waterkotte says.  

It’s almost as if reading has become a “trend” in the eyes of many high schoolers, and that is, of course, due to social media. This newfound trend is so influential, in fact, that bookstores everywhere, including local bookstore Page One and Barnes and Noble branches all over the country, are putting out “BookTok tables” on which the many universal BookTok recommendations lay. 

“The fact that a social media app like TikTok, that is usually looked at as a joke, was able to grow such a large following that bookstores have a dedicated section to BookTok is incredible,” Waterkotte says.

The books that rest in these sections are just as special and unique as the people reading them. From fantasy to romance to mystery and more, the diversity in genre and plot (or “trope”) is astonishing. It seems as though you can find virtually anything on BookTok, whatever it is you might be looking for. 

The stories that the BookTok community are spreading are all impressive, unforgettable and genuinely important reads, especially for teens. These books aren’t just cheesy romances and cliches, they engage in important, real-world issues through characters that young people are able to connect with (some of them for the first time in their reading careers). 

Turtles All the Way Down [by John Green] and Every Last Word [by Tamara Ireland Stone] both talk about OCD, and it’s helped me understand it better,” Petroff explains, giving two examples of books that have been floating around BookTok for a while now. 

The characters in Sally Rooney’s Normal People deal with issues as serious as domestic abuse while Kiley Reid’s novel, Such a Fun Age, tells a deeply important story rooted in racism, and those examples are just scratching the surface of all sorts of issues that BookTok books speak to, many of the topics that have been drastically underrepresented in the reading community up until this point. 

And yes, not all the BookTok books directly discuss topics as heavy as racism and domestic abuse, but they all engage in modern-day issues through a remarkable diversity in characters and settings that has never been seen before. 

Chloe Gong’s These Violent Delights, for example, retells the all too familiar tale of Romeo and Juliet on the dangerous streets of Shanghai in the 1920s. With a Chinese woman in the leading role, a trans woman as the main supporting character and a gay romance in the background, These Violent Delights represents the diversity that is BookTok in a wonderful way. 

All the books in Leigh Bardugo’s epic young adult fantasy world of the “Grishaverse” contain characters of all different races, sexualities and gender identities, and while the stories may not be seen as anything more than incredibly entertaining at first glance, the diversity in the novels offer an important message in itself. (Not to mention the fact that BookTok is so influential that the first novel in the Grishaverse, Shadow and Bone, was made into a Netflix TV show released last year). This is something that many of the BookTok books provide and something that was much rarer before social media. 

For the first time ever, young readers everywhere are starting to have the opportunity to see themselves as a book character, with the help of BookTok. 

From the multi-racial couples of Six of Crows (Leight Bardugo) and A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder (Holly Jackson), the LGBTQ+ relationships in Red White and Royal Blue (Casey McQuistion) and They Both Die at the End (Adam Sevara), and so so much more, BookTok books are providing a previously unimaginable amount of diversity that makes these stories, and the people reading, them so very important. 

“Reading improves intelligence and critical thinking, of course,” junior Lily Roback says, “but it also provides a source of entertainment away from screens which I think is needed in the world today.” 

“It also inspires creativity,” Petroff says. “And it’s a good break from the stress of life and academics.” 

The fact of the matter is, reading changes young lives. With all the negative statistics and adults placing blame on social media for the reading decline, it’s easy to overlook things like BookTok. Modern communities like this are bringing young readers together like never before and creating a space for students to feel at home, fall in love with reading and spread that love to more young people.