by Aadya Paswan
In January, the exciting news broke that Blake Lively and Justin Baldoni were cast as Lily Bloom and Ryle Kincaid, respectively, for the on-screen adaptation of the bestselling novel "It Ends with Us" by Colleen Hoover. But as fans took to social media to express their opinions, it became evident that not everyone was thrilled with the casting choices. This begs the question: What caused such a strong reaction? The answer lies in the world of BookTok, where the perils of instant success are all too real.
Thanks to social media, we've become a society of book critics and skeptics, sharing our thoughts and emotions about books with people across the globe. BookTok, along with Book Twitter and Bookstagram, has been hailed as the force behind "making reading cool again," giving us a platform to share favorite quotes and express how fictional character deaths devastate us. And surprisingly, there's a vast audience eager to listen. This phenomenon has birthed what we now call "The Bookish Community," which thrives on various social media platforms, with TikTok being the favorite among avid readers.
Enter "BookTok," a hashtag that has amassed over 102 billion views since its inception. On BookTok, readers unleash their thoughts, share book recommendations and reviews, display artworks and cosplays inspired by beloved characters, and virtually discuss anything and everything related to books. It's a vibrant hub of short-form content that has captured the attention of millions.
One popular video format dominating BookTok is "Book recommendations based on specific tropes." Among these tropes, the enemies-to-lovers theme reigns supreme, generating over 5 billion views. And within the realm of popular recommendations stands a book that has risen to extraordinary heights on BookTok: "It Ends with Us" by Colleen Hoover.
Originally published in 2016, "It Ends with Us" has gained immense traction through countless recommendations on social media, particularly TikTok. This surge in popularity has catapulted the novel to the coveted status of a New York Times Bestseller, where it has spent a staggering 97 weeks, and has sold over 4 million copies.
The story revolves around Lily Bloom, a recent college graduate who relocates to Boston to open a flower store. While grappling with the pain of her parents' troubled relationship and haunted by memories of her past partner, Atlas Corrigan, Lily finds herself falling in love with neurosurgeon Ryle Kincaid. However, their future is put at risk when Atlas resurfaces. Yet, beneath the novel's apparent success lie some problematic elements.
"It Ends with Us" portrays Lily and Ryle co-parenting their daughter, but here's where the novel's troubles begin. Ryle, an established sex offender, is depicted as picking up their infant daughter at the end of the story, despite Lily's concerns about his temper. Her justification, "Despite what has happened between us in the past, he's still this baby's father," sends an anti-feminist message and neglects the responsibility of protecting her child. While it's important to note that we don't have to endorse the decisions made by fictional characters, it becomes crucial to critically examine the impact of such narratives, given the wide reach of Hoover's audience, particularly young readers.
The primary age group on BookTok consists of 13-24-year-olds, who often view "It Ends with Us" through a romantic lens due to its categorization as a "romance" novel. Unfortunately, the book's portrayal selectively condemns physical abuse endured by Lily while disregarding the mental abuse. Atlas Corrigan, the main love interest, initially appears as a breath of fresh air in the story. However, he takes advantage of Lily, who already suffers from a turbulent home life, engaging in a sexual relationship with her when she is underage. Disturbingly, the book fails to acknowledge this problematic dynamic. Hoover's writing style, known for its simplicity and accessibility, makes her novels particularly appealing to impressionable teenagers who comprise a significant portion of her readership.
Earlier this year, Hoover faced significant backlash for attempting to expand her target demographic by launching a coloring book called "It Ends with Us - The Coloring Book," featuring scenes from the bestselling novel. In a world where TikTok influences almost every aspect of young adults' lives, from fashion choices to media consumption, including their reading preferences, Hoover knowingly misguides her target audience into romanticizing abuse and manipulation.
To further complicate matters, Hoover released a sequel titled "It Starts with Us" in October 2022, six years after the publication of the first book. In this continuation, Lily is shown co-parenting her one-year-old daughter with her ex-husband, completely overlooking the abuse she endured from Ryle.
Lou-Andrea Callewaer, an up-and-coming author, used TikTok to build a following and successfully sell her self-published debut novel, "I Fell in Love with Hope." This achievement caught the attention of Hoover's publisher, Atria Books, leading to a book deal for Callewaer. Her story is just one example of aspiring authors leveraging TikTok to gain an audience for their forthcoming works.
While BookTok has proven to be an incredible tool for authors and readers alike, propelling recommended books to the top of bestseller lists, it also has the potential to create a harmful environment and perpetuate dangerous beliefs among impressionable readers. Unfortunately, this has become the case with Hoover's works. It's crucial that we acknowledge the influence of platforms like BookTok and actively promote books that inspire, uplift, and foster healthy perspectives, rather than romanticizing problematic dynamics.
Edited by Emily Duff