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Are Younger Readers Being Exposed to Too Much ‘Spicy’ Content on BookTok? [Opinion]

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The online group BookTok began as a safe environment for people of all ages to take and give book recommendations to each other, but it slowly grew into a much more controversial community. When asked about BookTok, Bella M., a teen who’s often on TikTok, describes it as “an online community of people who read books that”  “seems normal, until you look at the part where adults are recommending [books with explicit content to kids.]” “It’s not all bad though,” says Bella. 

BookTok has not only become unfit for younger readers because of the books that are highlighted but also due to the behavior of some individuals within the community. Recently, in my time on BookTok, I’ve noticed that it has gained an older audience that creates and recommends more suggestive and explicit content. Even if the reader isn’t specifically looking for this content,  they will still be exposed to it. 

I do not feel like a lot of said ‘BookTokers’ make content appropriate for earlier teens and younger. They repeatedly post smut lines from books, and when they aren’t, it’s all just weird stuff in those same books,” says Sara, a 14-year-old who’s active in the community. These books contain massive amounts of sexual content. For example, “Where’s Molly by H.D. Carlton” normalizes abuse, sexual assault, and stalking, along with other content that shouldn’t be glorified. These topics harm younger audiences by exposing them to such explicit content and teaching them that certain actions are normal and can be made without consequences. 

New literature, specifically romance, has also changed drastically, especially when compared to classic romance novels like “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, or even “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare. Newer novels focus on smut, which is any sexual material in books and movies, and tropes, such as “‘teacher and student,” or even “brother and sister,” which are common in more “dark romance” titles   Somenewer novels are written solely for their sexual/suggestive aspects. Many people claim that new romance novels have “lost the plot.” Zoe, a teenage girl familiar with BookTokstates, “It just made BookTok overall. They revolve around those topics and it’s gross.”

Collage by Bree Collins.

Before these new waves of romance books were introduced, regular tropes like “enemies to lovers” or “love triangle” were popular. Since then, more concerning tropes have surfaced in books. Many of the newer novels romanticize real issues like sexual assault, stalking, and abusive relationships. If a person has dealt with these issues, seeing the same content in books can be offensive and triggering.. With so much explicit content in much of the entertainment young people consume, their books should be the one safe space to “cool down” or “escape” from the real world. Even that simple ask is being taken from these readers.

Believe it or not, there are still some books appropriate for young readers such as “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” and “The Kane Chronicles” by Rick Riordan, “A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder” by Holly Jackson, and many others. These books differ from others like “Haunting Adeline” by H. D. Calton, which promotes sensitive topics such as rape, stalking, and other sensitive content. Grace, a teenager who enjoys reading as a hobby, said “BookTok has affected literature in many ways. Sure, some BookTok books are good, but others ruin literature and are just not good. These books promote many toxic behaviors, especially in ‘Haunting Adeline,’ which literally promotes rape. BookTok overall has just taken over all literature and ruined people’s reading choices.” Nowadays, it’s very hard to find a decent romance novel without feeling uncomfortable 90 percent of the time while reading. But, as stated earlier, appropriate books for younger readers are still being made and we should push the younger audience to lean towards those books.

Romance has always been a profitable genre, pulling in a solid billion dollars a year for decades. Since 2020, romance books have grown even more popular, largely due to the increased popularity of BookTok among viewers and content creators. With the addition of new readers, comes newer ideas and hobbies. BookTok people (which mainly includes women) have started a trend of obsessing over any guy with a motorcycle. They flood the comments of a TikTok with suggestive advances and odd remarks. The recipients of this attention often seem to tolerate, if not welcome it, but there is an issue when BookTok’s newest collective crush is uncomfortable with the attention or the nature of the comments and BookTokers fail to respect their boundaries. It is an even greater issue when the person receiving those comments is a minor. 

Recently a 16-year-old on TikTok had his comments flooded with inappropriate comments, largely from middle-aged women active in the BookTok community. Kayleigh Donaldson, an author and pop culture critic, says  “His TikToks went up in viewership numbers tenfold and the comments sections were full of women who were admittedly old enough to be his mother making some deeply inappropriate comments.”

The 16-year-old in question (whose handle we chose to omit to protect him from further online harassment), was harassed by BookTok for owning a motorcycle, this shows how BookTokers will do anything to fulfill their book fantasies. The BookTok community has made it their mission to make any guy who remotely fits the ‘book boyfriend’ standards. Most times, BookTok will “claim” a BikeToker (anybody who owns a motorcycle and is actively on TikTok). Even when they aren’t on a “BikeTok” video, when something remotely sexual happens in a video, BookTok will rush to say things like “Don’t let BookTok find this” or “The BookTok girlies are here.” This gives the impression that everything BookTok is about is just smut and also gives the other people on BookTok a bad name.

Overall, changes in BookTok and new literature have been very drastic – and not in a good way. BookTok is no longer a safe space for all readers, and neither is new literature. Romanticizing domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking is not something that should be glorified in novels. If not, the next generation of readers and books could be affected. More content creators can start to shift their content to more YA-appropriate videos, recommendations, and other things. For readers, specifically younger ones, sticking to YA books and keeping a reasonable distance from BookTok is a reasonable idea.

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