Every day, BookTok influencers are recommending new reads, often grouped by a theme or trope: books to make you cry; enemies-to-lovers stories; queer coming-of-age. But what if they could pick one book – just one – that changed their life, and made them into the reader they are now?
We pressed a handful of the UK's most beloved BookTokkers to do just that; their picks show the diversity of taste on the ever-expanding platform. Might your life-changing read be below, too?
Coco, @cultofbooks: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
When I was younger, I always felt that the person I was couldn’t meet the perfect standards expected by society. But Sarah Dessen writes YA contemporary romances, and she’s very honest in the stories she tells. Her characters are so flawed, and when I was in my teens that was beautiful to see: it made me realise there was nothing wrong with me not being perfect, because my journey will eventually grow and mould me into the person that I will become.
Saint Anything (2015) is about a girl who falls in love with a guy, but her brother goes up goes to jail because of some stupid, reckless stuff that he does. The great thing with Sarah Dessen is that she never adds the epilogue to her stories: there are just poignant moments at the end. Whether the main character remains in love, finds new love or decides she wants to pursue her future, the story continues on. It has always done that for me, too.
Callum, @libraryofcalcifer: Circe by Madeline Miller
I'm a massive fan of Greek mythology, and when my interest in it began I read Circe by Madeline Miller, and it really changed my perspective on certain myths and everything that we've read through the literary canon. Historically, according to male writers, Circe is this horrible, evil witch, but what I really loved here is that Madeline Miller gave her a voice; you realise that Circe isn’t a horrible person, she just does bad things to horrible people (mostly men). Circe (2019) uses the stereotypes of Greek mythology that everyone recognises, then subverts them. That really spoke to me; it was beautiful, it was poetic, and it felt authentic.
Holly, @the_caffeinatedreader: Solitaire by Alice Oseman
Alice Oseman writes about characters going through school, college and university, and I’ve read her books while I’m the same age as her characters. So I read Solitaire (2014) when I was in the midst of all the exam stress during my second year of college, just like the book’s character Tori Spring. I think the mental health representation that Tori offers made me fall in love with her character. I’ve never gotten a tattoo – the thought of it stresses me out – but if I ever was to, it would be something from Solitaire. That book just spoke to me.
Tolu, @tolusuniverse: The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus
I think The Stars and the Blackness Between Them (2020) is just amazing. It’s about two Black queer people, just loving each other. And honestly? I've never read a book like that. It felt revolutionary reading it. It can be quite harrowing to read about things that they're going through as young people, but ultimately it’s just so nice to see love existing in different forms.
Emily, @emilymiahreads: The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
You know when you get caught up in a book? I remember being really young and just being like, 'read, read, read' and finish. The Magic Faraway Tree (1943) was the main book that did that for me: I remember reading and re-reading it over and over again. Even now, I feel like I could tell you some of the stories, like the adventures the characters went on. It was the book that sparked my love for reading properly.
Hali, @booksonthebedside: Boy Parts by Eliza Clark
I only read Boy Parts (2020) at the beginning of the year, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I follow Eliza Clark on Instagram; she’s only a few years older than me, so it feels like she’s part of a new generation of writers. I think she was so brave in writing a character that was so heinous; it felt like American Psycho with none of the misogyny. I felt like the book was deeply feminist as a result, that it was forgiving me for my shortcomings or the dark thoughts that I have. It broke down the idea that women have to try and be so perfect, that we have to match up to beauty standards. There was something really freeing about that.
Kerrie, @booked_up: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas
A Court of Thorns and Roses (2020) was the book that I loved so much it made me need to get involved in the online community just to talk about it. I read it in the first place was because I saw it recommendations on Bookstagram. At this point, I had one friend that was talking to me about it, but I still absolutely loved that community aspect of it. I loved it so much, that I had to have a larger platform to discuss it with. It was the book that pushed me into having my own page.
Meg, @readwithmeg: If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio
I read If We Were Villains (2017) for the first time on a coach trip to Durham at the end of my first term of university with an incredible group of new friends. It was a cold day, we all bundled up and it just felt perfect for the book, which is very 'dark academia'. The book has a sense of found family but also plays with morally ambiguous characters. It focuses on theatre, which I adore and means a lot to me. So having all of that in one book, with gorgeous writing and incredibly formed characters who feel so real and so flawed and so interesting? It just captivated me.
Ramlah, @inked.thoughts_: Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
I’ve recently got around to reading the Shatter Me (2021) series, and while it’s not new, it’s really resonating with me. I feel like it’s a big BookTok favourite. Tahereh Mafi is a Muslim author, and her representation is great: it has a hijabi main character, and a Japanese main character, and their wider friendship group is diverse too. I’ve been reading a lot of romance, and Shatter Me has got me into fantasy, but the writing is unique too: the author really gets into the emotions. There is a kind of writing that can do that, that makes you feel both connected to the characters as well as feel for them. It’s great in a series, because you are just so invested.
Photograph at top: Coco holds her favourite book, Sarah Dessen's Saint Anything (Andy Parsons for Penguin)