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BookTok’s infatuation with ‘sad girl’ novels is as complex as the books themselves

Readers toe the line between commiserating with and romanticizing mental illness.


Kaiya Shunyata

Internet Culture


This story was originally published on Passionfruit.

BookTok has rapidly changed the book industry. From bookstore tables labeled “As Seen on #BookTok” to publishing houses now having new partnership programs for TikTok users and Bookstagrammers, online book reviewers have quickly become influencers within their own right. 

With this new influence, creators have helped propel the “sad girl” or “unhinged girl” trend that is dominating not only BookTok, but TikTok in general. The “sad girl” and “unhinged girl” stem from one of the last year’s biggest TikTok trends—the Fleabag era. In a piece for Dazed, writer Emma Garland described the Fleabag Era as being reminiscent of a “fatalistic tone of dissociative feminism,” which “rather than anything new, has been the default tone of posting for years.” In it, women would discuss modes of self destruction, the antithesis to the trend of waking early, working out, and being the best version of oneself—known as the “that girl” era. One TikTok user described the Fleabag era to be a mode of “completely destroying your life from the inside out,” and even though you have the power to prevent this self destruction you “choose to go along with it instead.” 

On BookTok, these trends consist of TikTok users recommending, reviewing, or hauling books that fall under these subgenres. The most popular picks include Sally Rooney’s Normal People, a novel that focuses on Marianne who struggles with her mental health throughout her life, and Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, a book that focuses on an unnamed female narrator who has a blatant disregard for the wellbeing of herself and those around her. Some novels under this category, like A Certain Hunger and Acts of Desperation, have even sold out at Canada’s biggest book retailer Indigo due to the hype these books are receiving online. 

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