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The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

OPINION: Leave the dark romance to Wattpad

BookTok’s dark romance obsession has gone too far
Savanna Nichols

Many of us on TikTok have had the displeasure of the algorithm showing us to a certain corner of “BookTok,” the so-called community of readers on the app. There, you’ll find a group of readers, mostly women, who make countless videos sharing bits and pieces of the “dark romance” genre. These books are often ranked by their “spice level” or, for those of us who at least occasionally touch grass, how pornographic they are. 

Nearly every social media app has a subcommunity where people discuss literature, but what I find notable about TikTok’s bookish community is the significantly higher concentration of people who rave about these horribly written, tacky, Wattpad-esque publications. 

I’ll admit, when the first criticisms of the “dark romance” TikTok genre were voiced, particularly about Colleen Hoover (the mother of trashy BookTok writing), I rolled my eyes. I’ve never been super into the romance genre in general, but I held the opinion that this was the usual pretentious attempt to make younger women the butt of another joke. At least people are reading something, even if that’s a pretty tasteless something.

Fortunately, my opinion has changed. While the Colleen Hoover era has passed its peak trendiness, it has acted as a gateway into a world of even worse books I want the young, impressionable girls on TikTok freed from. 

The content some of these authors are pushing out (at the pace of a SHEIN factory, mind you) is not only poorly written but downright harmful. Again, romance has never been my cup of tea, but surely you people are not enjoying reading scene after scene of what is essentially sexual assault and domestic abuse. 

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not one for censorship; however, I think it’s more than reasonable to see a problem with literal porn being marketed like crazy to a younger audience and getting away with it because of the label “dark romance.” 

The work of authors like Hoover and Penelope Douglas belongs in mass market paperbacks with cover art of posed shirtless actors so embarrassing that you can’t pull it out in public or in the AO3 bookmark you have in your incognito window from when you were 16. They do not belong on the front table of your local Barnes & Noble or at the top of every other BookTok micro-influencer’s list of recommendations. What happened to shame and decorum?

Besides the garbage fire that is the content and writing of these books, TikTok has created a culture of reading that I despise. It’s part of a larger issue of anti-intellectualism TikTok and influencer culture has barfed all over its chronic users that I truly hope we can leave behind someday. 

Instead of being valued for plot and decent composition, these books compete for who can cram the most ridiculous, hyper-specific tropes into one story. Why do I care that your book is about academic rivals to lovers with forced proximity and arranged marriage at a masquerade ball when it’s written at a seventh-grade level? And, in turn, popular BookTok creators compound the problem by recommending books based on these tropes instead of quality. I find this to be an insufferably cheap, consumerist way to discuss literature, if we can even call these books that. 

At the end of the day, we read and enjoy what we want. I merely hope that this odd little subsection of online readers is another internet phase we soon grow out of, and the female main character in an abusive relationship with the hot alpha male of your dreams becomes a thing of the past.

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About the Contributors
Salsabila Attaria
Salsabila Attaria, Arts and Culture Editor
Salsabila Attaria is the arts and culture editor for The Sunflower. Attaria is a health science major.  She previously worked as a reporter and assistant news editor. She uses she/her pronouns.
Savanna Nichols, Illustrator/Designer
Savanna Nichols is a first-year illustrator for The Sunflower.

Comments (2)

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  • D

    DroMay 11, 2024 at 3:52 am

    “I’m not one for censorship” and then proceeds to tell us why you’re all for censorship. “But the CHILDREN! *PEARL CLUTCHING*” Most of the booktok folks in question are in their late teens and 20s.

    I don’t like the dark romance genre, but acting like fiction is harmful is part of why we have plummeting reading comprehension. “You mustn’t read this! You’re too DeLiCaTe and SuScEpTiBlE” Teenagers and 20-somethings are capable of thinking for themselves and being challenged. If you’re that concerned with abuse being romanticized IN FICTION, then the key is to teach what it looks like IRL, not censor – and I cannot emphasize this strongly or often enough – FICTIONAL works.

    Please grow up and get a grip.

  • T

    TeemoMay 8, 2024 at 7:15 pm

    I’m so happy this was written in first-person and everything was shared with “I” and “my”. This was an interesting way of letting us know you’d be the worst person to hang out and be friends with. Great grammar though.