Writer’s note: This article contains minor spoilers.
The growing popularity of the social media platform “TikTok” the past two years means the rise in niche TikTok subcategories; one of them being “BookTok,” a combination of books and TikTok. With over 13 billion views under the hashtag on the app, and their own table at beloved retail bookseller Barnes and Noble, the public’s collective love of reading has been reawakened.
These books are popular, sure, but how can anyone truly be sure that these are good book recommendations? Ones that showcase authentic representations as to what a gay relationship even is?
It is important to note that not every book featuring a queer male character is inherently a romance: These novels feature men-loving-men couples, yet some are more romance-centric than others. In this article, I’ll be reading and analyzing how these four books fare in terms of plot structure, representation and overall enjoyability.
“Red White and Royal Blue” by Casey McQuinston
The best love stories start with a rivalry and a star-crossed-lovers trope. “Red White and Royal Blue” unconventionally showcases both, but between the First Son of the United States and the Prince of England.
This unconventional rivals-to-lovers story follows Alex Claremont-Diaz, our First Son and Prince Henry Fox-Mountchristen-Windsor, Prince of Wales, as they find solace in each other away from their busy political lives.
While reading, I found the book incredibly realistic, yet unrealistic at the same time. They bicker and they fight as young adults do and I found that aspect incredibly refreshing. However, how their relationship didn’t cause international outrage and had not destroyed or altered international relations forever is beyond me, but what’s the fun in having too much realism in romance?
“Red White and Royal Blue” showcases a romance that is beautiful, raw and idealistic at the same time. With a sprinkle of realism and a gallon of fiction, this book bakes the perfect novel for the hopeless romantic.
“They Both Die at the End” by Adam Silvera
This novel is painful, sad and unfortunately stays true to its title.
The dialogue throughout is monotonous, as to be expected. Who can stay optimistic when finding out they’re going to die?
Rufus Emeterio and Mateo Torez get the call from the death cast: an organization formed to give people notice of their inevitable deaths 24 hours before they pass. They meet and befriend each other, and their love is one for the ages: one that should have lasted more than a day.
An inevitable death of a major character may turn some readers in the other direction, but I encourage them to pick it up. It showcases loss and death as beautiful as it is tragic.
“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
A short, to-the-point story of how Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza and Dante Quintana find themselves in English class novels, a 1957 Chevy pickup truck and the stars in the sky.
Set in 1987 El Paso, Texas, nothing particularly tragic or dramatic happens, but it’s the realism that hurts the most. How easy is it to get hit by a car, get sent to the hospital or fall in love with your best friend?
Aristotle and Dante do what friends do: they sketch each other, listen to music and write each other letters. They also kiss, which was a revelation on Dante’s behalf.
Unlike the previously mentioned “Red White and Royal Blue,” this story is stunning and painfully true-to-life. The writing is short and to-the-point, and the chapters are short: perfect for the reader in a rush.
“The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller
If you love Greek mythology and crying your eyes out nightly, then “The Song of Achilles” was made for you.
Based on the characters of ancient Greek writer Homer, the book is set not in Achilles’ point of view, but his friend and lover, Patroclus instead.
The story stays true to the myth: Patroclus is exiled, Achilles joins the fight to rescue Helen of Troy, their ashes are mixed and their souls to be reunited at death
Does it portray a realistic relationship? Of course not. “The Song of Achilles” is based on Homer’s “Illiad” and cannot be held to the same standard as the aforementioned novels. But it was tragic and poetic and the characters came to life each flip-of-the-page.
Madeline Miller once wrote, “Name one hero who was happy.” In conjunction with that, I say, “Name one reader who wasn’t drawn to tears after finishing the book.”
So is it safe to say that some BookTok recommendations are good? The word “good” is subjective on its own. These four books showcase a strong plot and compelling storyline, as well as being somewhat accurate and holistic, but how much one enjoys it is up to the reader’s interpretation of it, and you can’t let an app tell you that.