I was once in a reading slump. A very, very long reading slump.
Definitely a multi-year slump.
Ever since I was old enough to hold a book and independently read words on a page, I’ve been a bookworm — constantly, physically attached to a book no matter where I was.
The pace of my reading never really slowed down… until I was in the middle of my undergrad studies. I read fewer and fewer books each year after university. It was a struggle finding narratives that were capable of holding my attention.
But I still wistfully remembered all the days I spent getting lost in other worlds…
Several years ago, I realized I might be attempting to read the wrong books.
Quite by accident, I spent a few years reading only books by women. It was my first attempt to get back to my pre-university churn through books. This was 2018 — and it felt like breathing fresh air for the first time after being indoors too long.
I realized, after the third book in a row that really held my attention that year, I’d been missing this female voice and a perspective that felt a bit homier. I loved it. Each character’s inner life was, if not more relatable, more nuanced and engaging.
I knew, then, I needed a new source of reading recommendations… because the mainstream bestsellers just weren’t living up to the hype.
I never expected TikTok to solve my problem.
As a social media manager, I shouldn’t have resisted TikTok as long as I did.
Almost immediately, I found #booktok and book reviews short enough to hold my pandemic-damaged attention span. Bonus! These titles weren’t the same ones I’d seen over and over.
Additionally, many of the TikTok recommendation lists featured authors who are all women of color.
As soon as I started reading — and then energetically jumping to the next rec — I knew I’d beat my reading slump… Finally. Each new writing voice, with the flow of their prose, pulled me in immediately and didn’t let me go.
The Three TikTok Book Recommendations That Saved Me
‘This is How We Fly’ by Anna Meriano
This is How We Fly’s main character, Ellen Lopez-Rourke, is 17, vegan, sarcastic, insecure, and outspoken about her feminist values. It’s a contemporary Cinderella retelling, including a rocky stepmother relationship, adorable half-sister, and still-living father.
Ellen gets grounded almost immediately after her high school graduation, and the only place she can go unsupervised is Quidditch practice. Readers will not be in doubt about whether or not the author supports JKR’s recent, harmful statements. There is a very clear condemnation of TERFs.
Casual Potter references — and casual JKR putdowns — made me laugh all the way through.
As a fairly sporty person, I identified with the competitive characters… But I also saw pieces of my younger self in Ellen as she learned to handle her strong convictions outside of the theoretical vacuum of her thoughts.
It was a fun, easy read that left me wishing I’d found a Quidditch team to join during my college days — thanks to the secondhand thrill of various game victories.
I gave it a four-point-five out of five stars.
‘A Song Below Water’ by Bethany C. Morrow
I always fall in love with well-done, real-world but just-a-bit-magical stories… and that’s what A Song Below Water is.
Magical creatures are real and fairly “normal” to the rest of the world, including sirens. Sirens, however, are heavily discriminated against. Because their voices have such power, sirens who are outed publicly are forced to keep their powers locked up.
There’s a family secret, sisterly love, social justice, and magical intrigue — including but not limited to a mysterious gargoyle protector.
Every other chapter is written from the first-person perspective of either Tavia or Effie. They aren’t biologically related, but they love and support each other as close-knit sisters should. Trying to keep Tavia’s siren voice a secret while they also deal with misogyny, racism, and typical high school drama shows how deep their relationship runs. And that was my favorite part of this book!
I gave it a four-point-five out of five stars, simply for some of the pacing.
‘Blood Like Magic’ by Liselle Sambury
I really never thought I’d use the adjective “gripping” unironically in a book review, but here we are. Blood Like Magic was legitimately gripping all the way through. Imagine that one social media episode of Black Mirror with a side of secret magic society, and you’ll have a good grasp of the science-fantasy setting.
Voya is 16 years old in a futuristic Toronto, where she grew up in a family of Black witches. During her magical initiation, she has to choose between killing her first love or letting her family’s magic disappear forever. The catch is… She’s never been in love before. It’s a coming-of-age story with very high, very witchy stakes — but there’s no wand-waving.
The family’s power, as the title suggests, is in their blood. And Voya’s power is in her decisions.
This might be one of my favorite first-person narratives ever. I legitimately cannot think of another author who has woven a first-person perspective with such in-character, yet poetically eerie descriptions. It never took me out of the story — my heart pounded and I was hyper-focused until the end.
This was the feeling I wanted to find again when I was trying to get back from my bookless existence. I was one hundred percent engaged while thinking about important relationships and decisions in my own life that I’ve made. I’m energized and ready to pick up the next book.
Actually, I’m also inspired to write.
I gave it five out of five stars… I also put a calendar reminder for myself in early 2022 to check on the release date of the sequel.
Note: There are content warnings in the foreword of the book and on the author’s website:
“Whipping scene within the context of slavery, gun/police violence, discussion of and character with an eating disorder, blood/gore/violence, death, substance abuse/addiction, mentions of child neglect. There are mentions of systems existing in the book which misgender trans people that is discussed by the characters.”
I’m Still Reading!
The way these amazing women wrote believable, nuanced, inspiring heroines — and other supporting characters — made reading exciting again, instead of a chore I only attempted.
And I’m still picking up more books! Usually, books I see mentioned, of course, on TikTok.
I’ve only recently picked up With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, but I do have high hopes. So far, it has a compelling start with gorgeous prose! Warning — many delicious recipes are in these pages, you should not read this on an empty stomach. On second thought, you probably shouldn’t read Blood Like Magic on an empty stomach either.
So, here’s to inspiring recommendations from surprising places!