Adventures in the YA Bestselling Metaverse

Endless sagas, TikTok, and lots of blood

I’ve never been a fan of teen literature, sorry, YA. Or, may I correct, of what we have currently stigmatized and labeled as YA literature. However, Time Magazine published a list of the 100 Greatest Young Adult Books of All Time (chronologically since 1800), and I came across some of my favorite novels: William Golding’s Lord of The Flies; Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye; Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl; Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and…(yes, shame on me) Little Women. Then the list jumps to the “new classics” such as The Hunger Games and so on.

The point is that for many years, young readers literature’s themes used to be really diverse, deep and almost timeless. But a lot has changed since the 1800s and now we are in a new era and publishers direct YA themes to a niche that looks for what seem to be certain formulas that turned the literary market into a gigantic profit machine. Because kids do spend money… a lot of it.


So I went to the place where every author wants to be and where I was sure I would find the books thaty young people are reading, or at least buying: The NY Times YA Best Sellers List. I scanned the list and chose the three authors with the most weeks in the top ten (until the week of June 25, 2023). And guess what? Bingo! There I met these three young authors, who are hotter than a barbecue on the surface of Venus: Alex Aster and her novel Lightlark, with 42 weeks on the list; Adam Silvera’s The First to Die At The End (36 weeks) and Holly Jackson’s Five Survive (28 weeks). By reviewing the authors’ themes and styles, it was easy to get an idea of ​​the current preferences in YA literature. So let’s dive into the new literary fountain of youth (and absurd death).

Alex Aster is a pretty Colombian-American author. At the age of 24, she published her first novel, Emblem Island: Curse of the Night Witch, following that with Emblem Island: Curse of the Forgotten City. They mix fantasy with scary stories from Colombian culture. She credits her grandmother by telling her all the legends and fables during her childhood. An agent signed Aster and scored her a book deal upon her graduation from the University of Pennsylvania. The books (with simple, imaginative prose and lots of visual references almost comparable to a video game) sold well. Then came TikTok, and her life (and bank account) changed overnight.

But who is really Alex Aster? The bombastic, almost terrifying answer comes from her website: “Hi, I’m Alex. I’m the #1 New York Times Bestselling, #1 Wall Street Journal Bestselling, #1 Publishers Weekly Bestselling, #1 Indie Bestselling, and USA Today Bestselling author of Lightlark, which sold in 30+ territories and in a major movie deal with Universal and the producers of Twilight pre-publication. I am also one of the most-followed authors in the world, with over 1 million followers, and 150 million views on my videos. My middle grade Emblem Island series was published to critical acclaim. I’ve been featured on Good Morning America, Kelly Clarkson Show, Business Insider, Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Refinery29, The Today Show, The Guardian, and am a 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30.”

Damn, after such an introduction, obviously her next step will be to try to take over the world, start a new massive cult/religion or… do her thing to get Elon Musk to put her in charge of Mars colonization…. that’s before turning 30, now she is (only) 27 years old.

According to Aster, a dozen publishers rejected her next novel’s manuscript, Lightlark (whose plot also takes place on an island), so she posted a video on TikTok, showing off her cute face and long brown hair, asking a simple question: “Would you read a book about an island that appeared every 100 years, where six rulers had the chance to break their generational curses and save their people?” My answer would have been “Why would I read such nonsense?”. Poor Alex went to bed, she was sad since there wasn’t an immediate response, but the next morning and unlike the dozen or so publishers who rejected her, more than  a million TikTok users turned the post viral. And right away, a six-figure book deal with publishing rights in more than 20 countries, movie deal and press all over the world. The future Colombian colonizer of Mars was right on target.


It’s called Lightlark #booktok #bookstan #bookclub #yabooks #books

♬ original sound – yeah

After its publication and instant sales success, there was a TikTokean controversy: many users complained that Alex “lied to them” by promising a “spìcy” scene that ultimately didn’t make it into the book. And obviously this translated into many young readers crying on TikTok, as if someone were torturing them. You know, the usual stuff.

Lightlark’s 416 pages bear an enormous similarity to the setting of The Hunger Games, but Alex Aster wrote a work that entertains and has a certain Latin flavor in terms of family relationships and romance, almost soap opera level but within a fantasy world.  Needless to say, Lightlark is the start of a saga. The book is fast-paced, there is suspense, danger, adventure. Is it a good book? Well, it’s like eating a slice of pizza that you may enjoy at the moment but may not remember next week.

Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies


Now let’s get to the next saga: 32 years old Adam Silvera’s The First to Die at the End, prequel to his bestseller “They Both Die at the End”. It was quite a sensation when Silvera published it back in 2017 and Netflix will turn it into a series to premiere possibly next year, with the singer Bad Bunny as one of the producers. Netflix won the auction from five streaming platforms, including HBO, which was involved along with J.J. Abrams on the  project. The official synopsis of the novel goes like this: “On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.” Silvera is an author from the LGBTQ community and They Both Die at the End was the first queer latino novel to reach #1 on the NY Times YA bestseller list.

Silvera’s themes are related to death, depression, uprooting, and love. And the author himself has battled against borderline personality disorder.

The 31-year-old British author Holly Jackson completes this selection with Five Survive, her first novel outside of the Good Girl’s Guide to Murder saga. “Red Kenny is on a road trip for spring break with five friends: Her best friend– the older brother–his perfect girlfriend–a secret crush–a classmate–and a killer. When their RV breaks down in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, they will soon realize this is no accident.” That’s Penguin Random House’ synopsis. This is a thriller in which a sniper tries to kill young people. And as the title explains, five survive…he only ends up killing one.

One thing that strikes me about the titles of many of the best-selling YA genre is how self-explanatory their titles are: there’s no surprise as to what will happen with the characters. I don’t picture F. Scott Fitzgerald titling his masterpiece: “They Shoot Jay Gatsby To Death In The Swimming Pool”

But many, if not most, of the best sellers in the Young Adult genre all come out of TikTok’s BookTok subculture, where it’s all about speed, near-suffering, and victimization of young readers. It is actually a sample of our era where nothing stops and the literary substance weighs less than a title that explains everything. It’s all about mass consumption. These are young TikTok influencers who happen to have written books. But the real hook is the image they project on BookTok, that will be the secret of their success or failure.

One of Alex Aster’s tips for young aspiring writers is to take a good look at the best-selling books and issues of the last two years before you focus on writing a novel.

I can’t imagine Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy following this suggestion…although I can’t imagine him posting on TikTok either.


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Dr. Carlos Flores

Dr. Carlos Flores is a Venezuelan reporter and author of cult classics La moda del suicidio, Temporada Caníbal and Unisex. He's been editor-in-chief of several Venezuelan newspapers and magazines, a former Newsweek En Espanol correspondent, and contributor writer for HuffPost's Voces. Now that he's sick of being a broke reporter hunted by the Chavista regime, he's turned into a screenwriter and is developing a couple of series that will make him rich and even more famous.

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