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My Thoughts on “Lightlark,” Alex Aster’s TikTok Sensation 

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UFL chapter.

The viral TikTok novel accused of promising more than it delivered

“Would you read a book about a cursed island that only appears once every hundred years to host a game that gives the six rulers of realm a chance to break their curses?” reads author Alex Aster’s viral TikTok video posted on March 3 of 2021. 

The video, which currently has 1.9 million views, was the starting point of Aster’s rise to Booktok fame. The book referred to in the video is Lightlark, which was recently published on August 23 of this year. It was Aster’s third published book and her debut into the YA genre. It’s also the book that allowed Aster to take the internet, particularly TikTok, by storm, inspiring her 996.7 thousand followers with her inspirational story of overcoming rejection in the publishing industry. 

As she discusses in her interview with Good Morning America, Aster had received rejections from “over 16 publishers” who claimed that the book was just not good enough to compete in the competitive YA market. Determined to prove them wrong, Aster turned to TikTok and shared that first video. A week later, publishing company Abrams Books reached out and offered her a six-figure book deal for Lightlark. Once again, Aster turned to TikTok and shared the news to her quickly growing fanbase. Before long, she turned into a BookTok celebrity, sharing countless promotional videos that promised it to be a diverse and “spicy” romance. She even gave readers what were supposed to be sneak peek descriptions of certain scenes in the book.

The Controversy 

Despite all the initial positivity surrounding Aster and Lightlark, serious controversy arose when the advanced reader copies of Lightlark came out in mid-August. The controversy centered around allegations that Aster had entirely misrepresented her book and many fans were disappointed that a book with such an inspiring story now appeared to be a letdown. TikTok user @bookish.puertorican harshly criticized the book in her video, which starts by saying “we were lied to, scammed, taken for fools.” The user continues by sharing that many of the scenes Aster promoted were not in the book and that despite promises of diversity, it was “another white fantasy.” This TikTok user was not alone, Goodreads members flooded the review section in outrage. One reviewer, who goes by the username “Bean,” posted a 2,982 word critical review of the book and found problems with everything from Aster’s world-building to her word choice. 

Yet the criticism did not stop with just her writing, many people went on to claim that she had used her wealthy family connections to buy her success and that her inspirational story was all a façade for the sake of marketing.  

The most notable of these connections is Aster’s twin sister, Daniella Pierson, an entrepreneur who made Forbes’ 2022 list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women. Their father is Keith Pierson, the owner of a successful Toyota dealership in Jacksonville, Florida. In fact, growing up, Aster and her twin appeared in a variety of different commercials for their dad’s dealership, and the commercials were popular enough in the area that the two were regarded as local celebrities long before their current success. 

In 2015, Jax4News published an article detailing the twins’ transition from “dealership darlings to college-aged entrepreneurs,” in which they described how the two were busy starting their own businesses in college. In a more recent article by Forbes, Daniella Pierson reveals that her parents had given her a $15,000 loan for this very business, and while I could not find any documentation of Aster receiving a loan, it’s clear that her family has the financial means.  

My Take

So, does she deserve the hate? Did she advertise herself and her novel in a false light? Is she abusing her privilege to jump start her career? To get a better grasp of the situation, I decided to give Lightlark a read. Personally, I am an avid fantasy reader and an active participant in the BookTok community, so I feel that I have a pretty good grasp on how it compares to other popular books in the genre. And in my opinion, it is incredibly average.

The first thing that caught my attention reading Lightlark was the lack of worldbuilding. The entire world is based upon the fact that there are six different realms that each suffer from a deadly curse. Yet, neither the realms nor their curses were explained in depth.  One realm’s curse is that all the residents inevitably die before the age of 25, however, it’s never explained how the realm hasn’t died out. Do they all have children before age 25? An entire realm of people who grow up without parents, who are then forced to become young parents before they die is something that would create deep emotional repercussions, yet this is not touched on in the book.  The other curses all raise similar questions but were never explained.

Like many of the initial reviewers, I also felt that the book did not read the way it was advertised.  The love triangle was incredibly bland, and I found myself uninterested in both love interests, which seemed more like amalgamations of tropes and quotes than actual characters. I was also disappointed by the lack of diversity. There is only one character who is obviously not white.  While lack of diversity is not uncommon in the fantasy genre, Aster falsely advertised the book as diverse, for which I think she rightly deserves criticism. All that being said, I did enjoy the book. While it’s nowhere near the best that YA fantasy has to offer, it had its fun moments and I appreciated some of the prose.  

As far as her monetary connections, it’s clear that Aster comes from a very successful and wealthy family, which likely afforded her with more opportunities than other starting authors.  However, it’s hard to fault her for taking advantage of those opportunities, which she clearly has.  She continued pursuing her writing career with a fierce passion, despite receiving countless rejections and the relative unsuccessfulness of her first middle-grade series. She also used TikTok to market herself into a six-figure book deal, while simultaneously cultivating a huge follower base and securing a movie deal. That is no easy feat for anyone.  

Despite the controversy, Lightlark still became the top book on The New York Times bestseller list during the week of September 11, 2022, Aster’s TikTok content about the book still receives thousands of views and the sequel is scheduled to be published sometime next year.  Neither Alex Aster nor Lightlark are perfect, but they are still an inspirational story of perseverance in the face of rejection.