Angry readers flooded TikTok and an author’s next book’s GoodReads page with one-star reviews after the author attacked a particular reviewer for rating the novel four stars out of five. GoodReads appears to have suspended book reviews in response, freezing the page as it was on Wednesday. The book’s publisher dropped the author in response to the controversy. The author later apologized to the reviewer in private. Welcome to a real BookTok scandal.
commercial producer Sarah Stusek’s first novel Three Rivers, a work of fiction for young adults, was due to be released on September 12 this year. His former publisher, Sparkpress, described him with the connecting line: “Two strangers pull Stella out of her bedroom in the middle of the night and take her to Three Rivers, a wilderness therapy program for troubled teens.” The Sparkpress site noted that the book has already been optioned, with production expected to begin later this year. The novel is somewhat autobiographical – Stusek describes undergoing a similar ordeal as the protagonist. The producerwho goes by @sarahshooots on TikTok, posted a video on the anniversary of her orchestrated abduction detailing how two strangers appeared in her childhood bedroom and chased her away in the middle of the night at age 17 years old. According to his website, Stusek worked on Veep And Card castle.
The controversy began over the weekend when Karleigh Kebartas, a GoodReads user, an event planner at a Massachusetts nursing home and a graduate of Pace University last year, posted a positive review of a copy preliminary to the book. It was the first book she had ever had early, she said. The initial version of his review praised Three Rivers as “a very good first novel!!!” but said “the ending was rather predictable”, hence the near-perfect score.
“It was a really good first novel!!! Stella’s experiences were obviously based on the true stories of the author. And I loved the intricacy of the details of the show Stella was on lol. The ending was rather predictable, but other than that, it was amazing!” she said.
But a Tuesday update to his comments says the reviewer’s opinion of Stusek has rapidly deteriorated: “EDIT: the author is now attacking me on tik tok for not giving it a 5 star review (c was a 4) just for his attitude! I didn’t think the book was bad, but his attitude certainly is!
Stusek replied to Kebartas on TikTok: “I had a perfect 5 star average until this female dog appeared. She said, “The ending was pretty predictable.” Yeah, well, this is my life, not some fucking murder mystery. “But other than that it was amazing, so you just gave me four stars?” Video attacking Kebartas’ review no longer appears on Stusek’s TikTok profile, removed for violating community guidelines from TikTok, according to screenshots and Stusek herself.
Kebartas never watched the video, knowing it would upset her. In a TikTok, she asked Stusek to “apologize for being mean to me for no reason…I don’t think it’s funny and I don’t find it a joke.”
The videos summarizing the confrontation between the two women and commenting on it have accumulated tens of thousands of likes and millions of views. Almost all descend from the side of Kebartas.
When a comment on TikTok asked if Stusek would issue a public apology, she doubled down and said she wouldn’t: ‘I got a community guidelines violation because you can’t take a joke . i am literally a actor. You obviously haven’t read my book. Anyway, welcome to the show! Ignoring calls for a public apology, she posted a video of herself wearing a hat reading “It’s not that deep” on Wednesday night. Commentators disagreed. Author Kevin T. Norman wrote in the top comment, “Sorry, can’t read backwards, but I think it says ‘I got 1 star on goodreads’.”
On GoodReads, the book has 651 one-star reviews at the time of publication, or 97% of its total reviews. A review, indicative of the hundreds who followed Stusek’s video, reads: “In another life, I probably would have enjoyed this book. I went out and brought it and everything. I was about to open it and decided to scroll through tik tok where I saw a video of the author calling someone a “bitch” because they left him a four star review . A FOUR STAR REVIEW. Not one or a two or even a three but FOUR FREAKIN’ STARS.
Another simply said, “The author thinks it’s funny to insult the critics, so let’s be hilarious!”
No opinion on Three Rivers were posted after May 31, indicating that the site may have suspended reviews in response to the massive influx of negative comments. Videos posted on TikTok also display a “Rate this book temporarily unavailable” message on Three Rivers‘. IMDB encountered the same problem during reviews of The little Mermaid this week, deciding to weigh one-star reviews less heavily in response to “suspicious voting activity” – a similar deluge of one-star reviews. GoodReads did not deny having frozen reviews for Three Riversinstead posting an equivocal statement about it: “During unusual times of activity on a book page, we are suspending new reviews/ratings for this book while our team moderates recent reviews to ensure they meet our review guidelines.”
Sparkpress, which published Three Rivers, tweeted on Thursday: “For a number of reasons, including but not limited to attack from a reviewer and several others online, we have decided to part ways with one of our writers. .” Navigate to Three Rivers‘ on the Sparkpress website’ returns a ‘Page Not Found’ error message.
Stusek apologized to Kebartas via Instagram DM. In a voice memo sent to the critic, the producer said, “I didn’t mean to be aggressive, and I’m so sorry it was. I want to make sure you’re okay. I was being sarcastic, and I’m sorry I got away from base and it didn’t land. I don’t care about one-star reviews or the angry mob chasing me. I just want to make sure you’re okay. I’m sorry for hurting you.”
Reached by phone, Stusek told Gizmodo she felt “good.” She said she saw the fiery comments on her videos, including those saying Kebartas was upset by her video over the criticism. She hasn’t read the reviews on GoodReads.
“I regret hurting her,” Stusek said. She said she would no longer issue public statements. She hopes the book can still be released on the day of its scheduled publication, just with a different publisher.
Kebartas told Gizmodo, “I’m glad she apologized and reached out. I appreciate that.
Stusek took down his video about the whole affair being a joke at Kebartas’ request and purchased Kebartas’ books from the latter’s Amazon wishlist as a peace offering.
“I completely meant it as a joke,” Stusek said. “I didn’t want her to feel bad. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. A four star review was amazing. It was so nice of him to take the time to do this. To be upset by a four star review is ridiculous.
Kebartas said she asked Stusek to remove the video calling it all a joke because “it’s not true, it’s not funny and it’s not okay.”
“I asked him to take it off because it’s clearly not a joke,” Kebartas said. “It was pointless for her to make this video. I just didn’t want it to be there. Stusek’s first video about the criticism made Kebartas anxious, like she had done something wrong.
As for the fact that her publisher dropped her, Stusek considers it a “blessing in disguise.” She said the authors reached out to her with congratulations on unraveling from the publisher. She is still in negotiations with Sparkpress, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“These people are sketchy as hell. I didn’t hear from them until they demanded a public apology from SparkPress. They just worry that it will make them look bad. It’s kind of like an MLM, I had no idea what I was getting into,” she said.
For his part, Kebartas said he received an outpouring of support and positivity in response to Stusek’s comments. She is very grateful.
“The fact that so many people are commenting on beautiful things is so insane. I have no idea how to react. Authors contacted me asking me to review their books, and my tiktok went from 2,000 to 3,000 subscribers,” she said.