Angry readers are flooding TikTok and the GoodReads page of an author’s upcoming book with one-star reviews after the author attacked a particular reviewer for rating the novel four out of five you stars. GoodReads appears to have stopped book reviews in response, freezing the page as of Wednesday. The book’s publisher dropped the author in response to the controversy. The author later apologized to the reviewer privately. Welcome to a bona fide BookTok scandal.
Commercial producer Sarah Stusek’s debut novel Three Rivers, a work of young adult fiction, is set to be published on September 12 of this year. Its former publisher, Sparkpress, describes it with the logline: “Two strangers take Stella from her bedroom in the middle of the night and take her to Three Rivers, a wilderness therapy program for troubled teens. – teenager.” The Sparkpress site notes that the book has been optioned, with production set to begin later this year. The novel is somewhat autobiographical – Stusek describes going through similar difficulties 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 woke her up in the middle of the night at the age of 17. According to her website, Stusek works on Veep and House of Cards.
The controversy began over the weekend when GoodReads user Karleigh Kebartas, an event planner at a Massachusetts nursing home who graduated from Pace University last year, posted a positive review of an advance copy of the book. It was the first book he got early, he said. The initial version of his review was praised Three Rivers as “an excellent first novel!!!” but said that “the end is kind of predictable,” so the near-perfect score.
“This is an excellent first novel!!! Stella’s experiences are obviously based on the author’s true stories. And I love how intricate the details are about Stella’s show lol. The ending is a kind of predictable, but other than that amazing! he said.
But a Tuesday update to his comments showed that the Stusek reviewer’s opinion soon escalated: “EDIT: the author is now attacking me on tik tok for not giving him a 5-star review (it’s a 4) 😭😭😭😭 giving her a 1 just for her character! I don’t think the book is bad but her character really is!”
Stusek responded to Kebartas on TikTok: “I had a perfect 5 star average until the bitch came out. She said, ‘The ending is kind of predictable.’ Yeah, well, this is my life, not a murder mystery. ‘But other than that, it’s amazing,’ so you only gave me four stars? The video attacking Kebartas’ review is no longer visible on the profile of Stusek’s TikTok, removed for violating TikTok’s community guidelines, according to screenshots and Stusek himself.
Kebartas never watched the video, knowing it would upset him. In a TikTok, he asked Stusek to ” apologize for being mean for no reason… I don’t think it’s funny, and I don’t see it as a joke.”
Videos summarizing the confrontation between the two women and commenting on it have gathered thousands of likes and millions of views. Almost everyone came down on the Kebartas side.
When a TikTok commenter asked if Stusek would offer a public apology, he doubled down and said he wouldn’t: “I got a community guidelines violation because you don’t joke. I literally a comedian. You obviously haven’t read my book. But anyway, welcome to the show!” Rejecting calls for a public apology, he posted a video of himself wearing a hat that read “That’s not deep” on Wednesday. Commentators disagree. Author Kevin T. Norman wrote the top comment, “I’m sorry I can’t read backwards but I think it says, ‘I have 1 star on goodreads.’”
On GoodReads, the book boasts 651 one-star reviews at the time of publication, 97% of its total reviews. One review, which identified hundreds of followers of Stusek’s video, read: “In another life, I might have enjoyed this book. Went out and took it and everything. Should have opened it and decided to scroll through tik tok where I saw a video of the author calling someone a ‘bitch’ because they left her a four star review. A FOUR BIOD REVIEW. Not one or two or even three but FOUR STARS.
Another simply said, “The author thought it was funny to quote the reviewers so let’s dance!”
There are no reviews on Three Rivers Posted after May 31, indicating that the site may have stopped reviews in response to a large influx of negative comments. Videos posted on TikTok also show a “Rating this book is temporarily unavailable” message on Three Riverspage. IMDB struggles with the same problem with reviews on The Little Mermaid this week, decided to weigh less one-star reviews in response to “suspicious voting activity” – a similar flood of one-star reviews. GoodReads does not deny that it has frozen reviews for Three Riversinstead released a vague statement on the matter: “During times of unusual activity on a book page, we have stopped new reviews/ratings on that book while our team -moderate new reviews to ensure they meet our review guidelines.”
Sparkpress, published Three Rivers, tweeted on Thursday, “For several reasons, including but not limited to an attack by a reviewer and many others online, we have decided to part ways with one of our authors.” Navigate to Three RiversThe ‘Sparkpress page’ website returns a “Page not found” error message.
Stusek apologized to Kebartas via Instagram DM. In a voice memo sent to the reviewer, the producer said, “I didn’t mean to be aggressive, and I’m very sorry that I was. I want to make sure you’re ok. I’m kidding, and I’m sorry I’m off base and that it didn’t land. I don’t care about the one star review or the angry crowd following me. I just want to make sure you’re ok. I’m sorry I hurt you.”
Reached by phone, Stusek told Gizmodo he felt “good.” He said he’s seen heated comments on his videos, including one that said Kebartas was upset with his video about the review. He hasn’t read the GoodReads reviews.
“I’m sorry I hurt him,” Stusek said. He said he will not post any more public statements. He hopes that the book may still come out on the scheduled publication day, with a different publisher.
Kebartas told Gizmodo, “I’m glad he apologized and that he reached out. I appreciate that.”
Stusek removed his video of the entire event as a joke at Kebartas’ request and Kebartas bought books from Amazon’s wish list later as a peace offering.
“I totally meant it as a joke,” Stusek said. “I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t want to hurt anyone. A four star review is amazing. It was very nice of him to take the time to do that. Being upset about a four star review is ridiculous. “
Kebartas said he asked Stusek to remove the video calling the whole thing a joke because “it’s not true, it’s not funny, and it’s not ok.”
“I asked him to tone it down because it was obviously not a joke,” Kebartas said. “It wasn’t necessary for him to make that video. I didn’t want it to be out there.” Stusek’s first video of the review worried Kebartas, who seemed to have done something wrong.
As for dropping him from his publisher, Stusek considers it a “blessing in disguise.” He said that authors approached him with congratulations for being separated from the publisher. He is still in negotiations with Sparkpress, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Those people are sketchy as hell. I didn’t hear from them once until they issued a public apology to SparkPress. They were just worried they didn’t look good. It’s like an MLM, I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, he said.
For his part, Kebartas said he received a lot of support and positivity in response to Stusek’s comments. He was very grateful.
“The fact that so many people are commenting nice things is crazy. I don’t know how to react. Authors are coming to ask me to review their books, and my tick has gone from 2000 to 2000. of 3000 followers,” he said.