The 25 Best Sad Books to Read When You Need a Good Ugly Cry
We love a light and breezy read, but sometimes we want a book that really makes us feel. That’s where these 25 sad books come into play. Load up your Kindle or your Bookshop cart and make sure you’ve got some tissues on hand.
1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Four graduates from a small college in Massachusetts move to New York to follow their dreams and escape their demons. There, their relationships deepen, and painful (like, seriously messed up) secrets from their past emerge.
2. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Anything but your typical dystopian sci-fi, this remarkably subtle novel imagines what life would be like if you were a clone, born to have your organs harvested in early adulthood. (We repeat: It’s haunting and weirdly subtle.)
3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This 2005 novel follows a young girl in Nazi Germany who, following the death of her brother, is sent to live with foster parents who open her eyes to both the power of words and the chaos and loss surrounding her. Her solution? To steal banned books before they can be burned.
4. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
In 1970s Ohio, a Chinese-American family is rocked by the disappearance of its favorite daughter. When her body is found in the local lake, the Lees’ carefully crafted façade is destroyed. What follows is a moving and sensitive family portrait about the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle to understand one another.
5. Beautiful Boy by David Sheff
You thought the movie was heart-wrenching? Sheff’s harrowing account of his son Nic’s descent into crystal meth addiction charts a father’s (and a family’s) realization that the happy son he thought he knew has become someone who’s hurting himself and others. Full of moments both tragic and beautiful, Sheff’s book is best consumed with a box of tissues nearby. (For what it’s worth, Nic’s companion book, Tweak, is also worth a read.)
6. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize winner tells the story of a French girl and a German boy on opposite sides of World War II. Doerr examines the horrors of war, treating both characters with equal empathy.
7. Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
This is a devastating account of the author’s life before and after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, which claimed the lives of her entire family, including her husband and two young sons. Despite the bleak subject matter, Deraniyagala injects the slightest amount of hope into her story—but don’t expect to get through it without bawling.
8. Stay with Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
Set in modern-day Nigeria, Adebayo’s unforgettable debut novel is the story of Yejide and Akin, a young couple who, together, rejects their community’s long-held tradition of polygamy. But four years into marriage, things start to unravel; Yejide is not getting pregnant and the possibility of a second wife is literally knocking on their door. Stay with Me takes a no-holds-barred look at the fragility of married love, the nature of grief and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood.
9. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
Over five years, acclaimed writer Ward lost five men in her life to drugs, accidents and suicide. Dealing with these losses, she confronted the reality of living through all the dying.
10. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Nine-year-old Oskar Schell is wise beyond his years and mourning the loss of his father when he finds a mysterious key in his closet. His subsequent journey around New York City to find answers is riddled with humor, sweetness and intense grief.
11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
This 2003 novel about a wealthy merchant and his servant is set against the backdrop of the final days of the Afghan monarchy—and will make you seriously cry as you watch an unlikely relationship torn asunder.
12. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This refreshingly non-saccharine book, told from the alternating perspectives of a ten-year-old with jarring facial anomalies and his various family members and friends, gets our Golden Tissue Box award for most quality tear-jerker in recent history.
13. Night by Elie Wiesel
In one of the preeminent books about the Holocaust, Romanian-born Wiesel, in just over 100 pages, writes about his experience with his father in the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in mid-1940s.
14. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
After the death of her husband and serious illness of her daughter, Didion attempted to make sense of the "weeks and then months that cut loose any fixed idea I ever had about death, about illness."
15. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Louisa takes a job caring for Will, a wheelchair-bound man who has decided he wants to die. Their relationship, while rocky at first, eventually grows into something more fulfilling than either expected, making the book’s inevitable end even more upsetting.
16. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
If you love Me Before You, you’ve probably already read this smash-hit 2012 novel about a 16-year-old girl with cancer who falls for a 17-year-old amputee. If you haven’t, get on that—you’ll love it.
17. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
It’s 1969 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and the four Gold siblings—Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon—hear about a psychic in their neighborhood who professes to know how long they have to live. Told in sections from each sibling’s perspective, it raises the question: Does knowing when you’ll die encourage you to live life to the fullest, or does it cause more harm than good?
18. In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi
Journalist and feminist icon Susan Faludi always had a strained relationship with her abusive, estranged father. And it only got more complicated when he called out of the blue to tell her that he had transitioned, and was now a woman. Faludi travels to Budapest to visit her father post-surgery, keeping a riveting travelogue of the very strange trip.
19. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
As beautifully written as it is devastating, this young neurosurgeon’s memoir of dying of cancer reflects on the nature of a meaningful life—and will have you reexamining your own relationships and attention to gratitude.
20. Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Sixteen-year-old Tessa has just months to live, so she decides to make a list of things she wants to do (hence the title). Number one on the list is sex, and the story that ensues is dynamic, brave and heartbreaking.
21. A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks
Set in North Carolina in the late 1950s, Sparks’s novel about two teens in love will make you cry as much as (if not more than) the film of the same name—and the author’s other delightfully sappy masterpiece, The Notebook.
22. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
The death of Judd’s father marks the first time that his whole family has been together in years. Mourning the loss of his father and his marriage (having recently uncovered his wife’s affair), Judd, his mother and his siblings reluctantly sit shiva and spend seven days and nights under the same roof.
23. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Finch thinks about suicide and Violet lives for the future. What they learn from each other makes for a heartfelt, clever and thought-provoking YA novel.
24. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Clare and Henry meet at the ages of 6 and 36. But thanks to a genetic disorder that causes Henry to time travel at random increments, they’re able to marry when Clare is 23 and Henry is 31. The unpredictability of their encounters will make you weep and hope for true love to win out.
25. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
If Lenny asking George if he can tend the rabbits doesn’t make you cry, you might be a robot.