I can hear your thoughts. Why would you want to read books that will make you cry? The thing is, it takes special kinds of books that make you cry.
For starters, you need to understand that I’m not really a crier. I didn’t cry when my kids were born – tears of pain do not count. Neither did I cry when my kids went off to school for the first time.
Sometimes it seems like every book I read has a sad ending. Yet, I’m not sitting here weeping after every book. As I said, it takes a special kind of book to bring on the tears.
It’s all about investment. No matter how tragic the story is, if I am not invested in the characters, I’m not going to cry.
Grab your tissues and make sure you are wearing waterproof mascara because I promise these are books to make you cry.
At least, they made me cry.
Psst. If you want some nonfiction books that make you cry, try out these heartbreaking memoirs.
Tearjerker Books about families
The Light Between Oceans
M. L. Stedman
After four years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.
The decision to keep the baby as their own sets up one of the most heart-wrenching conflicts I’ve ever read. Throughout the story, all of the characters’ decisions are made out of love for this little girl. That’s what makes the whole scenario so heartbreaking. Reading this book, I was constantly questioning what I would do in this situation. If you want a lively book club discussion, this touching book is the epitome of sad books that will make you cry.
Everything I Never Told You
“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.
This was one of my favorites of the bestsellers I read in the last few years. Celeste’s Ng writing is exquisite. As the family struggles with Lydia’s death, the author takes you deeper into the cracks and flaws of this mixed-race family. It is a poignant character study into the dynamics of a family where all the parents’ unfulfilled hopes are pinned on one child, to the detriment of all. By the end, I was in tears for these poor children and the damage that had been done by their parents’ selfishness.
All the Children are Home
Eleven years after they began fostering, Dahlia and Louie consider their family complete, but when the social worker begs them to take a young girl who has been horrifically abused and neglected, they can’t say no. As the years pass and outside forces threaten to tear them apart, the children, now young adults, must find the courage and resilience to save themselves and each other.
In a small town in Massachusetts in the 1960s, Dahlia and Louie Moscatell have finally found a rhythm as long-term foster parents. Then a social worker begs them to take on one more foster child – a six-year-old indigenous girl who will change their family dynamics forever. Patry Francis hits the emotions hard in this powerful story of love and family and the struggles of the foster care system. I cried with their heartaches and rejoiced in their victories, and can emphatically declare this one of the top books that will make you cry.
My Sister’s Keeper
Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate—a life and a role that she has never challenged…until now.
This is by far the best of Jodi Picoult’s books. Reading it, you get so invested in the lives of Anna and Kate that when the big twist comes – and it’s Jodi Picoult, so there is always a big twist – you feel so deeply the pain the characters are going through. As Anna makes a literally life-or-death decision, you just feel so torn between Anna’s needs, Kate’s needs, and the love and desperation of their mother. It’s definitely a book that will make you think about how you would react. Hopefully, you will never have to find out.
If I Stay
In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces – to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make.
I saw this movie at a drive-in theater, and I immediately knew I had to read the book. Mia’s emotions of watching her world change in an instant hit me particularly hard. As Mia decides whether life is worth living if her family might not be there with her, it made me wonder what I would do without my family. Of course, being a mother, just the thought of living without my family always brings me to tears. A great and emotional read perfect if you love young adult books that make you cry.
Heartbreaking Books Perfect for Book Club
Me Before You
Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.
Our grandfather was a paraplegic, so this book hit close to home for me. I was in tears at the heartbroken man who felt he had nothing left to live for, not fully understanding that there is always something more. Will brings meaning into Louisa’s life and gets her to reach beyond what she thought she was capable of. In return, Louisa tries to bring meaning back into Will’s life, before it’s too late. I promise, this definitely is one of those emotional books that make you cry big fat ugly tears.
One summer morning, twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles. Among them are a Wall Street wunderkind, a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, an injured veteran returning from Afghanistan, a business tycoon, and a free-spirited woman running away from her controlling husband. Halfway across the country, the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor.
With split narration between Edward’s post-crash years and the time leading up to the fatal accident, Dear Edward shows that surviving is just the beginning. Napolitano hits the emotions just right in this novel, making you deeply care about Edward’s progress while not turning the story into a full-blown tearjerker. A touching tale, Napolitano perfectly conveys Edward’s complicated coming of age years, giving you hope that even amid such tragedy, joy can be found. Certainly a must-read for books that will make you cry in 2020.
Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away.
Talk about a difficult topic. Lisa Genova writes the most heartbreaking and compelling tale in Still Alice. She left me wracked by her tale of a woman going through early-onset Alzheimer’s. You’ll be left terrified at a disease that can ravage the mind of such a brilliant woman, and angry at her husband’s poor coping. Trust me, your book club will have plenty to talk about as long as you are okay with books that make you cry.
In Five Years
After nailing her interview and accepting her boyfriend’s marriage proposal, Dannie goes to sleep knowing she is right on track to achieve her five-year plan. But when she wakes up, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. It’s the same night but five years in the future. After a very intense, shocking hour, Dannie wakes again back in 2020. She can’t shake what has happened. That is, until four-and-a-half years later, when by chance Dannie meets the very same man from her long-ago vision.
Lawyer Dannie Cohan knows exactly where she’ll be in five years – until the night of her engagement. In her post-engagement bliss, she has a vision of herself in five years engaged to someone else. She doesn’t think much of it, until years later when she finds he is dating her best friend. While the premise sounds light-hearted, partway through the story, beach read goes out the window and thought-provoking book that will make you cry steps in. You’ll feel compelled to know if the vision came true and surprised at how well Serle counters your expectations.
A Man Called Ove
Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.
Ove, a cantankerous old Swede, just wants to be left in peace so he can commit suicide, but his pesky neighbors keep getting in the way. A heartwarming tale that I found downright hilarious will be a book club favorite for years to come. Highlighting our need for connection in the modern world, A Man Called Ove typified how important it is to leave our digital worlds and make sure we check in on our neighbors. Books that make you cry and laugh at the same time are rare, so you won’t want to miss this one.
The Next Thing You Know
When Mason Shaylor shows up at her door, Nova doesn’t recognize him as the indie-favorite singer-songwriter who recently vanished from the public eye. She knows only what he’s told her: That life as he knows it is over. His deteriorating condition makes playing his guitar physically impossible―as far as Mason is concerned, he might as well be dead already. Except he doesn’t know how to say goodbye.
As an end-of-life doula, Nova’s job is to help the terminally ill cope with their impending death. Her most challenging client: Mason Shaylor, an up-and-coming indie singer-songwriter, who comes in asking for help to say goodbye after a deteriorating condition that has already caused him to lose his ability to play the guitar. Months later after Mason dies in a car crash, Mason’s mom comes in accusing Nova of assisting Mason’s suicide. Now Nova questions everything she thought she knew about a patient she had become extremely close to. The Next Thing You Know is a top-level tearjerker, expertly drawing you into the characters and perfectly timing revelations to emotionally wrench you.
Marley & Me
When the Grogan family is ready for a dog, they choose Marley, a yellow furball of a puppy who quickly grows into a large, rowdy Labrador retriever. Marley has a zest for life, and as he grows, so does his enthusiasm. He has an appetite for whatever he can get his paws on—from fine jewelry to underwear—and the one thing he always finds is trouble. Marley even gets kicked out of obedience school! Can this rambunctious pup ever learn how to be a good boy?
I don’t even like dogs, and I love this book enough to suggest that it is one of the books every millennial needs to read. Marley’s antics are absolutely hilarious. I laughed so hard at all the havoc he wreaked upon his family. But the love that springs up between Marley and his owner despite Marley’s many flaws is so touching. And when Marley eventually dies at a ripe old age, I was just in tears thinking of the wonderful life of the “world’s worst dog.” If this is not one of those books that makes you cry, there must be something wrong with you.
The Only Plane in the Sky
Garrett M. Graff
The first comprehensive oral history of September 11, 2001—a panoramic narrative woven from the voices of Americans on the front lines of an unprecedented national trauma. Award-winning journalist and bestselling historian Garrett Graff tells the story of the day as it was lived—in the words of those who lived it.
In this outstanding book, Graff compiles quotes from various people to fill out a brilliant oral history of a timeline of that fateful day. Let me tell you, this is a powerful read. I had to digest it in small pieces because I started to cry from the very first page. If I could rate it six stars, I would. With the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, you’ll want to add this to the list of books that made you cry.
Flowers for Algernon
In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie’s intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance–until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?
Here’s another book from my list of the 30 books to read before 30. It’s fascinating to follow Charlie’s progression through the wording and spelling of his diary entries as he goes from mentally disabled to extremely intelligent. You feel deeply moved by how Charlie is treated at both low and high IQ levels. Then when Algernon’s decline begins, you are in tears for this poor mouse and what it might mean for Charlie. A tear-jerker for sure.
Young Adult Books That Make You Cry
We Were Liars
A beautiful and distinguished family. A private island. A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy. A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive. A revolution. An accident. A secret. Lies upon lies. True love. The truth.
You will have to settle for a vague description of this book because I don’t dare risk spoiling it for you. As the protagonist Cadence slowly starts regaining her memory and all the details of what happened start becoming clear, half the fun is in trying to figure out what is going on. I really enjoyed trying to piece the mystery of this book together. All I can say is that at some point, this book will make you cry. But that is all the spoiler you will get from me.
A Monster Calls
The monster in Conor’s backyard is not the one he’s been expecting — the one from the nightmare he’s had every night since his mother started her treatments. This monster is ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.
This is the only book on this list of touching books that will make you cry that I read specifically for this post. Which made me wonder, if I know I’m supposed to cry, would that prevent me from crying? Since Conor’s mom is sick, I assumed she would probably die in some tear-invoking way. I won’t tell you if his mother dies or not, but her illness was not what brought me to tears. The part that touched me deepest was Conor’s feelings of invisibility. His desperate need to be seen. If you haven’t read it, please add it to your to-read list.
The Fault in Our Stars
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
Two kids with cancer who fall in love. Well, that’s a recipe for tears if I’ve ever heard one. Knowing that she will die someday sooner rather than later, Hazel is afraid to let anyone get close to her. In her selfless way, she wants her death to cause as little pain as possible. The true beauty of this story lies in the ending lines: “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you.” If you want an inspiring and emotional read, this book is for you.
The Book Thief
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.
I’ll be honest, the fact that this book was narrated by Death was a bit off-putting at first. However, this book is amazing. The story is particularly compelling for its look at what it was like for a German child to grow up in Germany during the war. You feel so involved in the life of Liesel and her best friend Rudy that you want to rejoice with them in their triumphs and cry with them in their sorrows.
100 Days of Sunlight
When 16-year-old poetry blogger Tessa Dickinson is involved in a car accident and loses her eyesight for 100 days, she feels like her whole world has been turned upside-down. When her grandparents place an ad in the local newspaper looking for a typist to help Tessa continue writing and blogging, an unlikely answer knocks at their door: Weston Ludovico, a boy her age with bright eyes, an optimistic smile…and no legs. Knowing how angry and afraid Tessa is feeling, Weston thinks he can help her. But he has one condition — no one can tell Tessa about his disability.
A brilliantly sweet and endearing story that I read in one sitting, bawling my eyes out at times. The story is really about Weston – not only how he lost his legs and how he put his life back together but also about his eternal optimism and inner fears. A poignant read, this darling love story is perfect for teens and adults and certainly one of the best books of 2019.
Five Feet Apart
Will’s exactly what Stella needs to stay away from. If he so much as breathes on Stella she could lose her spot on the transplant list. Either one of them could die. The only way to stay alive is to stay apart. But suddenly six feet doesn’t feel like safety. It feels like punishment.
In the vein of The Fault in Our Stars comes a love story of two teens with Cystic Fibrosis. Living in and out of the hospitals their whole lives, Stella and Will develop a close bond while dealing with the same disease. Because they have Cystic Fibrosis, they must stay six feet apart at all times or risk infecting each other and jeopardizing their chances of a lung transplant. But when your a teen in love, six feet apart seems like an impossible feat. I found this star-crossed teen love story touching and emotional.
Children’s Books That Will Make You Cry
R. J. Palacio
August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face.
This story of a boy with a severely deformed face entering public middle school for the first time will make you ponder how you react to people who look differently. This middle-grade phenomenon will be read in classrooms around America for years to come.
Bridge to Terabithia
Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer so he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, outpaces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia.
I was not prepared for this book. It’s a wonderful children’s story – well-written and fun. The friendship between Jess and Leslie is enchanting with all the joys of childhood imagination. Then BAM. Out of nowhere, tragedy strikes. I was completely caught off guard and did not have a tissue in sight. Don’t be like me. Keep the box close. But the beauty of this book is its ability to teach children how to deal with tragedy.
Where the Red Fern Grows
Billy has long dreamt of owning not one, but two, dogs. So when he’s finally able to save up enough money for two pups to call his own—Old Dan and Little Ann—he’s ecstatic. Soon Billy and his hounds become the finest hunting team in the valley. Stories of their great achievements spread throughout the region, and the combination of Old Dan’s brawn, Little Ann’s brains, and Billy’s sheer will seems unbeatable. But tragedy awaits these determined hunters—now friends—and Billy learns that hope can grow out of despair, and that the seeds of the future can come from the scars of the past.
Why do books about dogs always seem to bring me to tears? I’m not even a dog person. As a child, Jaclyn got so upset when she finished this book in class that the teacher had to send her outside so she could get ahold of herself. Also, to stop everyone from staring at her for sobbing during quiet time. Yes, she was a rather emotional child. Still, this deserved belongs among the lists of books that make you cry. Grab the tissues and hug your dog, because this book is so good it can’t be missed.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
J. K. Rowling
The war against Voldemort is not going well; even the Muggles have been affected. Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses. And yet . . . as with all wars, life goes on. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Harry receives some extraordinary help in Potions from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince. And with Dumbledore’s guidance, he seeks out the full, complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort — and thus finds what may be his only vulnerability.
Honestly, this list of books that make you cry would not be complete with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Since the books and movies are so popular, I don’t really feel like I can really spoil the ending of this book. If you happen to be in the 1% of the population who hasn’t read this book or seen the movie, then look away. Because I absolutely bawled when Dumbledore died at the end of this book. Actually, I cry every single time I read this book … which is a lot because Harry Potter is the series I re-read most often.
What are your favorite books that make you cry?
Rachel @ Never Enough Novels says
I was not at all prepared for A Man Called Ove. My goodness. So many tears! Happy tears, sad tears, full on sobbing. It was intense, but I loved it oh so much. I’m glad for the warning about Dear Edward! I’ll make sure I’m reading that somewhere by myself!
A Man Called Ove was so good! My book club discussed it this month, and it was the clear favorite. I was amazed at how much everyone had to say about it.
Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins says
I must admit, I have a bit of a heart of stone, I don’t often cry in books (unless they, in any way, feature a dog, in which case I’m a complete wreck). I did get a little teary in A Man Called Ove though, which I was not expecting at all! And I think I got something in my eye while I was reading Still Alice, too…
Ahaha. Something in your eye.
I don’t even like dogs, and dog books always get me. Marley & Me, Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller and The Yearling (I know it’s a deer, but it acts like a dog.)
What an interesting list. I’m another non-crier and so every time I find myself with a tear, I’m surprised. I agree about Light Between Oceans – and it was an audio book so I was even more surprised (teary while driving is not a good idea!) A recent teary book for me is The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – a surprising scene had me in tears. Love your lists and think I’ll be starting to add the occasional list to my blog too……it’s hard to figure out how to corral my thoughts and a challenge to find the connections between books sometimes. You’re an inspiration!
By the way, I’m working on your reading challenge and each time I complete a category I’m promoting it and you on my blog (sharing the love!)
Thanks so much! I will never say no to promotion. I’ll have to keep in mind that The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek might make me cry when I read it.
Just remembered another one – you have children’s books here and I read one in January for the Read Harder challenge that brought a tear to my eye: The Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini. Worth getting from the library I think.
you should add Khaled Hosseini here. A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner made me cry so hard. It will move you. Nevertheless, the books on this list are mind-blowing as well.
Khaled Hosseini is such a good writer! All of his books are spectacular.
You should add alligence on her it made me cry for days after finishing it.
It’s by Veronica Roth
Oh, I know exactly what you mean. I definitely did not see that end coming!
Definitely should add Kira Kira to the list. I cried even more the second time around
Mia Harper says
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is probably my favorite book of all time, and it made me sob. Anything by Adam Silvera is good too, although his books are a bit more young-adult oriented.
I have The Song of Achilles on my to-read list, but I would not have expected it to be a tearjerker. Now I’m curious.
Jenesis P. says
You should definitely add Midnight Sun by Trish Cook!!! Its a swoon worthy teen romance book.Definitely made me cry:) Loved your list by the way!! The Fault In Our Stars made me bawl !!! Ordering A Man Called Ove right this second……..
Faith L. says
You should definitely read All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, I started to sob during the book and didn’t stop until hours later. It still hit me even when rereading the book…
All The Bright Places is by far my favorite book of all time!! I will NEVER recover. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should check it out! They made a lot of changes but I still liked it! Also, I highly recommend Holding Up The Universe, also by Jennifer Niven 🙂
i just finished we were liars about a week ago. read it in one sitting, it was so good. but when i tell you i DID NOT see that coming! it was crazyyyyy!!! i cried like a little baby lol.
here are some of my personal fav tear jerkers!
-this is where it ends by mariek
e nijkamp. (TW: it’s about a school shooting, and super intense)
-the hate u give by angie thomas
-all the bright places by jennifer niven
ok that’s it :)) i loved your list btw, i’ll add the ones i haven;t read to my tbr!
Hailey M. says
I recently read The Hate U Give. It made me cry so much
Carrie @ Season It Already! says
I saw the play before I listened to the audiobook. Still cried like a baby listening to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. Despite the title (and as much as I love the dogs), the crying has nothing to do with a dog…
My recent cry book was “Merle’s Door, Lessons from a Free-thinking Dog”, because, well, dog books just are like that. Also, Nicolas Sparks books—“A Walk to Remember”, “The Notebook”, “Message in a Bottle”— I swear the guy has stock in Kleenex! The children’s book list can’t be complete without Old Yeller, “The Yearling”, “Bambi”, and “Charlotte’s Web”. Oh yes, “Little Women”—it’s a wonderful I made it out of childhood without literary trauma!
The book that made me cry & that I still think about years later is A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I often recommend it, always with the warning that it is beautifully written but gutwrenching. It was a finalist for the National Book Award.
You should add Second Chance Summer in! It’s the only sad book that actually made me bawl so far. I’m about to order a man called ove right this moment!
Love Me Before You and doesn’t fail to make me cry, no matter how many times I reread it or watch the film (which is probably one of the best book adaptations out there). Love Harry Potter, wouldn’t necessarily say that Half Blood Prince is the saddest in my opinion, definitely cried more during Deathly Hallows or the end of Order of the Phoenix, but hbp still makes me pretty emotional. Dobby’s non-spoiler fate makes me the most emotional, second is Sirius.