I can hear your thoughts. Why would you want to read books that 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.
While you read this list, you might notice that many of the books are Young Adult and children’s fiction. Why is that?
After some thought, I realized that another benefit of books that make you cry is that they teach children about big emotions. Little Johnny can feel the grief of having his dog die without actually having his dog die. You get a taste of these heavy emotions and better learn how to talk about these feelings.
Because eventually your dog will get run over, your best friend will get sick, or your grandmother will die. Like a good country song. Reading books that make you cry can help you cope at least a little bit better in your grief.
Enough of my deep thoughts. Let’s get on to the books. Grab your tissues and make sure you are wearing waterproof mascara because I promise these are books that 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 Family dramas
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 book is a great choice.
“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.
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 question how you would react. Hopefully, you will never have to find out.
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.
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Heartbreaking Books Perfect for Book Club
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 books that make you cry big fat ugly tears. Read more →
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 among the 2020 book releases. Read more →
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. Read more →
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.
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.
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
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. Read more →
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 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.
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. Read more →
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.
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. Read more →
Children’s Books That Will Make You Cry
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. Read more →
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.
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.
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?