What’s the saddest book ever? If you are looking to read a tearjerker, try these stirring memoirs that will make you cry. From recent true stories to tragic memoirs about wars, be prepared for a good cry with these powerful books.
Every now and again, you just need a good cry.
While there are tons of fiction books that make you cry, it’s just not quite the same. The story might be sad, but in the back of your mind, you know it didn’t really happen.
No such luck when it comes to memoirs that will make you cry. Knowing these tragic memoirs are true stories just adds a whole new level of emotion.
If you think you can handle the raw emotion, here are 9 stirring memoirs that will make you cry your eyes out. Be sure to grab the tissues and hug your kids, because life has not been easy for these nine individuals.
Recent Memoirs That Will Make You Cry
I Am, I Am, I Am
We can’t begin to describe how incredible this book is. Instead of telling you her life story, Maggie O’Farrell gives you glimpses into her life through separate incidents where she brushed against death, which has occurred surprisingly often. From a childhood illness to near-fatal accidents to miscarriage, O’Farrell gives you such an intriguing look not just at how she has almost died, but more importantly how she has lived. If you are looking to listen to memoirs that make you cry, the outstanding narration of the audiobook makes it a great choice.
When Breath Becomes Air
At the top of recent memoirs that will make you cry sits Paula Kalanithi’s moving work. At only 36 years old, Dr. Kalanithi was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Suddenly, he found himself thrust from the role of a neurosurgeon to that of a dying patient. Coming face-to-face with his mortality, Kalanithi decided to write his memoir and wrestle with the question: “What makes life worth living in the face of dying?”
Once More We Saw Stars
One ordinary day, 2-year-old Greta Greene is sitting with her grandma on a park bench when the unimaginable happens. A loose brick falls from the windowsill above her head, striking her unconscious and leading to her death. Jayson Greene’s emotional memoir tells of the anguish he and his wife experienced during this horrible tragedy. Yet, even amid such agony, Greene recognizes that this will not be the end.
The Glass Castle
One of the most depressing memoirs of the last decade, Jeannette Walls recounts the story of her tumultuous childhood. She opens the book with the account of how at 3 years old, she ends up hospitalized with severe burns after pouring scalding water on herself when cooking hot dogs for lunch. You meet her charming father Rex, equal measures brilliant and paranoid; her mother Rose, selfish and depressed; and her three siblings, trying their best just to survive. To quote my husband, “Sometimes someone’s train wreck of a life is fascinating.”
Tragic Memoirs About War
Elie Wiesel’s story is a heart-wrenching account that shows no mercy. While I love good World War 2 novels, World War 2 nonfiction books illustrate the depth of the Holocaust. Sent to the German concentration camp of Auschwitz with his father, Wiesel gives a no holds bar recollection of the horror he faced. It is our responsibility to read books like this, no matter how depressing, so that truly understand the horror of these events to ensure they don’t happen again.
Testament of Youth
If you asked me what is the absolute saddest book ever, hands down the answer would be Vera Brittain’s autobiography. When the First World War comes to Britain, Vera’s older brother and all his friends enlist in the military. Not to be left behind, Vera herself ends up leaving school to become a nurse, serving in London, Malta and the Western Front in France. By the end of the war, almost all the men she ever knew are dead. Just writing this snippet is making me cry all over again. The memoir is extremely long (700+ pages) and you could easily just skip the second half about the post-war years. But if you like tragic memoirs, Vera Brittain’s perfectly captures the experiences of “The Lost Generation.”
The Girl with the White Flag
I read this book in elementary school, and I still remember bawling my eyes out as a little kid. Seven-year-old Tomiko Higa becomes separated from her family during World War II. She is forced to survive on her own as a battle rages all around her for control of Okinawa, Japan. An eye-opening account of the trauma children face during war, The Girl with the White Flag was written for children but is one of those memoirs that will make you cry even as an adult. Side note: The cover is an actual famous photo of her snapped by a war correspondent in Okinawa.
What happens when a knock on the door shatters your life as you know it? Only five weeks after deploying to Afghanistan as a physician assistant, Captain Cory Jenkins was killed by an IED. Suddenly a young widow with a 9-week old daughter, Brooke is set on a path she never expected to trod. Critically speaking, the writing is good, but not excellent. However, Walters does a great job conveying the overwhelming mix of emotions from her experience. I read the memoir in one afternoon and sobbed through the entire middle of the book. An emotional look at healing from loss, learning to forgive, and finding faith amid tragedy, Coming Home is a great read for anyone who loves memoirs that will make you cry.
Powerful Books That Will Make You Cry
Warriors Don’t Cry
Melba Pattillo Beals
We’ve all seen the pictures of Elizabeth Eckford being screamed at as she tries to attend her first day of school at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. But did you realize how long it took to integrate? Melba Pattillo Beals tells her memories of being part of the Little Rock Nine, of her oppressing junior year protected at times by the 101st Airborne Division and at times left alone to face the horrors laid upon by the other students. Of all the books we’ve read, Warriors Don’t Cry will make you angry at race relations in the 1950s and make you wonder about how we handle the same and similar issues today.
Some memoirs that will make you cry are almost too tragic to read. On a December morning in 2004, a tsunami struck Sri Lanka, killing Sonali Deraniyagala’s parents, husband, and children. If you want to read depressing memoirs, Wave loads page upon page of tragedy. Deraniyagala describes the loss of her family and the difficult journey she had to create a new life for herself. Many readers have called this the saddest book ever, so be prepared for a deep look at how one woman has learned to process her almost unbearable pain.
Marley & Me
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 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 memoirs that will make you cry, there must be something wrong with you.
Recommend Some Other Memoirs That Will Make You Cry!
What do you think? What memoirs have made you sob? Share all your recommendations for the saddest book ever. As always, let me know in the comments!
More Nonfiction Books to Read:
Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins says
I’ve been banned from reading Marley And Me *any* book with a dog is basically guaranteed to wreck me, and one of my friends read it and was like “NUH UH, THIS ONE IS NOT FOR YOU, SWEAR AN OATH YOU WILL NEVER READ IT” But I love this round-up, sometimes a good cry is warranted. I’ve got copies of When Breath Becomes Air and I Am I Am I Am waiting for me on my shelves, I’ll be sure to pick up tissues before I break them out…
I have a friend who I screen books for! If they are too sad, she can’t read them or she gets migraines.