Have you ever had one of those days when all you wanted to do was read an emotionally powerful story that would provoke you to tears? OK, maybe that wasn’t your endgame, but most of us love to be captivated by stories that reach us on multiple levels, including sadness.
We like these stories because they effortlessly connect us with characters and circumstances that we dream up in our own minds. We have to do some of the legwork, but that makes the impact significantly deeper.
There are plenty of books that make you cry and that you can really sink your teeth into, but you surely want some of the best. Here are 20 books that will have you crying (and sometimes laughing) in no time.
This realistic and moving portrayal of life in Afghanistan accounts for the people who were badly affected by the Taliban. You’ll cry as you get to know the familial relationships and cruelty involved, but you’ll also get a sense of hope as you quickly read through this gripping novel.
In case you didn’t have the privilege of reading this in high school (I sadly didn’t), To Kill a Mockingbird is an essential, heart-wrenching classic. Told through the eyes of young children in 1930s Alabama, a black man is accused of raping a white woman, and the underlying prejudices of the time makes his sentence all but certain.
This book takes you through waves of emotion as you start to understand the full context of the main character, the 9-year-old son of the Auschwitz commandant. Taking place during the Holocaust, we witness the horror from his perspective, a boy who just wants friends. You’ll be shocked by some of the more startling aspects of the book as the boy, Bruno, befriends one of the Jewish boys on the other side of the fence.
This coming-of-age tale holds almost nothing back as it starts off with a suicide and goes from there. Centered around the sensitivity of a brilliant, but troubled, teen named Charlie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an honest and adult-themed story that will likely resonate with your own experiences.
You probably know the true story; a girl writes a deep and introspective diary while hiding in an absurdly small crawlspace for two years with other Jewish fugitives during the Holocaust. The sad foreboding throughout the story is palpable, especially as you progressively become attached to each of these people who were real human beings going through the ordeal.
Let’s put it this way: Death itself is the narrator. The story is about a young girl named Liesel who has to live with foster parents during the height of World War II. On the way to her new home, her brother dies, setting the somber tone for the story. There is hope, however, when Liesel discovers her love for reading and forges a relationship with a young Jewish man she helps hide from the Nazis.
This is probably the most likely book on the list to make you cry, as it chronicles the experiences of teens who are dying from cancer and living their last days in love. Their lifestyle is tragic and jarring at the same time, as we watch them deteriorate. The real tragedy is the love story between the main characters, who know that their romance is doomed.
Easily one of the saddest stories of abuse in recent decades, A Child Called It is based on the true story of Dave Pelzer, a boy from California who suffered at the hands of his sadistic family. The tears will come from both sadness and the inspiration tied to Dave’s fight for survival in an environment where he is deemed worthless.
The premise of Clean is pretty straightforward. Five kids who are addicted to drugs have to find a way to repair their lives within a rehabilitation center. The problem is that they pretty much hate each other and their situation, but they have to rise above it in order to get their lives back. It’s a difficult read in the sense that these kids have truly hit rock bottom.
This book may seem like it’s just comedy and the best of witty writing (and it is), but there is a self-aware frankness to the pages of illustrations and real-life stories that are reflective of author Allie Brosh’s own struggles with the meaning of her life, depression, suicide, etc. The undertones are there and ready for you to fall in love with, just don’t be surprised if you start to tear up from both laughter and sorrow.
If you prefer your tearjerkers to be more classic (and in this case, written by one of the best novelists of all time), then Tolstoy’s Resurrection is vital reading. One of his less famous works, though it was his last, Resurrection details the life of a nobleman whose actions land a maid into prostitution and eventually a prison wrought with some of the worst conditions possible. His attempts to redeem himself and save her are both harrowing and tragic all at once. Click here to purchase.
Technically, The Giving Tree is a poem, not a novel. But the poignant message underneath it will prompt you to revisiting the beautiful words and illustrations again and again. It provokes sadness from us; not only because of the story itself but also because of the real implications that come with the human condition. People will be arguing over the “true” meaning behind this classic for years to come.
Taking place in the 1930s, this book captures the struggles of a group of small-town misfits who yearn desperately to make something more out of their lives. Their individual stories revolve around the fascinating perspective of a deaf and mute man named John, and the book is a dark reflection of the mistreatment spurred by the human condition. You’ll be shocked at the atrocities that happen toward the end of the book.
Nothing seems to depress people more than the failure of the American dream, which is what Revolutionary Road presents in spades. Full disclosure: I did watch the movie before reading the book for this one, but I wish I hadn’t. The story of Frank and April Wheeler, who want nothing more than to break out of the depressing rut of suburbia, shows a darker side to the 1950s, an era typically regarded as peaceful and happy. Though the movie captures this tone fine, the book is much more likely to grab you.
Even if you have already watched the movie based on this instant classic by Katherine Paterson, I strongly recommend you pour some time into the book. It takes your imagination on a bit of a roller-coaster ride and then leaves you hanging to fall, as the world it has created so well begins to fall apart. The turmoil that Jesse, the main character, goes through during the end of the book is one of the hardest events I’ve ever read through.
Unlike many of the other books on this list, the somber tones of Wisdom Hunter occur very early in the story, getting brighter over time. After the tragic death of his daughter, a former pastor’s family completely falls apart. At the end of his rope, he discovers that his daughter gave birth to a baby girl before her passing, setting him on a 20-year journey to find his grandchild. His journey spans countries and memorable experiences, but his own personal growth is what makes this story an unforgettable triumph.
Another story that spans 20 years, One Day tells the story of two friends who love each other, but life prevents them from forming a real relationship. As the story progresses, so does their bond, resulting in a climax that is difficult to feel unaffected by. Their love story is tragic, gripping and sure to make you cry toward the end.
A literary classic (and one of the most quotable movies the 1980s gave us), Anne of Green Gables is the story of a young orphan girl growing up in the early 1900s. Though she was mistakenly adopted by a family who wanted a boy, she wins their hearts, along with the other residents of her town on Prince Edward Island. A beautiful story that is filled with strife, angst, zaniness and sadness, these novels are must-reads.
Narrated by a 9-year-old boy named Oskar, this 2005 novel borrows its sorrow from topical events. Young Oskar loses his father during the September 11 terrorist attack in 2001, an event that changes his life forever and leads him on an adventure through New York City. His story is touching and extraordinary.
The Lovely Bones is sad for a lot of reasons. In one way, its main tragedy comes from the untimely death of a young girl at the hands of an elusive murderer. It’s also a story about a family struggling to come to grips with their loss and their obsession to avenge her.
You may also want to read: 20 Most Magnificent Places to Read Books.
Do you have any other recommendations for books that make you cry? Please feel free to share them in the comments below.