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19 gut-wrenchingly sad books that will definitely make you cry

Prices are accurate at the time of publication.

The best sad fictional books can make you feel empathy for people and situations you otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to.

Amazon; Rachel Mendelson/Insider

  • Books can make us feel all kinds of emotions, including heartbreak or sadness.
  • Great writing and immersive plots can instill empathy for the characters or situations they’re in.
  • If you’re looking for a great book and a good cry, here are some of the best sad books.

From horror stories that send chills down our spines to romance novels that make us swoon, books are powerful vessels that use compelling plots and writing styles to help us feel all kinds of emotions. Though it seems counterintuitive to want to feel sad, the sorrow we feel from reading a book can help us gain more empathy for people or situations we might otherwise not be exposed to. 

The books on this list are bestsellers, award-winners, or simply fan-favorites that readers say are so filled with emotion, they make them weep. So if you’re looking for a heart-breaking love story or a coming-of-age novel with a devastating twist, here are some of the best sad books.

Learn more about how Insider Reviews tests and researches books.

The 19 best sad books:

“The Fault in Our Stars” by John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Amazon

“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $6.10

“The Fault in Our Stars” is a bestselling young adult romance novel by John Green about Hazel and Augustus, who meet in a cancer support group as Augustus is in remission and Hazel fights a looming terminal diagnosis. When the two form an immediate connection, they agree to read each other’s favorite books in this story that requires a tissue box nearby.

“They Both Die at the End” by Adam SilveraThey Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Amazon

“They Both Die at the End” by Adam Silvera, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $8.07

In the science fiction universe of “They Both Die at the End,” Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio each receive a phone call just after midnight from Death-Cast, informing them that they will, unfortunately, die that day. Each looking for companionship in their final day of life, Mateo and Rufus find each other and set out to have one final adventure together before their time is up.

“Monday’s Not Coming” by Tiffany D. JacksonMonday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Amazon

“Monday’s Not Coming” by Tiffany D. Jackson, available on Amazon, $10.99

Claudia and Monday are as close as sisters, so when Monday doesn’t show up for the first day of school, Claudia notices immediately. When it becomes obvious that Monday has disappeared, Claudia realizes that no one can seem to remember the last time they saw her in this emotionally challenging young adult novel.

“All the Bright Places” by Jennifer NivenAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Amazon

“All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $7.48

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of their school’s bell tower, each planning to jump but somehow save each other. When they pair up for a project to discover the natural wonders of Indiana, Theodore and Violet find a safe place in each other in this young adult novel about mental health and friendship. If you’re interested in learning more about why we love “All the Bright Places,” check out our in-depth review here.

“A Little Life” by Hanya YanagiharaA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Amazon

“A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $14.82

A finalist for the National Book Award, “A Little Life” follows four friends who move to New York City to make lives for themselves, both together and apart. Following the group through middle-age, this novel is mostly centered upon Jude, a lawyer with a terrible past, a broken heart, and deep trauma.

“The Kite Runner” by Khaled HosseiniThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Amazon

“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $10.50

Set during escalating tumultuous times in Afghanistan, “The Kite Runner” is about the relationship between a young, wealthy boy named Amir and the son of his father’s servant, Hassan, who often fly kites to escape the realities of their lives. When something terrible happens, this novel blooms into a story of guilt, betrayal, and redemption.

“Glorious Boy” by Aimee LiuGlorious Boy by Aimee Liu

Amazon

“Glorious Boy” by Aimee Liu, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $17.14

As the Japanese army prepares to invade India in 1942, Claire and Shep know they must evacuate with their four-year-old son, Ty, though they will have to leave his friend, Naila, behind. The morning they are due to leave, both children have gone missing and Shep forces Claire to board the ship while he stays behind to find the children in this emotional story of strength, perseverance, and motherhood.  

“Wonder” by R.J. PalacioWonder by R.J. Palacio

Amazon

“Wonder” by R.J. Palacio, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $9.72

August Pullman is finally starting mainstream school in 5th grade, having been homeschooled because of a facial difference his entire life. Though most kids can’t see past what makes August different, he finds solace in new friends, his sister, her boyfriend, and his family.

“The House of the Spirits” by Isabel AllendeThe House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Amazon

“The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $12.79

First published in 1982, “The House of the Spirits” is a beautiful Spanish classic about four generations of the Trueba family. As the story follows the greatest and most challenging moments through the family’s lives, it intertwines with political and social unrest to create a stunning novel full of magical realism.

“Dear Edward” by Ann NapolitanoDear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Amazon

“Dear Edward” by Ann Napolitano, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $10.52

Edward Adler is 12 years old and the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed 186 people, including his parents and his older brother. As Edward tries to find a new place for himself in the world, this heart-wrenching story switches between the present and the events leading up to, during, and after the devastating crash.

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire SáenzAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Amazon

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $10.99

In the summer of 1987, Aristotle meets Dante at a local pool when Dante offers to teach him how to swim. As the boys form an inseparable bond, they explore and learn more about each other, themselves, and the complicated world.

“You’ve Reached Sam” by Dustin ThaoYou've Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

Amazon

“You’ve Reached Sam” by Dustin Thao, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $15.99

When Julie’s boyfriend Sam suddenly dies, her world and all her plans for the future are turned upside down. Needing to hear his voice, she calls Sam’s phone and finds she can connect to him once again in this young adult romance about heartbreak and grief.

“Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine PatersonBridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Amazon

“Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $6.99

“Bridge to Terabithia” is a heartbreaking children’s book about Jess Aarons and his new classmate, Leslie Burke, who become fast friends and spend their time in the woods, playing in an imaginative land they invented called Terabithia. When Leslie goes to Terabithia one morning without Jess, something terrible happens and Jess’s life changes forever.

“A Walk to Remember” by Nicholas SparksA Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks

Amazon

“A Walk to Remember” by Nicholas Sparks, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $8.27

Though many of Nicholas Sparks’ romance novels bring tears to readers’ eyes, “A Walk to Remember” is especially emotional. This is the love story of Landon Carter, who fell for Jamie Sullivan in the 1950s while they were in high school, and whose love for her lasted through the great trials they faced.

“Me Before You” by Jojo MoyesMe Before You by Jojo Moyes

Amazon

“Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $7.84

Louisa Clark lived a fairly normal life until she took a job caring for the exceedingly wealthy Will Traynor, who became wheelchair-bound after a terrible accident. As the two form a bond, Louisa learns that Will intends to die by assisted suicide and sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

“Marley and Me” by John GroganMarley and Me by John Grogan

Amazon

“Marley and Me” by John Grogan, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $14.49

As John and Jenny began their lives together in a new home, they brought home a little yellow Labrador puppy and named him Marley. This story captures Marley’s life, from failed obedience training to meeting his new human siblings to teaching the true meaning of unconditional love. 

“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel KeyesFlowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Amazon

“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $8.49

“Flowers for Algernon” is a short science fiction novel from 1966, told through a series of reports written by Charlie Gordon, the first human subject for a surgery that will increase IQ. Though the same surgery was first successful on a lab mouse named Algernon, when the mouse begins to decline, Charlie fears the same will happen to him.

“The Book Thief” by Markus ZusakThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Amazon

“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $6.99

Set in 1939 Nazi Germany, young Liesel finds a book by her brother’s graveside, spurring a passion for books and book thievery, especially from Nazi book-burnings. When Liesel’s foster family takes in a Jewish person and hides them in their basement, her world is turned on its head in this historical fiction novel narrated by Death.

“Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay AsherThirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Amazon

“Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher, available on Amazon, $8.39

Two weeks after Hannah Baker commits suicide, Clay Jensen comes home from school to find a package with cassettes recorded by Hannah, outlining the 13 reasons why she chose to end her life. As Clay listens to the tapes, he follows Hannah’s story around town and uncovers terrible truths.

 

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