16 Heartbreaking Books That Will Emotionally Wreck You

books that will emotionally wreck you

Sometimes you need a good cry. Not just a Marley and Me the-dog-dies-at-the-end cry, but a good cathartic release which is why we made this list of books that will emotionally wreck you.

There are times when I feel gloomy or sad and I need to release some emotional anguish. I often turn to books when I feel this way. I like to connect with stories that help give my own life and hardships perspective but still allow me to feel deeply invested in the tale. We’ve rounded up 14 books that will emotionally wreck you.

You will be ugly crying at the end of these, so be sure to have a box of tissues nearby because these books will emotionally wreck you.

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Fiction Books That Will Emotionally Wreck you

Room by Emma Donoghue and more isolation books

Room by Emma Donoghue

This is a haunting story about a woman held captive in a shed for years with her five-year-old son. She tries to teach him and entertain him in their tiny room until they have a chance to escape. This is an unforgettable pick from books that will emotionally wreck you.

Following their escape, they find acclimating to normal life to be challenging, especially for the little boy. This story will pull on your heartstrings and leave you in tears.

Even though the saying is “the book is better”, the movie adaptation of this contemporary fiction book written by a Canadian author was really good. There are only a few other book adaptations I would add to that list. If you haven’t read this isolation book about motherhood yet, you need to add it to your list.

push

Push by Sapphire 

Push is a look at life in the poverty-stricken streets of Harlem in the eighties. The main character is an illiterate 16-year-old pregnant with her second child by her father.

The commentary on a life of poverty and the struggles to get out of her situation are horrific but inspiring. It is incredibly difficult, but such a worthwhile, thought-provoking book.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

GET READY TO UGLY CRY. This book wrecked me. This is the story of 17-year-old Lenni, who has terminal cancer, and her art partner, 83-year-old heart patient Margot.

They connect at the end of Lenni’s life in the hospital art therapy room where they decided to paint a picture for every year of their combined 100 years.

While painting their picture, we get to learn about their lives before their illnesses and witness an incredible bond form. The ripple effects of their bond and friendship took my breath away numerous times.

Truly one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. This one needs to go on our list of books to emotionally wreck you.

Historical Fiction Books That Will Emotionally Wreck You

hearts invisible furies

Hearts Invisible Furies by John Boyne

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery- this is what his adoptive parents tell him.  Cyril is born to a young woman out of wedlock and is adopted by a rich family in Dublin. 

He spends his life coming to know himself and who he wants to be.  This is a touching and heartfelt story from the first page to the last. Even though this book is well over 500 pages, it didn’t feel long while I was reading it. This is definitely one of my favorite long books that will emotionally wreck you. This is a beautiful LGBTQ book.

Where the Crawdads sing

Where the Crawdads Sing Deluxe Edition by Dehlia Owens

September 2018 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick

I will admit when I saw the description of this coming-of-age book, I was not sold.  A trusted individual, who has never steered me wrong in the past, gave me an advanced copy so, I took the leap.  And wow, am I glad I did.  I read this book and then recommended it to everyone I knew.  It is one of the best mystery novels I have ever read.

This 70s book has that spark, that special something, that makes it extra. The book begins when a body is found in a North Carolina marsh and is identified as Chase Andrews. The story moves between the past and the present to tell the story of Kya Clark, The Marsh Girl, who is a suspect in the murder.

We have an entire post dedicated to this book and how to host a book club around it which makes it a perfect book for book clubs! If you love this book, check out our list of 13 books like Where the Crawdads Sing.

A FINE BALANCE

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

November 2001 Oprah Book Club Pick

A Fine Balance is an epic and heartbreaking family saga of life in India. It’s a story of love and friendship in an unnamed city in 1975.

Lovers come together and are ripped apart in this memorable book about poverty and its impact. I read this book years before it was an Oprah Book Club pick but it is not a book that is easy to forget. It is heart-wrenching in every way and a literary feat. If you are looking for books that will emotionally wreck you, this one is not to be missed.

War Books That Will Emotionally Wreck You

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The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

This book is about Syrian life and a modern-day refugee seeking safety.  The story is spliced in with another taking place centuries before – a mythical adventurer looking to learn the map-making trade. War-torn Syria is hard to read about, but the mapmaker’s tale helps lessen some of the heavier moments.

You will be rooting for both heroines in this moving tale destined for our list of books that will emotionally wreck you.

the kite runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This coming-of-age book set in the 70s in Afghanistan is one of the most emotional books I’ve ever read. I sobbed for a full 30 minutes after the last chapter. The story of the friendship between a wealthy boy and his servant is one filled with betrayal, tragedy, and heartbreak.

Told against the background of Afganistan’s destruction and the war, this sweeping tale is a must-read if you are looking for books that will emotionally wreck you.

Refugee and more books for 13-year-olds

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Three tales in one, this realistic fiction story is told in alternating chapters by three narrators.  The stories feature Josef, a Jewish refugee fleeing WWII Germany, Isabel a Cuban girl on her way to Miami in 1994, and Mahmoud a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in Germany in 2015. The chapters rotate between the three characters and their stories do connect at the end in a meaningful and moving way.

The characters are all about 13-years-old but shoulder burdens that would be hard for an adult to handle. Gratz accurately portrays each child’s struggle with both grace and clarity – not shying away from difficult emotions and even death. If you love this YA historical fiction book, we have a list of Powerful WWII Books for Kids.

Non-Fiction Books That Will Emotionally Wreck You

Night

Night by Elie Weisel

January 2006 Oprah Book Club Pick

I have a personal story about this book.  My husband’s grandmother grew up in the same town as Elie Weisel.  She knew both him and his wife.  This was the first thing that she told me when I met her (My husband’s name is also Elie but this is purely coincidental). 

This is a must-read non-fiction book about the Holocaust written by the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.  It is a short but very powerful book that will emotionally wreck you.

The Day the World Came to Town

The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede

Did you know the town of Gander, Newfoundland, took in 6,500 people on planes that had to have emergency landings after 9/11? I didn’t until I read this story, which also inspired the show Come From Away.

The townspeople were so welcoming and kind. It’s like Mr. Rodgers says – always look for the helpers.

Why I Loved it: I sobbed through this entire story. This non-fiction book was poignant and hopeful at the same time. It will keep you in the grip of its pages.

Find this book in Plane Books / Feel Good Nonfiction / Books to Emotionally Wreck You /

a child called it

A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer

Probably the most graphic novel on our list, this memoir details a young boy’s severe child abuse case. It is incredibly hard to stomach the things the author experienced. That anyone could do that to a child is heartbreaking and disgusting.

This book is deeply disturbing and like Push is not for the faint-at-heart.

Love Stories That Will Emotionally Wreck You

The Time Traveler's Wife and other books about libraries

The Time Traveler’s Wife By Audrey Niffenegger

Clare and Henry have an unusual love story. They’ve known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, but got married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry was thirty-one. You see, Henry is an adventurous librarian who inadvertently travels through time.  

Why We Love This Book: I adore how this story explores very real challenges that any couple faces. With the added time travel element, it becomes an unforgettable pick from our list of romance books. The way that they fight for their love gives this book its clear spot on our list of best romance novels of all time. But be warned, this book may emotionally wreck you.
Find This Book in Best Time Travel Books Like the Time Traveler’s Wife / Time Travel Books /

Castle of Water

Castle of Water by Dane Huckelridge

When Sophie and Barry find themselves on an Island as the sole survivors of a plane crash, they learn to depend on each other.  The book moves seamlessly from the past to the present, weaving an intricate tale.

Why I Love It: This is a wonderful contemporary fiction book about love and survival.  It is so much more than it appears on the surface. I cried during the ending and have been singing it’s praises ever since. Everyone I’ve ever recommended this one too has had the same response.

Find this book in Kirsten’s Favorite Books / Feel-Good Books / Plane Crash Novels / Books Like People We Meet on Vacation / Books Set at the Beach

me before you

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Me Before You has quickly become a classic story – and a movie to boot. But beware! This is one of the grumpy sunshine romance books that will emotionally wreck you that you don’t want to read in public!

When a young man becomes paralyzed his parents hire a young woman to be his companion. As love blooms, and she tries to convince him that life is still worth living, the reader questions what they would sacrifice to make a loved one happy. This novel about grief deals with grieving before the person has passed.

Always in December

Always, in December by Emily Stone

I was blown away by this tear-jerking story. It was a romance story for the first 30% of the book, but then it becomes something much deeper.

Josie mails a letter to her deceased parents every Christmas, but this Christmas she accidentally hits a stranger named Max with her bike on the way to the post box.

As she explored the holiday season with Max her feelings start to grow, but when he leaves unexpectedly, she’s left to deal with the aftermath of the impact he had on her heart. But fate isn’t done with their story yet as they bump into each other throughout the year.

Probably my favorite Christmas romance book of 2021, this one is a tear-jerker for sure. I sobbed for the entire last 10% of the book and it will most likely, emotionally wreck you. This book is a testament to the healing power of love and the kind of impact each of us can make on each other.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but if you are looking for a Christmas book that ends with a bow and smile, you may want to look elsewhere. Despite this, we needed to include this on our list of best holiday books.

Did you find your favorite books that will emotionally wreck you?

books to make you cry

21 Extraordinary & Sad Books That Will Make You Cry

If you want more books to emotionally wreck you, check these out.

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One Comment

  1. Oh goodness, what a list!! I must say, though, *nothing* wrecks me more than when a dog dies – I’ve been banned from reading books with dogs for that very reason, so Marley & Me remains a mystery to me. I really need to get to reading The Kite Runner – I’ve heard from multiple sources that it is absolutely heartbreaking but also brilliant. <3