21 Extraordinary & Sad Books That Will Make You Cry
If you have known me for a while, you know that when I read books, I am not usually a crier. These books are the exception to that rule. Sometimes you need a good cry and every book on this list will do just that. Grab some tissue and cuddle up because we have 21 books that will make you cry.
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Historical Fiction Sad Books That Will Make You Cry
Stars in an Italian Sky by Jill Santopolo
Where do I even start with this book? I loved it so much. In Genoa Italy, in 1946 Vincenzo and Giovanna fell in love. But, they belong to two different worlds. She is the daughter of a tailor and she is almost royalty.
In 2017, Cassandra and Luca are in love. When Luca asks Cassandra’s grandmother to be a model for his new painting, with his grandfather, the past and its secrets are revealed.
I cannot say enough about this book that is part contemporary fiction and part historical fiction. It had me absolutely bawling by the end, ugly crying, and I LOVED it. The ending was perfect, fitting, and cathartic. This is one of my favorite books that will make you cry.
This is a perfect pick for books set in Italy and a must for our ultimate beach reads 2023 post.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
This 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 make you cry. You can also find this one on our list of books to emotionally wreck you because it is heart-wrenching throughout.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L Stedman
A lighthouse keeper and his wife have gotten used to the lonely, isolated life of maintaining the lighthouse on a faraway island. But they are yearning for a baby to keep them company.
When one washes ashore, they quickly claim the child as their own without reporting it to the authorities. On a rare outing in town 2 years later, they bring their daughter along and realize the impact of what they have done.
This was a heartbreaking but beautiful read. The movie adaptation was excellent as well. This is a five-star pick from books that will make you cry.
Contemporary Fiction Books That Will Make You Cry
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
May 2022 Read with Jenna Book Club Pick
I haven’t read a novel with as much heart as this one in quite some time.
Elderly, recently widowed Tova loves her job cleaning the aquarium in town in the quiet of the night, especially because of her fondness for Marcellus, the octopus. She finds solace in the aquarium as it makes her feel closer to her son, Erik – a marine life lover – who disappeared on a boat when he was 18.
But when she hurts herself and is unable to return to work at full capacity, she grows close with her replacement, Cameron, a young man who newly arrived in town looking for his birth mother.
Meanwhile, Marcellus knows what really happened to Erik and he wants to help Tova find the closure she needs. His narration is interspersed with Tova and Cameron’s for a story that is compelling, heartwarming, and utterly unique.
I will be shoving this book into the hands of everyone who asks for a book recommendation because it’s my favorite book of 2022 and my pick as one of the best audiobooks of 2022. And if you are looking for more family drama books like this, check out the Ultimate List of Feel-Good Books to Brighten Your Day. This contemporary fiction book is a 5-star read from books that will make you cry.
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. This is one of the books that make you cry, laugh, and love every page.
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.
Dear Edward by Anne Napolitano
January 2020 Read with Jenna Book Club Pick
The minute I read the first page, I was immediately captured. I love the way this book was written.
It is about one boy who survives a plane crash within the first few pages of the book. But the book moves back and forth between the plane flight and the aftermath so that you get to know the people on the flight and their stories. This is a sad book, but it is a beautiful story.
In Five Years by Rebecca Serle
What a refreshing contemporary fiction book about the power of love and friendship. I sat down and read this book in one sitting easily. It is captivating from the first sentence and had me until the last page.
Dannie is an ambitious lawyer with a plan. She has her life planned out until she falls asleep and spends one hour in the future. Nothing is familiar- not her house, the ring on her finger, or the man by her side. When she wakes, she cannot get the images out of her head.
I loved this time travel book it was unexpected, unconventional, and a delight to read. Although this is a sad book, it is also a beautiful story about the power or love.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Mr. Backman has a beautiful way of capturing the reader’s interest with wonderful characters that find themselves in hilarious situations.
I laughed out loud many times while reading. The book A Man Called Ove does indeed start with Ove trying to take his life and continuously being interrupted by his new neighbors and he mourns the loss of his spouse.
But, this story is so much more than that. As it progresses, Ove is able to have a profound impact on the life of everyone he meets. If you love this contemporary fiction book about grief, check out Books Like A Man Called Ove. But don’t let the description throw you off. At its heart, this is one of the best feel-good books and one of my all-time favorite books!
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
This is probably one of our favorite books on this list of books set in Paris and we recommend it all the time. The story features a floating book apothecary whose owner can meet you and give you a story meant for your soul.
When he needs to help his own soul, he sets his boat adrift on the Seine to see where it will take him. I loved every minute of this lovely contemporary fiction book and it is one of our favorites from the list of books set in France. As books for book clubs go, this one is at the top of our list. However, be aware this is one of the books that will make you cry while reading it!
Romance Books That Make You Cry
The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
February 2018 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick
A warm and yet sad story about an intense love that ends. The story goes from good to excellent when we see how the former lovers support each other over the years in their future relationships and how their own relationship evolves.
Be prepared with a box of tissues when you read this one. I was bawling like a baby by the end.
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 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. At the very least, this is one of the books that will make you cry. 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.
Nocturne by Alyssa Wees
I absolutely adored this book that is pure magic at its best. What starts as a historical fiction set in Chicago in the 1930s transforms into a beautiful fantasy about a ballerina, her violin, and the kingdom of death.
When Grace becomes the prima ballerina at The Near North Ballet Company, she is overjoyed that her dream has come true. In accepting this position, she has become a patron of Master LaRosa and must move into his mansion.
This Beauty and the Beast retelling is perfect for a list of books like ACOTAR. It is beautiful and absolutely heartbreaking. The writing is lyrical and I savored every minute, but fair warning, the ending of this book is heartbreaking. This is one of the books that will make you cry. It is perfect for anyone who loves to read books like The Night Circus. You will obsess over this haunting pick from ultimate beach reads 2023.
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.
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 is a sad book that may emotionally wreck you.
While I realize there is only the loose librarian connection to this book list, Henry and Clare’s story is one of my all-time favorites and it shouldn’t be missed. You can find more books like this on our list of 23 of the Best Time Travel Books Like the Time Traveler’s Wife.
Non-Fiction Sad Books That Will Make You Cry
Night by Elie Weisel
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. For more amazing Oprah’s Book Club Picks, you can see the full list.
From Scratch by Tembi Locke
May 2019 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick
I knew what this book was about before reading it and I was still not prepared for the heartbreak and beauty within the pages. This memoir is truly a love letter to Tembi’s husband who died from cancer. This is an incredibly sad book that had me in tears.
The descriptions of the food, the people, and the love she had for her husband are unlike anything that I have read before. This is a five-star book about grief if you can read through heartache. It’s one of the Netflix book adaptations I’m planning on watching.
The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff
Wow. It is hard to put the power of this book into words. Graff crafted the day of 9/11 from hour to hour and I had a hard time listening to it. The 45-person full cast audiobook recreates the day with heart-stopping detail.
Like everyone, I remember exactly where I was on that day. Hearing the oral history told by first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and families is unlike anything I have ever seen and should be required for every student in the country. This book is the perfect example of how full cast audiobooks can transform a book into something greater than the sum of the individual parts. This is one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read and while it is a sad book, it is one that is a must-read.
I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jeannette Mccurdy
Jeanette Mccurdy, star of the show iCarly and Sam and Cat, has written her heartbreaking memoir. Forced into acting at 6 years old by a mentally ill and unstable mother, Jeanette lived her life trying to make her mother happy. The result was an eating disorder, addiction, and abuse. This is a profound pick in our list of books about mental illness.
I listened to this book and found it hard to put down while also finding it extremely difficult to listen to at times because it is such a sad book. This is an amazing pick from our books about mothers.
Middle Grade/ YA Books That Will Make You Cry
Wonder by R.J Palacio
A must-read for kids in middle school, this is an amazing book about embracing differences, kindness, and being yourself. However, this would also be a wonderful read-aloud book for a younger audience. CW: This is one of the books that will make you cry.
August Pullman is a boy with an extraordinary facial difference. He has been homeschooled his entire life and is starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep. This book is amazing and has a lesson about love and acceptance that everyone needs to read.
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
I read this book in a few hours and immediately ordered the sequel The War I Finally Won. Ada is a 10-year-old girl who lives in a one-room world gazing at the world from one window. She was born with a club foot and teaches herself to walk in secret. When the children who lived in London were evacuated to go to the country at the start of WW2, Ada escapes her abusive mother and leaves London with her little brother.
There is so much depth to this book. It is a Newbury Honor book and the Winner of the Schneider Family Book Award for middle grade. This middle-grade historical fiction is a story of love and survival in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
Do not be fooled that it is written for middle grades. It is emotionally crafted and brilliantly written. This is one of the books that will make you cry and then want to pick it up and read it all again.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Based on the true story of Ivan, a gorilla trapped in a shopping mall, this feel good story is one of the best family audiobooks for any road trip.
Stella, a young girl gets Ivan to start painting again and she realizes how lonely he is. Bob, a stray dog, works to help Ivan and Ruby, a baby elephant, garner the attention they need to be sent to a better home. This is a book that will touch your heart. Even though it is partially a sad book, the ending will make it worthwhile.
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
This book is the winner of the National Book Award for good reason. I adored this book. I spent half of it crying and the other half smiling. This is such a wonderful story about Grace who is adopted at birth.
When she finds herself pregnant, she puts her daughter up for adoption. This prompts her to look for her biological mother. What she finds are two siblings that she never knew about. This is an amazing story told from multiple points of view. Even though we included it in books that make you cry, you will love every moment.