15 Books That'll Crush Your Heart Into Pieces

by Crystal Paul

It might seem strange, but some people actually pick up books because they want to be sad. Sometimes, you really just need to have a good cry. Sometimes, it’s because you already feel kind of terrible and need to read about other people feeling terrible. Sometimes, it’s because having lots of strong weepy emotions about a story ironically makes you feel good. And, other times, the world is being horrible and a good book that doesn’t shy away from the horrible can help you sort out your own feelings about things. Most times, though, you just need a good cry.

Luckily, there’s plenty of sad to go around in literature. Whether in fiction or nonfiction, science fiction or literary fiction, the right book in any genre can be just the thing to get the tears flowing. But, of course, it depends on what kind of cry you’re looking for. That’s right, there are totally types of cries, and there are books that work for all of them. For a sappy, angsty cry, you might want head straight to the Nicholas Sparks section of the bookstore. For the heady sort of “why is the world so horrible” kind of cry, you’re better off in the nonfiction section. Memoir might be the thing if you’re looking to cry but still be inspired. Whatever kind of cry you’re looking for, there’s a book for that.

So go on, get the feels out with one of these tear-inducing books.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

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Love is powerful, and we often look to heartbreaking stories of true love for a good cry, but that kind of powerful love isn’t reserved for romantic love. In A Thousand Splendid Suns , the love between Mariam and Laila is a touching testament to the familial love and a bond forged by circumstance and suffering. You’ll cry your eyes out and then probably, still sniffling, feel like you want to call your mom.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

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The saddest part of this novel isn’t just that George’s partner died in a tragic car accident; it’s that George being a gay man in the '60s can’t even express his own grief. The novel pulls at your heartstrings in all the denial of George’s emotion, in all the reserved, stone-faced manner that George uses to hide his grief. It’ll make you want to cry twice as hard on his behalf.

In the Time of Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

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Based on the true story of the assassination of the Mirabal sisters in the Dominican Republic under the brutal regime of Rafael Trujillo, In the Time of Butterflies tells of the sisters’ empowered, bold, inspiring dedication to bringing down a tyrant. A cause they made so many sacrifices for, including, eventually, their lives. You’ll cry for the sacrifices and the loss of such amazing women, and you’ll be moved by their courage.

Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

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Krik? Krak! gives you a nice sampling of heart-wrenching stories of resistance, persistence, and the triumph of love through all types of suffering and circumstance.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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The title alone should be enough to get you a bit misty once you realize the story is about a family coping with the death of their young daughter and sister. Add to that Celeste Ng’s beautiful writing and you’ll be sitting in a pool of tears before you know it.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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Sometimes you need a classic cry. How Celie’s finds the strength to reclaim her life and still find love for herself and others despite a life of suffering and abuse at the hands of others is nothing short of remarkable.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

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Titled after a powerful quote by Harriet Tubman about the devastating loss of over half of the men in a black military unit after an ambitious assault on Confederate forces, this memoir of loss pretty much guarantees that you’ll be leaving tear stains on every page. Ward has faced a great deal of loss, but it’s the reasons behind the deaths of these black men that really breaks the heart.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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If you think that science fiction can’t be moving, that it can’t possibly touch you strongly enough to make you go full-on ugly cry, then you’ll be in for quite a shock when you get to the end of this brilliant novel and find yourself blubbering.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Coates masters the difficult form of essay in this little book. It’s tiny, but it packs an excruciating punch, because Coates deals here in hard truths both personal and national as he writes this open letter to his son about finding a way to live as a Black man in a country that marginalizes, locks up, and murders black people at a startling rate.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

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Ugh. It’s just so damn beautiful. Henríquez writes the stories of so these “Unknown Americans” with such care. You feel all their hopes and fears and strength and love and disappointments along with them, and it just tears your heart into little tiny pieces.

The Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker

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You don’t have to look to fiction or imagined stories for stories of devastating suffering and inspiring resistance. A lot of fiction about early America deals in the stories of the horrors of slavery on the plantation. Marcus Rediker narrows the focus, telling the horrors and resistances that occurred before enslaved Africans ever reached the American coasts. It’s a hard book to get through, every page will have you outraged and maybe even rage-crying.

The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat

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A beautiful love destroyed by genocide and hate. In The Farming of the Bones , you see what becomes of love when living in terror— how it can be what drives the will to survive and hope, and eventually remember and honor those who were lost by living.

Leaving Atlanta by Tayari Jones

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Tayari Jones actually lived in Atlanta during the horror of the Atlanta child murders in 1979. Here she tells the story of that horrific time through the eyes of three young children. To hear the story from the perspective of adults is tragic, but through the eyes of children, it’s all the more poignant and heartbreaking as you see them try to understand such incomprehensible terror.

We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch

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The Rwandan Genocide is a devastating fact of history, but often the personal gets lost in the numbers and facts. In that on big devastating number — 800,000, the number of Tutsis and Hutus that were killed. Gourevitch makes it personal. He turns the numbers into stories, into individuals, telling the true horrors that survivors witnessed and suffered. And it’s devastating.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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No, this isn’t another book in the Fifty Shades series. It’s so so so much more important than that. Often overshadowed in history by the horrors of the Nazi regime, the Soviet invasion of Eastern European countries like Lithuania brought its own horrors to the people. Sepetys puts a human face on this horror in an inspiring tale of strength and family through the worst of circumstances.

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