Sometimes, all we need from our literature is a good cry. But, from time to time, these tear-inducing stories become something even more. They break your heart and then do something so heartbreakingly gorgeous, that you can’t help but smile through your tears and appreciate all the beauty that comes with the pain.
Below is a list of 11 books (with the publishers’ descriptions) that will shatter your heart into tiny pieces and then, somehow, put it back together again.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
A dazzling novel in the most untraditional fashion, this is the remarkable story of Henry DeTamble, a dashing, adventuresome librarian who travels involuntarily through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare’s passionate love affair endures across a sea of time and captures the two lovers in an impossibly romantic trap, and it is Audrey Niffenegger’s cinematic storytelling that makes the novel’s unconventional chronology so vibrantly triumphant.
Why it’s good for a cry: One of the most unique love stories ever told, The Time Traveler’s Wife is written across time and space, spanning several years of its protagonists’ lives. The powerful bond between Clare and Henry has transfixed readers — they are friends, lovers, and protectors. The novel portrays the pain of their separation, the fear of not knowing where their story will end, and how their love gets them through it.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life — steady boyfriend, close family — who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life — big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel — and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.
Will is acerbic, moody, bossy — but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.
Why it’s good for a cry: In this story about a paralyzed man and his carer, Me Before You is courageous and lovely (we’re looking at you, bumble bee tights!), making it all the more heartbreaking.
Just when readers thought they had finally come to terms with this incredible story, the powers that be are making a film adaptation — so, pretty soon, we can relive the highs and lows all over again!
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age 13, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and shots so that her older sister, Kate, can somehow fight the leukemia that has plagued her since childhood. The product of preimplantation genetic diagnosis, Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate — a life and a role that she has never challenged… until now. Like most teenagers, Anna is beginning to question who she truly is. But unlike most teenagers, she has always been defined in terms of her sister — and so Anna makes a decision that for most would be unthinkable, a decision that will tear her family apart and have perhaps fatal consequences for the sister she loves.
Why it’s good for a cry: Though it may masquerade itself as a story about a dying teenager and her family’s struggle to come to terms with her illness, My Sister’s Keeper is something far more hopeful. Ultimately, this story is about the lengths people go to for those we love, about the bonds between parent, child, siblings, and even colleagues and casual acquaintances. By the time you reach the end, you will be compelled to love the brilliant people you have in your life just a little harder.
The Two Week Wait by Sarah Rayner
After a health scare, Brighton-based Lou is forced to confront the fact that her time to have a baby is running out. She can’t imagine a future without children, but her partner doesn’t seem to feel the same way, and she’s not sure whether she could go it alone.
Meanwhile, in Yorkshire, Cath is longing to start a family with her husband, Rich. No one would be happier to have children than Rich, but Cath is infertile.
Could these strangers help one another?
Why it’s good for a cry: This book follows two strangers as their lives become intertwined through egg donation. Both desperate to become mothers, their journeys to parenthood have not been easy. As they each wait to see if the pregnancy has worked, the reader is taken on a heartbreaking journey of loss and perseverance. With a hint of Blanche DuBois, it’s the women’s reliance on the kindness of strangers and their connection to each other that will make you smile through your tears.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars brilliantly explores the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
Why it’s good for a cry: A book about cancer-suffering teenagers doesn’t exactly sound like a laugh-a-minute sort of a read, but, thanks to Green’s fantastic writing, there is plenty of humor and wit in this novel. Of course, that only makes the moments of heartbreak all the more poignant. Despite the pain, this book really is a privilege to read and one that absolutely makes readers appreciate the infinity of a really perfect moment — and demand as many of their own as they can find.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Voldemort takes control of the Ministry of Magic, installs Severus Snape as headmaster at Hogwarts, and sends his Death Eaters across the country to wreak havoc and find Harry. Meanwhile, Harry, Ron, and Hermione embark on a desperate quest the length and breadth of Britain, trying to locate and destroy Voldemort’s four remaining Horcruxes, the magical objects in which he has hidden parts of his broken soul. They visit the Burrow, Grimmauld Place, the Ministry, Godric’s Hollow, Malfoy Manor, Diagon Alley…
But every time they solve one mystery, three more evolve — and not just about Voldemort, but about Dumbledore, and Harry’s own past, and three mysterious objects called the Deathly Hallows. The Hallows are literally things out of a children’s tale, which, if real, promise to make their possessor the “Master of Death;” and they ensnare Harry with their tantalizing claim of invulnerability.
It is only after a nigh-unbearable loss that he is brought back to his true purpose, and the trio returns to Hogwarts for the final breathtaking battle between the forces of good and evil. They fight the Death Eaters alongside members of the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore’s Army, the Weasley clan, and the full array of Hogwarts teachers and students.
Yet everything turns upon the moment the entire series has been building up to, the same meeting with which our story began: the moment when Harry and Voldemort face each other at last.
Why it’s good for a cry: For the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series, Rowling lost none of the nerve she’d demonstrated while writing the previous six. Despite the fantastical nature of these magical stories, Rowling always roots her characters’ struggles in very relatable situations. And in war, there is inevitably death. We cried — oh, did we cry — but we hugged that book when we reached the end, too. And then went back to the beginning and started all over again.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The young orphan Jane Eyre inhabits a fragile position. Born to a good family but with no wealth of her own, Jane is sent to live with her uncle’s family — an arrangement that turns sour when he dies — and then to Lowood, a punitive and tyrannically run boarding school for girls. As she matures into adulthood, Jane’s fiery spirit and independence grow more acute, as does her sensitivity to the world around her. Now governess of the secluded Thornfield Hall, the first place she has ever really felt at home, Jane falls in love with the passionate and impulsive Edward Rochester, master of the house. Just when it seems her luck has finally changed, Jane discovers the secret of the attic — a terrible revelation that threatens to destroy her dreams of happiness forever.
Why it’s good for a cry: Despite years of loss and heartbreak, Jane Eyre is an incredible character — compassionate, tolerant, and brave. So when she meets a man who seems to finally understand and adore her, readers held their breath, hoping that her happy ending may have arrived at last. Life, of course, is never that straightforward — especially in this hauntingly beautiful and tragic piece of classic British literature.
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
At 31, Noah Calhoun, back in coastal North Carolina after World War II, is haunted by images of the girl he lost more than a decade earlier. At 29, socialite Allie Nelson is about to marry a wealthy lawyer, but she cannot stop thinking about the boy who long ago stole her heart. Thus begins the story of a love so enduring and deep it can turn tragedy into triumph, and may even have the power to create a miracle…
Why it’s good for a cry: The duality of the two storylines in this book brings a poetic balance between love stories, young and old. The fiery passion of the young couple mixed with the calmer devotion of old age makes for a beautifully realized romance that will stay with you long after reading that final page.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
After the sinking of a cargo ship, a solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a 16-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a wounded zebra, an orangutan — and a 450-pound royal bengal tiger.
Why it’s good for a cry: This novel asks some important questions about spirituality, religion, and the power of the human spirit, without presuming to tell the reader what to think. It’s scary and upsetting, but thought-provoking and gorgeous, too.
We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman
Do not miss me, because I will always be with you… I am the air, the moon, the stars. For we are all made of stars, my beloved. Wherever you look, I will be there.
Stella Carey exists in a world of night. Married to a war veteran who has returned from Afghanistan brutally injured, she leaves the house each night as Vincent locks himself away, unable to sleep due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. During her nursing shifts, Stella writes letters for her patients, detailing their final wishes, thoughts and feelings — from how to use a washing machine, to advice on how to be a good parent – and posts them after their death. That is until Stella writes one letter that she feels compelled to deliver in time, to give her patient one final chance of redemption…
Why it’s good for a cry: There are numerous characters in Coleman’s novel, all intertwined through a nurse, Stella, who is looking after patients and writing their goodbye letters for them when they know they don’t have long left. While the stories themselves are great, it’s the letters that shine throughout — ranging from sob-inducing heartache to laugh-out-loud silliness.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist-books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.
Why it’s good for a cry: This powerful novel, written from the perspective of Death itself, jumps so flawlessly between the darker elements of loss, pain, and fear to the more uplifting elements of courage and love, that it really is a roller-coaster read. The very unique narrator and the beautiful drawings scattered throughout the pages make this a surprisingly joyous read overall — once you’ve cried your way through a large chunk of it, of course.