Books That Make You Sob

Josie Leavitt - April 7, 2014

As booksellers, we read a lot of books. Hundreds a year in all likelihood and there are books that stay with us for their humor and their characters. Some books combine all the great things of a Box of Tissuesmemorable story coupled with deep sadness. Not the kind of sadness that is fleeting, but the kind that flat-out makes you sob. I am the first to admit that I weep easily and often if I’m moved, but there are books that just crush me. There is nothing wrong with crying with books because the emotions are real. I refuse to read books where animals die because that simply slays me.(why people dying isn’t the same is worth looking at, but that’s a blog post for another day).
It’s funny – as a kid I don’t really remember crying at books or stories. When I was sixth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Groupe, read Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory and she started sobbing halfway through and never recovered. I cried more at her sadness than what was happening in the story. Teachers weren’t supposed to cry.
Books six and seven of the Harry Potter series had me crying so hard, a friend came outside to the deck where I was reading to offer solace, tissues and plea to not reveal the ending. But let’s face it, if you were a Harry Potter fan, how could you not shed a tear or two, or hundreds at the deaths of Dumbledore and Fred Weasley. And Dobby’s brave sacrifice just about killed me. When I tear up talking about these things with kids they think I’m a little crazy. This brings up the point that the sobbing that adults do at kids’ books often makes up for the tears the kids don’t shed. It’s always struck me as funny that there’s not a grown-up around who can’t stem the tears when reading Charlotte’s Web and yet I’ve not met a kid who has cried at that book. Perhaps it’s more a sense of the sentimental that children do not yet posses, but it’s always struck me as funny.
The Fault in Our Stars found me crying so hard at the ending that my dog, Ink, became so alarmed he jumped on my chest and started to lick at my face. This served two purposes. His jumping up was funny enough that it got me to stop crying for at least a minute while I explained to Elizabeth why I was practically convulsed with tears, and his insistence on licking my face grossed me out enough that I sat up and pulled myself together.
thiefAnd lastly, the book has left many adults stunned: The Book Thief.  I found myself crying throughout that book but devastated at the end, and not just from sadness but from the beauty of the ending. I’ve had many customers tell me that this was the book they read in public and regretted it. When I sell this book and other books that are surprisingly sad I always warn folks not read them in public, or at least have tissues handy and be prepared to have kindly strangers ask if they’re okay.
What are some of the saddest books you’ve read?

36 thoughts on “Books That Make You Sob

  1. Jenn

    See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles. Also, I read TFIOS on an airplane and bawled my way through it. Not ashamed.

  2. Shanda

    I made the mistake of reading ‘The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society’ for the first time on a plane. (No spoilers) I reached a pivotal moment in the plot, where it is revealed that a character was sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp, and thought ‘Oh, so & so was there with Corrie ten Boom – I bet they were able to encourage each other.’ Then I started ugly crying, as I realized that the character wasn’t real, and couldn’t have been there with Corrie, but thousands of others were. I slipped over to the restroom until I could control my tears. When I returned to my seat, I decided it would be safer to look at SkyMall for the rest of my flight.

  3. Angela

    “Charlotte’s Web,” and I only read it because I had to for school. Josie, I’m like you — I can’t read anything where an animal or child is hurt. Thanks for the post.

  4. SuzzyPC

    I cried when reading Charlotte’s Web – and my Mom cried right along with me. We read aloud Little Women before bed, a chapter at a time and Mom & I could never get past Beth’s death. I finally finished the book in my 30s.

  5. Carol Chittenden

    Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge always does it for me.
    I do love our customer who said of Little Women, “I loved that book so much, but it was so hard: I read it over and over, and Beth dies EVERY TIME.”

  6. Kath

    Lisa Genova’s Left Neglected made me cry buckets, not because it was either morose or a tear-jerker, but for its poignancy.
    I remember as a pre-adolescent discounting happy endings. Life was serious, which my books should reflect! As life becomes more serious and my addiction to mysteries continues, I love the relief of a good story which harnesses my deepest feelings.

  7. Beth

    LITTLE WOMEN…I cannot read about Beth’s death without just losing it entirely. Nothing to do with being a sister or having the name Beth, it’s just so beautifully and sensitively described. Alcott could distill a situation into one unforgettable sentence, such as “Beth said the needle was `so heavy’, and put it down forever.” Getting choked up right now!

  8. Sandra

    You can’t leave out Where the Red Fern Grows. I’ve read it many times and it still gets me every time.

  9. Theresa Hernandez

    A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving had me sobbing uncontrollably at the end. Even though I knew what was coming, it was still so heart-wrenchingly painful, it hit me in the gut, hard. That book sticks we me even 15 years after having finished it.
    Along the lines of The Fault in Our Stars is Always and Forever by Karla J. Nellenbach. So beautifully told that even though I cried, they were cleansing tears.

  10. Ellen Wittlinger

    Well, it’s not me and it is dogs, but my daughter, Kate, read Where the Red Fern Grows when she was about 10 or 11 and was convulsed by it, of course. And then she read it over and over and over and it destroyed her every time. I kept begging her to stop reading it already, but she couldn’t seem to. I guess she needed those tears for some reason.

  11. Lee

    Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, with my daughter when she was small. We both sobbed during a scene involving Jack, the Ingalls’ dog. And Where the Red Fern Grows, for essentially the same reason…

    1. cbt

      Oh, me too. I remember that we were reading Where the Red Fern Grows out loud during my seventh grade English class, and I was assigned to read the part when (do you still have to say SPOILER ALERT if the book is 50+ years old?) Little Ann curls up to die on Old Dan’s grave, and it shattered me. I struggled on for a sentence or two until the teacher asked someone else to read. I don’t understand how anyone could make it through that without at least tearing up.

    2. Pam

      Jack going lost is the first time I remember crying BUCKETS at a book.
      And damned if I didn’t cry every time I reread it, even if I knew he was going to be OK.
      (And of course later when he does die…boxes of tissues.)

  12. Eleanor (Ellie) Miller

    Me too re: Beth in “Little Women”, and I generally lose it whenever I get to Johnny Nolan’s death in “Tree Grow’s in Brooklyn”. As a youngster, I cried over Sara Crewe’s woes in “A Little Princess”. As an adult today, I no long read anything involving abused children or serial killers…just can’t handle them.

  13. Charlie Quimby

    I am not qualified to answer this question. As a kid, I used to cry when the credits rolled at the end of “Lassie,” and the dog just sat there happily.
    “Don’t you know you’re going to DIE???” was all I could think, week after week.

  14. Beth

    I forgot about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn…how about when she steels herself to walk into the classroom after graduation and she gets a surprise (no spoiler here)? Amazing how these things stay with us!

  15. Michelle

    I can’t think of any time I have cried while reading fiction, and I have read all of the books mentioned so far in this post, but nonfiction sad stories can make me cry for sure. Something about the story being true can always get to me. I last remember sobbing through Same Kind of Different as Me.

  16. Diana

    Tfios and Book Thief hit me pretty good too, but also Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. And surprisingly Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, that one was embarassing! My husband found me curled up in my chair sobbing as he came to ask me what I wanted for dinner. He saw me and said “Oh… You’re reading. I’ll cook later.” Lol

  17. Shauna

    Where the Moon Isn’t — I burst uncontrollably into tears at the end, also on an airplane. And Heft. What beautiful books.

  18. Lee

    A Little Princess is still a favorite, decades after I read it for the first time. I love Sara’s words at the end: “Oh, I know Lascars. I was born in India…” and the great scene that follows. Hope that isn’t a spoiler!

  19. Jared

    The saddest book I’ve ever read is probably David Morrell’s FIREFLIES. He wrote it directly after the passing of his young son, so it’s infused with the white-hot heartbreak of a grieving parent. The only book that reduced me to a sobbing mess (on more than one occasion) is one I read recently. A YA book by Patrick Ness entitled A MONSTER CALLS. I also shed a tear at the end of Robert McCammon’s epic SWAN SONG and found myself getting choked up by the climax of Stephen King’s THE GREEN MILE.

  20. Lino Petrequin

    Black Beauty, Beautiful Joe, Old Yellar, and all of Felix Salton’s books. But those were ancient times….

  21. KReed

    The Library Lion. Every Time. My kids ask me to read it to them and bet each other when the waterworks will start. Also The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy. Because of the wolf.

  22. Kay

    I didn’t read Bridge to Terabithia until college and was an absolute wreck when I got to the end. Getting teary eyed now just thinking of it. However, I did read Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsdawn when I was 11 and curled up sobbing in my bed for a good 30 minutes calling Salla’s name along with Tavi after the shuttle scene with Avril Bitra.

  23. Donna Gephart

    Great topic. Most recently, Fault in Our Stars and A Monster Calls had me out and out sobbing. On the flip side, because maybe at this point, we need the flip side, I once laughed so hard and so often on a plane, my seatmate asked what I was reading and said she had to get a copy. That book? Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford. Hilarious!

  24. Vicki Kouchnerkavich

    Teen book, Pirates! by Celia Rees. Near the end when “Minerva was bound to the underside of the bowsprit, with her arms wrenched back.” Also listening to audiobook of “Catching Fire” when the older gentleman who gave Katniss the salute in Rue’s district and then was killed. Was sobbing while driving down the highway, glad I didn’t have an accident! Also in the Little House book “LittleTown on the Prairie” by Laura Ingalls Wilder, chapter title “Sent Home from School”, particularly near the end of the chapter, when Laura rocks the school seat with her sister Carrie.

  25. Nancy Maxwell

    I remember crying out loud in the car when listening to Marley and Me.
    I also read Fault in our Stars by John Green. I recommended it to my daughter who stupidly started reading at 10 p.m. In two hours she was finished with the book and crying her eyes out.


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