Books That Hurt Us™
We know them. We love them. We can’t get enough of them.
Sometimes, you want a book that fills you with happiness and coziness and a generally hopeful view of the entire world. Buy sometimes? You want a book that entirely destroys your emotions—but leaves you all the better for it. And trust us when we say we have the perfect book for you.
Below is a list of some of our favorite books that have made us cry in public. Happy reading, book nerds. And don’t say we didn’t warn you!
14 Heart-wrenching YA Books
GUARANTEED TO MAKE YOU UGLY CRY
1. Just Breathe by Cammie McGovern
This book is Five Feet Apart meets If I Stay so there is zero chance that you won’t be sobbing at some (or many) points. The connection that slowly builds between David and Jamie will leave you desperately hoping that they both find healing and happiness.
David Scheinman is the popular president of his senior class, battling cystic fibrosis.
Jamie Turner is a quiet sophomore, struggling with depression.
The pair soon realizes that they’re able to be more themselves with each other than they can be with anyone else, and their unlikely friendship starts to turn into something so much more.
But neither Jamie nor David can bring themselves to reveal the secrets that weigh most heavily on their hearts—and their time for honesty may be running out.
2. Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby
This book is set during WWII and narrated by a ghost, so you know you’re in for a seriously emotional ride. But this masterfully told tale will have you feeling not just sad, but outraged, comforted, and inspired by the strength of women.
When Frankie’s mother died and her father left her and her siblings at an orphanage in Chicago, it was supposed to be only temporary. That’s why Frankie’s not prepared for the day that he arrives for his weekend visit with a new woman on his arm and out-of-state train tickets in his pocket. Now Frankie and her sister are abandoned alongside so many other orphans—two young, unwanted women doing everything they can to survive.
And as the embers of the Great Depression are kindled into the fires of World War II, and the shadows of injustice, poverty, and death walk the streets in broad daylight, it will be up to Frankie to find something worth holding on to in the ruins of this shattered America—every minute of every day spent wondering if the life she’s able to carve out will be enough.
I will admit I do not know the answer. But I will be watching, waiting to find out.
That’s what ghosts do.
3. How to Make Friends with the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow
Keep plenty of tissues on hand for this story of one girl somehow finding resilience while in the depths of grief.
Here is what happens when your mother dies.
It’s the brightest day of summer and it’s dark outside. It’s dark in your house, dark in your room, and dark in your heart. You feel like the darkness is going to split you apart.
That’s how it feels for Tiger. It’s always been Tiger and her mother against the world. Then, on a day like any other, Tiger’s mother dies. And now it’s Tiger, alone.
Here is how you learn to make friends with the dark.
4. Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds
Jack and Kate have the perfect meet-cute, and you THINK everything is going to be PERFECT and HAPPY but then Kate DIES and Jack is stuck in a TIMELOOP and we are unwell. Yet somehow through all of that you will also be laughing? Honestly this is the funniest and most charming sad book you’ll ever read.
When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.
But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.
Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind.
Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.
5. The How & the Why by Cynthia Hand
Cassandra McMurtrey has the best parents a girl could ask for; they’ve given Cass a life she wouldn’t trade for the world. She has everything she needs—but she has questions, too. Like, to know who she is. Where she came from. Questions her adoptive parents can’t answer, no matter how much they love her.
But eighteen years ago, someone wrote Cass a series of letters. And they may just hold the answers Cass has been searching for.
Alternating between Cass’s search for answers and letters from the pregnant teen who placed her for adoption, this emotionally resonant narrative is the perfect read for fans of Nina LaCour and Jandy Nelson.
6. Three Things I Know Are True by Betty Culley
Yes, this story deals with some seriously heavy topics but the touching and beautifully honest verses will break your heart and piece it back together again.
Life changes forever for Liv when her older brother, Jonah, accidentally shoots himself with his best friend Clay’s father’s gun. Now Jonah needs round-the-clock care just to stay alive, and Liv feels like she’s the only person who can see that her brother is still there inside his broken body.
With Liv’s mom suing Clay’s family, there are divisions in the community that Liv knows she’s not supposed to cross. But Clay is her friend, too, and she refuses to turn away from him—just like she refuses to give up on Jonah.
This powerful novel-in-verse is a stunning exploration of tragedy, grief, compassion, and forgiveness.
7. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
You already know that this book has broken our hearts into a thousand little pieces over and over again.
On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.
Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.
In the tradition of Before I Fall and If I Stay, They Both Die at the End is a tour de force from acclaimed author Adam Silvera, whose debut, More Happy Than Not, the New York Times called “profound.”
8. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Love. Loss. Beauty. Heartbreak. We’re obsessed with this one for so. many. reasons.
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
9. Heroine by Mindy McGinnis
A gut-wrenchingly powerful book from the one and only Mindy, Heroine shatters us every damn time.
When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there.
The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.
With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue.
But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens, her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.r
10. Sorry For Your Loss by Jessie Ann Foley
Honestly? Jessie writes so that Pup’s pain is our pain, and this is definitely one that had us ugly crying in public.
As the youngest of eight, painfully average Pup Flanagan is used to flying under the radar. He’s barely passing his classes. He lets his longtime crush walk all over him. And he’s in no hurry to decide on a college path.
The only person who ever made him think he could be more was his older brother Patrick. But that was before Patrick died suddenly, leaving Pup with a family who won’t talk about it and acquaintances who just keep saying, “sorry for your loss.”
When Pup excels at a photography assignment he thought he’d bomb, things start to come into focus. His dream girl shows her true colors. An unexpected friend exposes Pup to a whole new world, right under his nose.
And the photograph that was supposed to show Pup a way out of his grief ultimately reveals someone else who is still stuck in their own. Someone with a secret regret Pup never could have imagined.
11. History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera
As if the “now” chapters weren’t heartbreaking enough, the flashbacks to the time Theo and Griffin spent together will make everything that much better/worse. Throw in some bittersweet humor, betrayals, and some classic Adam Silvera twists, and you’ve got yourself a one-way ticket to emotional devastation.
When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.
To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.
If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.
12. Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian
Bighearted, searing, and true, Abdi’s Like a Love Story will transport you straight to the 80s, break your entire heart, and put it right back together.
It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.
Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.
Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.
Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.
As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart—and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.
13. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
In the face of tragedy, Marin tries to leave her whole life behind. But you can only run from your past for so long, it all has to come out eventually. Replace “past” with “tears” and that’s exactly how you’ll react after reading this beautiful heart-breaker.
You go through life thinking there’s so much you need…
Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.
Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.
14. Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
Far From the Tree is about three siblings who were given up for adoption and have never met…until now. Their reunion will pull on your heartstrings and make your eyes well up with all the tears.
Being the middle child has its ups and downs.
But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—
Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.
And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.
- What books always make you ugly cry? Let us know in the comments below!