5 Books That Will Have You Crying the Hardest

By: Sam Fletcher, October 18th, 2023 10:10 am.

Catharsis is essential to mental wellbeing. Letting it all out is as valid a response as any other, and an emotional story is perfect for doing just that. After all, connecting with characters can change how we see the world.

And who doesn’t want more empathy?

Anyway, here we’ll go over some books that are sure to have you sobbing (in a good way, of course).

MausArt Spiegelman (1991)

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In this classic graphic novel, Art Spiegelman relates his father’s holocaust experience. Using mice for Jewish people and cats for Germans, he captures the full horror of what happened. Art also analyzes his personal feelings, narrating the story through his father’s conversations. Cutting between past and present, he breaks down what it means to be a survivor and how trauma passes on.

This classic story made headlines in early 2022 after school boards banned it. And it became an instant bestseller overnight. So, problematic censorship aside, thank you, Tennessee, for drawing attention to it. Not only does this prove there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but it also shows its timelessness. It’s an important work that still retains the power to strike a chord.

In no uncertain terms, Art Spiegelman’s story captures the reality of the holocaust. Then there’s the intergenerational trauma and the impact on the lives of children. And it’s the poignant ending that cements this, leaving its mark long after it’s finished.

The Color PurpleAlice Walker (1982)

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Two African American sisters, Nettie and Celie, share an unbreakable bond. Set in early twentieth-century rural Georgia, they exchange letters despite their separation. Charting their lives and their trauma, they document the human spirit’s resilience.

Many will remember the 1985 Spielberg film, but the book has a far more meaningful impact. A work of truthful honesty, the story immortalizes the experience of many. As a vital text, it has a universality that resonates (at least for me, it did) due to its accessible approach.

There are plenty of sad moments, but sentimentality never bogs it down. There’s also hope in the sisters’ loyalty to one another.

A real sense of optimism comes across in its message of endurance and the human spirit.

Flowers for AlgernonDaniel Keyes (1966)

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This classic story is of a special needs man named Charlie’s quest for intelligence. Given a chance to increase his IQ, he undergoes a radical new experiment. After a successful operation on a mouse named Algernon, he’ll also be the first human. Expanding his horizons, Charlie starts viewing the world in a whole new way. But then Algernon’s intelligence begins to deteriorate fast.

Infamous for making people cry, this was an easy choice. I can’t answer why without giving too much away, but the ending is poignant to say the least. With a real insight into intelligence, the story has something to say about human nature. There’s also the question of humanity and what it’s worth in the face of true ‘genius.’

First written as a short story in 1959, there are several adaptations for the screen and stage. Showcasing science-fiction’s ability for understanding the human condition, it’s an excellent character study.

Everything I Never Told YouCeleste Ng (2014)

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A Chinese-American family in 1970s small-town Ohio is fraught with worry. Their favorite daughter Lydia Lee has disappeared. The unthinkable then happens, and her body turns up in a nearby lake. Secrets then begin to rise, with their entire world now crashing down around them. A complete picture emerges, and the family starts seeing each other for who they really are.

Surface-wise, this is a standard mystery, but there’s far more lurking underneath. Through its dissection of the family dynamic, it gets to the bottom of some genuine truths. I felt a real connection with the characters finding myself invested in their outcome. And this is saying something, given the book opens with the statement ‘Lydia is dead.’

It’s written with clear lyrical prose, making it difficult to put down. This succinct honesty made the final revelation all that more touching.

Everything is IlluminatedJonathan Safran Foer (2002)

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This story is of a man’s search for a Ukrainian woman who may have rescued the author’s grandfather from the Nazis. Armed with only a faded photograph, American author Jonathan hopes to find her and tell her story. And he’s escorted by Alex, his translator in Ukraine, and Alex’s blind grandfather.

Not to give away the ending here, but it was the final chapter that hit me. It’s a surreal yet heart-wrenching climax with a historical tragedy. The experience of the Ukrainian Jewish shtetls provides a real climatic gut punch. And it earns this in the build-up, with its funny and engaging characters in both Jonathan and Alex.

Some accuse this book of being too clever for its own good, but that criticism fell to the wayside once I was in it. It has a lot of ambition and something different to say, which is what I most appreciated. That and the impact of its finale made it stick with me all these years.

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Paula Bain
Paula Bain
7 months ago

Just one more suggestion for a book that makes a person cry reall hard. Grisham’s The Confession had me crying so hard for such a long time that I couldn’t breathe. I was almost in danger of choking and passing out. Haven’t read a boook of his since, not do I plan to. Just one more to consider.

Liz Hathway
Liz Hathway
7 months ago

And 1 more that still sticks in my mind – Henry’s Sisters by Cathy Lamb. I went through almost a full box of tissues while reading this!

6 months ago

I don’t know…there has been too much to cry about in the last few years.

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