When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.
When looking for your next great read, it’s easy to gravitate towards romance novels with happy endings or fantasy books with satisfying conclusions. But just as horror fans love a creepy-crawly feeling and sci-fi readers crave the chaos of a good dystopia, it can feel good to experience the raw emotions of a devastating story that makes you want to cry.
We scoured reader and personal recommendations for the best sad books and found everything from YA classics to gripping new releases. Whether you’re looking for a heartbreaking romance or a novel that’s equal parts thrilling and tear-jerking, here are the best sad books to make you cry.
“Reminders of Him” by Colleen Hoover, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $9.57
Colleen Hoover is known for evoking powerful emotions with bestsellers such as “It Ends With Us” and “Verity.” Her newest novel, “Reminders of Him,” continues that trend. When Kenna Rowan returns from her prison sentence to reunite with her daughter, it seems as though everyone is determined to keep them apart, except the local bar owner who has both a link to her child and a growing connection with Kenna. Readers love this book’s heart-wrenching, sob-worthy ending.
“A Woman Is No Man” by Etaf Rum, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $13.99
This deeply emotional and profound novel is about the matriarchal generations of 18-year-old Deya’s family as her Arabic grandparents search for a suitor against her will, just as they did for her mother years prior. Though Deya was told her parents died in a car accident, a letter makes her question everything as she unravels her family’s secrets to learn her mother’s truth.
“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $8.70
Readers love how “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” emotionally breaks them down and rebuilds them before the final page. This story unearths Little Dog’s family history, told in the form of a letter to his mother who cannot read. It is a memorable story of silence, survival, and healing.
“I Must Betray You” by Ruta Sepetys, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $12.99
“I Must Betray You” is a young adult historical fiction novel set in 1989 Romania where 17-year-old Cristian Florescu is blackmailed into becoming an informer as Communist regimes crumble and Nicolae Ceaușescu rules as a dictator. In this powerful read based on Romania’s true history, Cristian must define freedom to unmask the truth for the world to see.
“Frankly in Love” by David Yoon, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $9.89
Though this may seem like a love story on the surface, “Frankly in Love” is about the generational, racial, and personal challenges Frank Li faces as he falls in love for the first time. As the child of immigrant Korean parents, Frank knows the consequences of defying his parents and finds comfort in a family friend who is in a similar situation. Frank’s deeply realistic and relevant hurdles have brought tears to the eyes of more than a few readers.
“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $6.10
“The Fault in Our Stars” is a bestselling young adult romance novel by John Green about Hazel and Augustus, who meet in a cancer support group as Augustus is in remission and Hazel fights a looming terminal diagnosis. When the two form an immediate connection, they agree to read each other’s favorite books in this story that requires a tissue box nearby.
“They Both Die at the End” by Adam Silvera, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $8.07
In the science fiction universe of “They Both Die at the End,” Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio each receive a phone call just after midnight from Death-Cast, informing them that they will, unfortunately, die that day. Each looking for companionship in their final day of life, Mateo and Rufus find each other and set out to have one final adventure together before their time is up.
“Monday’s Not Coming” by Tiffany D. Jackson, available on Amazon, $10.99
Claudia and Monday are as close as sisters, so when Monday doesn’t show up for the first day of school, Claudia notices immediately. When it becomes obvious that Monday has disappeared, Claudia realizes that no one can seem to remember the last time they saw her in this emotionally challenging young adult novel.
“All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $7.48
Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of their school’s bell tower, each planning to jump but somehow save each other. When they pair up for a project to discover the natural wonders of Indiana, Theodore and Violet find a safe place in each other in this young adult novel about mental health and friendship. If you’re interested in learning more about why we love “All the Bright Places,” check out our in-depth review here.
“A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $14.82
A finalist for the National Book Award, “A Little Life” follows four friends who move to New York City to make lives for themselves, both together and apart. Following the group through middle age, this novel is mostly centered upon Jude, a lawyer with a terrible past, a broken heart, and deep trauma.
“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $10.50
Set during escalating tumultuous times in Afghanistan, “The Kite Runner” is about the relationship between a young, wealthy boy named Amir and the son of his father’s servant, Hassan, who often fly kites to escape the realities of their lives. When something terrible happens, this novel blooms into a story of guilt, betrayal, and redemption.
“Glorious Boy” by Aimee Liu, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $17.14
As the Japanese army prepares to invade India in 1942, Claire and Shep know they must evacuate with their four-year-old son, Ty, though they will have to leave his friend, Naila, behind. The morning they are due to leave, both children have gone missing and Shep forces Claire to board the ship while he stays behind to find the children in this emotional story of strength, perseverance, and motherhood.
“Wonder” by R.J. Palacio, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $9.72
August Pullman is finally starting mainstream school in 5th grade, having been homeschooled because of a facial difference his entire life. Though most kids can’t see past what makes August different, he finds solace in new friends, his sister, her boyfriend, and his family.
“The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $12.79
First published in 1982, “The House of the Spirits” is a beautiful Spanish classic about four generations of the Trueba family. As the story follows the greatest and most challenging moments through the family’s lives, it intertwines with political and social unrest to create a stunning novel full of magical realism.
“Dear Edward” by Ann Napolitano, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $10.52
Edward Adler is 12 years old and the sole survivor of a plane crash that killed 186 people, including his parents and his older brother. As Edward tries to find a new place for himself in the world, this heart-wrenching story switches between the present and the events leading up to, during, and after the devastating crash.
“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $10.99
In the summer of 1987, Aristotle meets Dante at a local pool when Dante offers to teach him how to swim. As the boys form an inseparable bond, they explore and learn more about each other, themselves, and the complicated world.
“You’ve Reached Sam” by Dustin Thao, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $15.99
When Julie’s boyfriend Sam suddenly dies, her world and all her plans for the future are turned upside down. Needing to hear his voice, she calls Sam’s phone and finds she can connect to him once again in this young adult romance about heartbreak and grief.
“Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $6.99
“Bridge to Terabithia” is a heartbreaking children’s book about Jess Aarons and his new classmate, Leslie Burke, who become fast friends and spend their time in the woods, playing in an imaginative land they invented called Terabithia. When Leslie goes to Terabithia one morning without Jess, something terrible happens and Jess’s life changes forever.
“A Walk to Remember” by Nicholas Sparks, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $8.27
Though many of Nicholas Sparks’ romance novels bring tears to readers’ eyes, “A Walk to Remember” is especially emotional. This is the love story of Landon Carter, who fell for Jamie Sullivan in the 1950s while they were in high school, and whose love for her lasted through the great trials they faced.
“Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $7.84
Louisa Clark lived a fairly normal life until she took a job caring for the exceedingly wealthy Will Traynor, who became wheelchair-bound after a terrible accident. As the two form a bond, Louisa learns that Will intends to die by assisted suicide and sets out to show him that life is still worth living.
“Marley and Me” by John Grogan, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $14.49
As John and Jenny began their lives together in a new home, they brought home a little yellow Labrador puppy and named him Marley. This story captures Marley’s life, from failed obedience training to meeting his new human siblings to teaching the true meaning of unconditional love.
“Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $8.49
“Flowers for Algernon” is a short science fiction novel from 1966, told through a series of reports written by Charlie Gordon, the first human subject for a surgery that will increase IQ. Though the same surgery was first successful on a lab mouse named Algernon, when the mouse begins to decline, Charlie fears the same will happen to him.
“The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak, available on Amazon and Bookshop, from $6.99
Set in 1939 Nazi Germany, young Liesel finds a book by her brother’s graveside, spurring a passion for books and book thievery, especially from Nazi book-burnings. When Liesel’s foster family takes in a Jewish person and hides them in their basement, her world is turned on its head in this historical fiction novel narrated by Death.
“Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher, available on Amazon, $8.39
Two weeks after Hannah Baker commits suicide, Clay Jensen comes home from school to find a package with cassettes recorded by Hannah, outlining the 13 reasons why she chose to end her life. As Clay listens to the tapes, he follows Hannah’s story around town and uncovers terrible truths.
Sign up for Insider Reviews’ weekly newsletter for more buying advice and great deals.
You can purchase logo and accolade licensing to this story here.
Disclosure: Written and researched by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our partners. We may receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at [email protected].