10 Greatest Novels That Will Tug on Your Heartstrings Long After You Finish Them
Grab the tissues now, because you won’t make it through our list of tearjerker books without shedding a few emotional tears.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
This acclaimed favourite of the John Green young adult novels follows Hazel Grace and Augustus, two teenagers who meet in a cancer support group. This sweet and philosophical novel will definitely have you crying your eyes out—in between laughs. Green is known for writing both realistic and funny characters. Our heroine and hero are in love and they take an adventurous trip to Amsterdam to meet with their favourite author. You know they’re both sick from the very beginning, and it’s beautiful and heartbreaking to watch them fall in love in the midst of dire circumstances. The hit film version will also get you going, so have a tissue box handy. And if you’re in the mood for more blubbering, check out the best tearjerker movies for when you need an emotional release.
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult is a whiz at writing heartrending stories for her huge audience. My Sister’s Keeper is especially tearjerking as it concerns the relationship between two young sisters, one of whom is suffering from cancer. The younger was conceived and born in order to “save” her older sister as her medical match for transplants. The novel concerns the conflict that ensues when she decides to sue her parents for medical emancipation to prevent having to give one of her kidneys to her sister—and imperil her own life in the process. The novel has an unexpected ending that’s different from the film version. Through teardrops, you’ll ponder larger themes on family, medical ethics, loss and the love between sisters.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Katherine Paterson’s cherished classic Bridge to Terabithia, published in 1977, will stir your soul as well as inspire sobbing. Paterson’s lovable characters Jesse and Leslie are two youngsters who connect as friends despite their contrasting home lives. After they face a bully at school, they cope by creating a magical haven, Terabithia, in the woods near their homes. The elaborate fantasy locale provides a safe space beyond the challenges and conflicts of regular life. This beautiful novel treats tragedy with unflinching honesty as you follow the kids through a journey that includes unbearable grief. These are the books you really should have read by now.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
This best-selling novel by Audrey Niffenegger tells the love story of Clare and Henry—which would be so perfect if only Henry didn’t have a pesky genetic illness that causes him to travel through time without warning. This causes his wife Clare all kinds of hassles and heartache. The out-of-order love story captures the loss inherent to love as it constantly moves in and out of moments. This sweeping story covers the lives and tragic turns for both characters. It pulls on your heartstrings even as it inspires through romantic notions about feeling like you know someone when you’ve only just met. (If you love time travel stories, here are the best movies featuring time travel.)
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck’s classic novella follows two migrant workers, George and Lennie, as they struggle to subsist during the Great Depression. They’re driven by the American Dream to own their land, but as the title foretells, best laid plans often go awry. And that becomes part of the devastating journey readers take with characters who you can’t help but care for. The novel exposes the social justice issues of its time period, which remain relevant for contemporary readers. The shattering, but inevitable, turn of events speak to the universal desire for dreams and justice and the ways they are so easily thwarted for those who are oppressed.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Partly set in Afghanistan, this bestseller by Khaled Hosseini chronicles the friendship of two young boys who fly kites together as children despite vast differences in their social status. The story follows the devastating betrayal of one boy by the other and how they age and grow apart over time. The Kite Runner shows that while you cannot change your past, you may be able to atone for it. But that atonement is rarely easy or complete. This beautiful novel follows themes of family and friendship within a tragic international context that shows the pain of those swept up by larger political forces and those who escape.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harper Lee’s masterpiece is still taught in English classes because of its universal themes and ever-relevant lessons about race, class, and gender in the Southern town of the novel’s setting. The bestseller still packs a wallop and you won’t get through the story without your heart breaking wide open. The story follows a young girl, Scout, as she watches her father, the famous Atticus Finch, defend Tom, an innocent man wrongfully accused of a vicious crime and now perilously endangered. The film version is well-loved, though it didn’t win Best Picture. Check out the biggest Oscar snubs in history.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beautifully whimsical novel has moved adults and children since the 1940s. The story is about the titular prince, stranded and lonely in a vast desert. He meets the narrator, a pilot who has crashed his plane there. The two form a close bond and the Little Prince tells the pilot of his adventures on other planets. You’ll hear of the Little Prince’s love for a rose, his taming by a fox, and his constant requests for drawings. The pilot grows to adore his new friend. But the tragic ending hits hard as it deals with big themes about the human condition: love, loss, and friendship. You’ll find yourself crying at what is devastating and beautiful at the same time. These are the kids’ books that every adult needs to read.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
You already know your emotions are in for it because Markus Zusak’s bestseller is set in Nazi Germany and narrated by Death. The story follows the relationship between a young girl, Liesel, and her foster parents as they live within the brutal regime. Max is a Jewish man who they hide in the basement. He bonds with Liesel over their shared love for books, and the two manage to forge hope out of desperation. Readers admit to crying throughout this beautiful novel about the power of kindness and love amid hate and atrocity.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This memoir reads with the language and depth of a great novel. It’s a recent bestseller that recounts the illness of its author, neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi. He begins the story in his youth discussing his love for books and literature, though he is eventually drawn to science. He’s at the start of his career and marriage, with a baby on the way, when he receives a devastating diagnosis. The book recounts his thoughts as he grapples with the beauty of a life well-lived. You cannot help but be moved, saddened, and inspired by Kalanithi’s generosity and courage as he shares his story.
Originally published as 10 Greatest Novels That Will Tug on Your Heartstrings Long After You Finish Them on ReadersDigest.com.