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14 Sad Books That Nicholas Sparks Had Nothing To Do With

of mice and menHmm…I guess I should say books that made me feel sad, since books themselves cannot be sad.  Although, if Twilight suddenly became self-aware, I’m sure it would be overcome with self-loathing and throw itself under a bus just before the bus drove over a cliff and plummeted into a massive bucket of acid rain. But perhaps the book is immortal as well and would simply regenerate.

Regardless, sometimes I like to read gloomy, sad books. Not sappy schlock , sad books for tweens, that feels like it is written simply so it can become a movie with interchangeable good looking people dying or breaking up, (Sparks!!!), but poignant, emotional writing than I can’t let go of when I close the book.  Haunting. Memorable in a good way. Melancholy can be very satisfying and it takes a skilled writer (or actor) to make me care so deeply about a fictional character that I really do feel torn up when they’re gone or the book ends.

For instance, the end of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (the movie) still makes me tear up every single time. Full disclosure: the other movie that made me cry the first time was Terminator 2, when Arnold lowers himself into the molten steel at the end…

So, here are books that amount to tearjerkers for yours truly, or did at one time. Any books that I have reviewed previously have links to the full reviews.

1. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

2. The Kite Runner by Khaleid Hosseini

3. Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

4. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

5.The Road by Cormac McCarthy

6. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

7. Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (I just got goosebumps typing this as I thought of the end of that book)

8. Night by Elie Wiesel

9. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

10. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque

11. 1984 by George Orwell (not exactly sad, but it makes me feel so awful that I have to include it. That said, I love it)

12. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

13. Any book I read with my little boy that talks about how much fathers love their sons

14. Half The Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof (this one has just as much uplifting material in it, and I think the happy/horrific ratio skews in favor of happy)

Feel free to add to the list of the saddest books of all time. Let’s mope!


PS: now that I’m thinking about it, I’m going to toss in this 1984 book review as another sad book. It made me sad. The end.

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  • cinderkeys December 17, 2010, 12:27 am

    Thank you for including The Giving Tree on your list. I read that when I was seven and found the ending incredibly depressing. Much later, as an adult, I was astonished to discover that most people think it’s inspiring.

    Guys? The tree is not supposed to be a positive role model, and the book (written by (Shel Silverstein) is not a Christian allegory. The tree serves as a warning. Don’t give everything you have to someone who will never appreciate it or you will end up like her.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 17, 2010, 5:46 pm

      I’m not sure I ever would have thought of that angle.

    • Anonymous February 6, 2011, 4:56 pm

      I disagree. I actually think the tree represents a mother. Also, your theory doesn’t really work, because in the end the tree was happy.

      • cinderkeys February 6, 2011, 10:28 pm

        I have a mother. She wasn’t in quite such bad shape as that tree was by the time she was done raising my sister and me.

        Yes, the tree was happy in the end. Much in the same way as a lot of desperate folks are happy when the emotionally absent person they’re crushing on contact them after six months of not returning calls. She would have been better off finding other sources of happiness.

  • Amanda December 17, 2010, 2:59 am

    I’ll have to say The Book Thief even though I love, love, love this book. As an aside, in Australia The Book Thief is considered adult fiction as oppossed to YA fiction as it is in the US.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 17, 2010, 5:46 pm

      Awesome. Good pick.

    • Ruth December 18, 2010, 6:46 am

      What a great pick – I listened to the Book Thief while travelling, and I had to pull over to sob more than once.

  • Lynn December 17, 2010, 9:00 am

    Plainsong is beautiful and haunting. It made me cry.
    I also cried each and every time I read Where the Red Fern Grows, which I used to read every year.
    I read your review of Never Let Me Go. I agree that he is a good writer, but I haven’t actually liked either of the two books I’ve read. I’m not sure what to say about that, except I think he handles tone in a strange way. Pacing as well. But there is something about the book that is haunting, in spite of the fact that I didn’t really like it.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 17, 2010, 5:45 pm

      I think I agree with you about Never Let Me Go, and I think “strange” is a good description of how he does handle tone. I’ll have to read Plainsong. I’ve picked it up many times and have never taken it home.

  • Ben Reinhardt December 17, 2010, 9:03 am

    hahah this is hilarious for two reasons. The first being I too cried when Arnold gets lowered into the molten steel. The second being I wrote a very similar post about books a read in middle school that were super downers and Where the Red Fern Grows and Night were on the list. Here are the other ones I had (If you haven’t read these, prepare the tissue box).

    A Day No Pigs Would Die, Fahrenheit 451 (Not so much crying really), The Giver, Summer of the Swans.

    These puppies are such killjoys

    • Josh Hanagarne December 17, 2010, 5:44 pm

      Ben, when a machine learns the value of human life, AND sets it to the terminator soundtrack…well, there’s only one logical conclusion for men like us. I’ve read A Day No Pigs Would Die. Didn’t really affect me one way or the other. the giver and F451 I’m totally on board with. Haven’t read Summer of The Swans.

  • ami December 17, 2010, 10:03 am

    Just reading the list made me sad! So many good books here.

    A book that was so tragic I ended up hating it: A Fine Balance. It’s well written and gives a sense of the culture and history of India, but Good Lawd! That so many terrible things can happen to its main characters seems criminal. And its depths of tragedy and sadness is probably what got it on Oprah’s list, which seems to specialize in depths of tragedy and sadness.

    The Red Pony was another. Oh! And For Whom the Bell Tolls. That was actually sad but so worth re-reading.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 17, 2010, 5:43 pm

      I have heard that about Mistry’s book so many times that I haven’t even tried it. Someday maybe.

  • John December 17, 2010, 10:26 am

    I agree with many, Josh. Make sure you read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle when you get the chance.

  • Boris December 17, 2010, 10:45 am

    Wow – good list.

    I don’t know how the author ever figured that “Sylvester And The Magic Pebble” would be anything but a major tear-jerker… Maybe that was the goal…

    • Josh Hanagarne December 17, 2010, 5:43 pm

      I have never even heard of that book. That is why I love these discussions.

  • Boris December 17, 2010, 10:46 am

    I forgot to mention that my son basically asked me not to read “Sylvester And The Magic Pebble” to him anymore because it was too sad.

  • Susan Garvey December 17, 2010, 3:43 pm

    The book that still haunts me many years after reading it is the House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III. None of the main characters were intrinsically a bad or good person, but were destroyed by their combined experiences just the same.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 17, 2010, 5:41 pm

      Haven’t read that one but I’ve seen it on a lot of these lists. Have you seen the movie?

      • Susan Garvey December 20, 2010, 8:46 am

        I did see the movie Josh, but it took me a long time to work up the courage to watch it. I knew I had to be in just the right mood to see it. Movies rarely match the experience of the book, but it was still a good movie. Ben Kingsley was really great in his role.

  • Ruth December 18, 2010, 6:50 am

    To this day, and my children are in their mid twenties, I cannot read Robert Munsch’s “I’ll Love You Forever” without having the tears flow. My kids would ask me to read it when they were young and I’d have to take deep breaths so they wouldn’t see the tears. Now I just read it alone and cry out loud.

    • Susan Garvey December 20, 2010, 8:47 am


      That book leaves me sobbing on the floor everytime I read it. When my kids were little and I’d start choking up, they’d always look at me like “what?” I’m sure the day will come when they get it.

    • Jen H December 20, 2010, 12:13 pm

      This book should come with a warning and a box of tissues.

  • Michelle Will December 18, 2010, 3:42 pm

    No one ever mentions Little Bee by Chris Cleave. I closed that book with so much heartache that I had no idea if I liked the book or not. Usually when I finish a book I just flip through the book hoping more of the story will seep into me through osmosis, but I just put Little Bee down and let it lie. Unfortunately it keeps haunting me.

    I used to love Anita Shreve for her incrdible portrayal of heartache and loss and raw emotion. Go back to Where or When and The Weight of Water for a good gut-wrenching.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 19, 2010, 4:28 pm

      Michelle, I’ve never heard of that book. I’m not sure I’ll be able to resist it, but your warning is well-taken!

  • Jeanette Swalberg December 19, 2010, 8:18 pm

    Dickens’ Hard Times, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Jean Watanabe-Huston’s Farewell to Manzanar, just to name a few.

    I had my kids 17 (daughter) and almost 12 (son) weigh in on this as well. My daughter’s votes: The Bridge to Terabithia!!!!! Tuck Everlasting, The Giver, the sequels to The Giver
    My son’s votes: Voices of Silence and The Keeping Room. They both agreed on Sadako and the Thousand Cranes…..and in just plain depressing (tongue firmly in cheek) The Series of Unfortunate Events, 1-13.

  • Jen H December 20, 2010, 12:12 pm

    Waiting by Ha Jin
    Sounder and/or Old Yeller

    And I give a hearty second to “Fine Balance” : I foolishly kept reading thinking that somehow something good would happen to someone. (Josh, feel free to skip this tome: I’m glad I read it, but in general life is sad enough without adding the weight of the things that happen in this book)

    The Remains of the Day also by Ishiguro (much better than Never Let Me Go, in my opinion)

    • Josh Hanagarne December 20, 2010, 6:44 pm

      I think I will skip it, the more I hear you all talk about it.

    • Josh Hanagarne December 20, 2010, 6:44 pm

      I still haven’t read anything by Ha Jin. Can you recommend a good starting point?

      • Jen H December 21, 2010, 3:18 pm

        I started with Waiting and read “forward” from there: haven’t read any of his older works. “The Bridegroom” is a good collection of short stories to try if you are in the mood for something a bit shorter.

  • Jay Lampas December 21, 2010, 9:06 am

    the last 3 chapters of “marley and me” made me sob uncontrollably, let me regroup for 5 minutes, then bawl again. mary watched the whole thing and laughed. she’s mean.

  • Paul Andrew Russell December 30, 2010, 4:22 pm

    Great Expectations by Charles Dickens always does it for me. Especially the part where Pip is visited in the city (where he’s become a gentleman) by Joe Gargery, and he’s embarrassed by knowing his poor, country friend.

  • Cindy Sue February 6, 2011, 7:29 pm

    My fav book of all time, read in the last 5 or so years, is Merle’s Door. THAT book will make you cry like a baby and laugh hysterically. It makes Marley and Me read like a comic strip. True story….gets a little dry in a few spots, but keep going and you will love the book if you are a dog lover. Looks like I have some reading ahead of me. Thanks for some tips on great books. It is always appreciated. Oh….you can usually count on a few good sobs with Jodi Picoult, and a ton of medical education if you haven’t read any of her stuff. I also totally agree with your review of The Last Lecture. So glad I found your webpage.

  • Maria K March 4, 2011, 8:11 pm

    I’d recommend handle with care, night and kira kira. My daughter recommended kira kira to me. I read it not too long ago and despite it being a children’s book I loved it. I coudn’t put it down. The writing made me feel very nostalgic and melancholy. Great book

    And also if you like sad movies, go see Grave of the Fireflies. It’s most touching antiwar film I have ever watched in my life. It has such an impact, I guarentee you won’t be dry-eyed.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 5, 2011, 9:44 am

      Thanks Maria, I’ve never heard of any of those.

  • Elizabeth March 28, 2011, 3:37 am

    Have you ever read 13 reasons why by jay asher? If not it is a really sad book; Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a mysterious box with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. On tape, Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out how he made the list. Through Hannah and Clay’s dual narratives, debut author Jay Asher weaves an intricate and heartrending story of confusion and desperation that will deeply affect teen readers.

    I cryed all the way from the start of the book to the end of the book.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 28, 2011, 10:19 am

      I have not. So you’ve covered it as being a sad book, but would you also recommend it as a book worth reading? If so, I’m much more interested.

  • Mindy Bixler August 10, 2011, 11:26 am

    The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is the most beautiful, sad story.

  • milly October 31, 2011, 11:16 am

    private peaceful

  • Mikey April 18, 2012, 9:39 pm

    Well it’s not like BAULING sad but its sad. “Before I Fall” by Lauren Oliver. I don’t usually cry during books but the ending made me cry.