The 20 greatest books that are guaranteed to make you cry

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Stylist Team
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The beautiful thing about literature is that it captures all variations of emotions, from pure joy to the darkest moments of the human condition. Sad, morose and poignant books resonate something inside and evoke memories and sensations we can relate to - so it's no wonder the fates of their characters stay with us a long time after reading them.

From war-torn romances in Birdsong and Atonement, to courageous tales of adversity in The Fault In Our Stars and To Kill A Mockingbird, or the loss of beloved characters in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we've selected the most tear-jerking moments in literature to remember with affection. Yes, you will need the tissues close by.

(It goes without saying that there may be spoilers to why these books are sad, so look away if you're half way through one of them!)

  • One Day - David Nicholls (2009)

    "You can live your whole life not realising that what you're looking for is right in front of you."

    Telling the story of two people's encounters on the same day over 20 years, One Day is remembered for the fate of one of its protagonists, giving the message to enjoy every moment.

  • Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks (1993)

    "Something had been buried that was not yet dead."

    Novels set during wars are bound to be tearjerkers and Sebastian Faulks' episodic tale that takes place across the First World War shows the heartbreaking atrocities caused by war.

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini (2007)

    "You see, some things I can teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well, you have to see and feel."

    Khaled Hosseini's tale of a friendship that spans four decades is set in Afghanistan during which societal pressure and violence dominate, but the themes of family and friendship make it an important read.

  • Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (1847)

    "Be with me always - take any form - drive me mad! I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!"

    Tragic lovers Cathy and Heathcliffe's passionate story set against the wild Yorkshire countryside is one of the most enduring.

  • The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold (2002)

    "Murderers are not monsters, they're men. And that's the most frightening thing about them."

    Fourteen-year-old Susie Salmon narrates the story of her rape and murder from heaven in this poignant, heartbreaking novel by Alice Sebold.

  • After You'd Gone - Maggie O'Farrell (2000)

    "Why isn't life better designed so it warns you when terrible things are about to happen?"

    After seeing a shocking sight at Edinburgh train station, Alice Raikes walks into a traffic accident, which leaves her in a coma. Maggie O'Farrell's novel perfectly captures the swirl of voices and shared experiences that are set off by this freak occurrence, as well as weaving in a realistic, modern and heartbreaking love story.

  • The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger (2003)

    "Chaos is more freedom; in fact, total freedom. But no meaning. I want to be free to act, and I also want my actions to mean something."

    The tragic story of a man whose genetic disease causes him to time travel through his relationship with his wife and its effects on her cast the concept of romance in an unexpected, sad light.

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - JK Rowling (2007)

    "Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all those who live without love."

    The end of the Harry Potter series was upsetting enough alone, but the deaths of several of the key characters meant that it became one of the saddest books we'd ever read.

  • To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee (1960)

    "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view"

    Harper Lee's classic novel about a lawyer who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman and the prejudices this evokes in the Alabama town they live won is horrific, but poignant.

  • One Hundred Years Of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967)

    "He really had been through death, but he had returned because he could not bear the solitude."

    Gabriel Garcia Marquez's narration of generations of a family whose history repeats itself time and time again is at times happy, at others heart wrenching, and all uplifted through his magic realism style.

  • The Book Thief - Markus Zusak (2006)

    "Together, they would watch everything that was so carefully planned collapse, and they would smile at the beauty of destruction."

    Set in Nazi Germany, The Book Thief tells the story of a young girl's experiences of the terrifying regime, which takes away her parents, and forces her to help others to shelter.

  • Half Of A Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2006)

    "This was love: a string of coincidences that gathered significance and became miracles."

    Set during the Nigerian-Biafran War in the late 1960s, Half Of A Yellow Sun tells the story of the war's effects on four very different people as the conflict uproots the Nigerian people and creates new tensions in their relationships.

  • The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath (1963)

    "The silence depressed me. It wasn't the silence of silence. It was my own silence."

    Sylvia Plath's famous novel about depression and mental illness is said to be based on her own experiences, and sadly she committed suicide a month after publication.

  • Billy - Albert French (1993)

    "That boy ain't got the slightest idea what he done''

    This harrowing tale of a ten year old boy charged with murder in the US Deep South in 1937 reflects the inherent prejudices and atrocities of the pre-Civil Rights era.

  • Atonement - Ian McEwan (2001)

    "A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended."

    Set during World War Two, Atonement's lovers are split apart by the war, but also by a dark family secret that draws them both closer together and further apart.

  • Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell (1936)

    "Until you've lost your reputation, you never realise what a burden it was or what freedom really is."

    Gone With The Wind's protagonist Scarlett O'Hara only really learns the suffering and pain she has caused around her by the time it is too late, upsetting both the characters and the readers at the same time.

  • The Fault In Our Stars - John Green (2012)

    "You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world...but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices."

    Narrated by a sixteen-year-old cancer patient who falls in love at a support group, The Fault In Our Stars is a beautiful, heartbreaking account of suffering.

  • The Voluptuous Delights Of Peanut Butter And Jam - Lauren Liebenberg (2008)

    "Shrouded in the forest, we are lifted above the grubbiness of chicken slaughters, of peanut butter and jam, and are allowed to enter another world"

    Despite the cheery sounding title, this book, set during the 1970s in Rhodesia - before Robert Mugabe turned the country into Zimbabwe - is a harrowing account of the fight between the farmers and settlers told through the eyes of two children, leading to a truly traumatic climax.

  • The Old Curiosity Shop - Charles Dickens (1843)

    “Have I yet to learn that the hardest and best-borne trials are those which are never chronicled in any earthly record, and are suffered every day!”

    Dickens' story of the young orphan Nell Trent, who is forced into leaving her grandfather's curiosity shop in an attempt to seek her fortune is a reminder of the cruelties of the Victorian era, some of which still ring true today.

  • The Outcast - Sadie Jones (2008)

    "There was a sudden stillness like the gap between ticks on a clock, but the next tick never coming."

    The Outcast tells the story of prejudice in a small suburban village as a boy just out of prison tries to fit into the hypocritical community, uncovering its corruption.