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Books

Sad books to make you cry: the emotional reads that reduced the Stylist team to tears

Trust us; these books are ideal reading for anyone in need of a cathartic cry

Face facts; there’s nothing more cathartic than a good cry. Indeed, researchers have confirmed that a good old emotional wringing actually “triggers the endorphin system” – which means that sobbing our hearts out over a book is… well, it’s good for us, actually.

With that in mind, then, some of Stylist’s self-avowed bookworms have scoured their home libraries to bring you the tomes that caused them to dissolve into messy pools of noisy tears.

From tragic romances to stories about the Biafran War, here’s their selection of “guaranteed to make you cry” books.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

“There’s just something about mums, isn’t there? You can think you’re OK, holding it together, then she hugs you or asks how you are and all the feelings come tumbling out. That’s how On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous affected me; it got to that soft spot where my oldest, deepest love is kept. In it, the Vietnamese-American narrator tells his story as though he’s talking directly to his mother – it’s a portrait of family ties, language barriers, shared histories and the impact of intergenerational trauma. Mostly, though, it’s about how a mother’s love transcends it all.”

Meena Alexander, features editor

Call The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

“One of three memoirs that inspired BBC One’s Call The Midwife, Jennifer Worth’s writing is full of Cockney humour and warmth – as well as (you guessed it) an unflinching look at midwifery and women’s health in the 1950s. You’ll laugh and cry in equal measure, trust me.”

Kayleigh Dray, digital editor-at-large

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Another Country by James Baldwin

“I always sob at James Baldwin’s novels. His writing is the most emotive ever, and Another Country broke me!”

Alice Porter, The Curiosity Academy writer

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

little women
Little Women has been adapted into several movies over the years.

“I haven’t read Little Women in years, but I remember LOSING IT when Beth died. It was all chest heaving, inconsolable sobbing, and tear splattered pages – a complete breakdown. I actually still choke up thinking about it now.”

Katy Harrington, commissioning editor

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is a truly emotional and powerful story, which centres on a young boy growing up during World War II, and is one that I will never forget. I still find myself tearing up now, especially when thinking about the connection and friendship between Bruno and Shmuel.”

Manon Clarke, digital marketing executive

A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara

Hanya Yanagihara
Hanya Yanagihara, the author of A Little Life, has made us all cry buckets.

“The most emotive and gut-wrenching story I’ve ever, ever read about four best friends living in New York City. And THAT ENDING?! I read it on a plane and when I finished it my best friend had to hold me while I wailed.”

Naomi May, digital fashion writer

“I fell in love with Jude from chapter one and was so distressed and upset about the amount of shit he goes through. No spoilers, but when it seems like he finally finds peace and happiness, things go dramatically wrong again, and it honestly made me bawl my eyes out. My friend was so affected by it that she threw the book across the room.”

Hollie Richardson, digital writer

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes 

Me Before You Jojo Moyes
Me Before You is a tearjerking tome by Jojo Moyes.

“A story about a man who became quadriplegic after an accident? Even just thinking about the tragically doomed love story of Will and his carer Lou is making me well up. The last few chapters in particular have really stayed with me, because I can’t remember having such a visceral reaction to a book ever before in my life (and yes, that includes A Little Life!).

“I was so upset and distraught I could barely visualise the words on the page as I realised the story was taking a turn from the predictable ending I had expected. I couldn’t stop imagining how I would react in Lou’s position, and feeling her utter despair, frustration and heartbreak at Will’s final, devastating choice. It taught me that, contrary to what we are led to believe, love doesn’t always conquer all – or last forever – but there is something incredibly hopeful in the thought that it can forever transform you and make you a better person.”

Lucy Robson, SEO executive

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Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

“You can’t go wrong with Call Me By Your Name if you’re looking to be totally overwhelmed by emotions; it allows for equal parts sad and happy crying.”

Alice Porter, The Curiosity Academy writer

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

“I read The Fault In Our Stars years ago on a plane in one sitting at the age of 23 – and it has stuck with me ever since. From the way Hazel and Augustus meet at a cancer patient support group to their journey to Amsterdam and falling in love, I was completely gripped by their relationship, which has you laughing or feeling heartbroken throughout. But then (spoiler!), a twist in the second half, which sees Augustus’ cancer return, left me utterly crushed. I remember capping my hand to my mouth as I gasped and full-on sobbing, trying not to disturb the passengers around me. What follows – a pre-funeral, actual funeral and secret obituary written by Augustus – only kept the tears going and when I finished the last page, I felt completely bereft.”

Hanna Ibraheem, senior beauty writer

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton
Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton is a truly searing tome.

Three Hours is one of the best books I’ve read in years. Set in Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, it asks us to imagine the unimaginable; a school under siege. Rather than focus on the monster committing the atrocity, though, it puts us in the shoes of the incredibly brave students, the mortally wounded headteacher, the mother rushing to the scene after learning her son might be in terrible danger, and the little boy who’s found himself alone after becoming separated from his classmates. 

“It’s the kind of story that makes your heart pound, palms sweat, mind race as it presses down on you and forces you to read it all in one great greedy gulp. And, yes, it made me cry a lot – with fear, grief, and overwhelming hope. Because, despite its subject matter, this is a hopeful book. And it will make you believe in the intrinsic goodness in people long before you reach the final page, too.”

Kayleigh Dray, digital editor-at-large

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Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“I’d never knowingly choose to read a war novel, but this immersive account of Nigeria’s Biafran War told through the eyes of twin sisters is one of my favourite books. I cried so hard when I finished it that I don’t think I could ever attempt a re-read. I still think about it often, 10 years on.”

Florie Mwanza, Stylist contributor

Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

Spill Simmer Falter Wither book cover
Spill Simmer Falter Wither reduced Katy Harrington to a blubbering wreck.

“I didn’t just cry at one passage in Sara Baume’s incredible debut, Spill Simmer Falter Wither; I think I pretty much cried continually throughout it. It’s the most incredibly written tale of one isolated man and his dog, and it made me blub so hard.”

Katy Harrington, commissioning editor

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

“A lot of books make me cry, but my ultimate sad novel is Days Without End by Sebastian Barry, which is about two queer men who build a family with a young Sioux girl they unofficially adopt during the American Civil War; it’s the kind of book you regularly have to close because some of the lines hit you so hard!”

Alice Porter, The Curiosity Academy writer

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