Books to break your heart

Life is hard. If, like me, you appreciate a big ol’ cry, read on. Sometimes letting the tears flow can work wonders for our emotional and physical well-being—it’s cathartic, detoxifying and soothing. But we don’t always want or feel able to cry about the things that are really happening. For now (because, of course, we will have to deal with the real stuff eventually) losing yourself in a book might be just the release you need.

Below I’ve listed some of my favourite blubber-inducing novels, both recent and not-so-recent. So, take off your mascara, find a comfy seat, and get stuck in. These books will have you ugly-crying before you can say, ‘pass the tissues’. 

NB: By clicking through the links below to buy on Amazon (currently only in the UK—International links coming soon!), I will receive a small commission and you will be supporting this blog, for which I offer my gratitude.

This Is How It Always Is – Laurie Frankel

Laurie Frankel has written a beautiful story of acceptance and family in this striking novel, chosen for Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club (which highlights female authors from around the world). An important story about Claude, a five-year-old boy who tells his family he wants to be a girl, This Is How It Always Is delves deep into modern opinions and values. From keeping secrets to the morality of hormone treatment, this poignant story answers some of the question you’re afraid to ask and will leave you emboldened and curious to know more about the controversial topic of gender identity.

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

A Goodreads Choice winner (2012), this is a book that has been around for a while. It follows the story of a young woman with cancer who meets a boy, who also has cancer, at Cancer Kid Support Group. It’s a love story, but so much more. The writing is sublime, John Green has a unique talent for portraying adolescence that I have rarely seen in other young adult novels. 

Reading this book was heartbreaking enough; how John Green managed to write it without becoming a blubbering puddle is quite frankly beyond me. 

Idle Hands – Cassondra Windwalker

This is one of those books that you read thinking it’ll be interesting, quick, maybe even great. It blew me away. The story starts with an introduction by Ella, otherwise known as the devil herself. We then follow Perdie and her children as she decides to leave her abusive husband, picking up years later to find how her choice has shaped their lives. Through the book, Ella steps in with her infinite wisdom, dissecting the human psyche and questioning how much of the choices we make are our own. 

To make this incredible novel even more appealing, it’s currently available on Amazon Kindle Unlimited.

One Split Second – Caroline Bond

A beautifully written yet tragic story of families and friendship being torn apart by a fatal car accident. This is a book that gets under the skin; the characters come alive on the page and you can’t help but feel a part of the story. The pain felt by each of the characters—children and adults alike—is palpable and real. 

If you’re a fan of Grey’s Anatomy, particularly the really sad bits, this is a book you won’t be able to put down.


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet – Jamie Ford

It takes something special for me to pick up a book set during World War II purely for the fact that there are so many and it often feels like there can’t possibly be any more to say, but this novel gives a new and fresh perspective that I personally haven’t read before. Spanning two time periods, the book tells the story of a hotel in Seattle—a real place—which was found to have a basement full of the personal belongings of Japanese residents who were forced to leave during Nazi occupation. Woven into the heartbreaking stories of internment camps is a love story that will warm your heart.

The Coordinates of Loss – Amanda Prowse

***Trigger Warning*** This book features a ‘miracle’ pregnancy.

A tragic story of a child who goes missing without a trace and the journey his parents embark upon to navigate life in the aftermath. Amanda Prowse is an accomplished writer of tear-jerker fiction and this book is a testament to her talent.

This book is also available on Amazon Kindle Unlimited.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler

A completely unique tale about family and the love between siblings, with a great twist early on. When a girl loses her brother and sister at a young age, the ripples are felt throughout her life.

I won’t give any spoilers, but the perspective of the child in this book is incredibly moving and does a great job of portraying the innocence of the young.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – John Boyne

A short book that I read in one afternoon, it had me sobbing so much it took longer to recover than it did to read! 

Set during World War II, this is the story of two young children from very different backgrounds who form a friendship that transcends boundaries. If you’ve heard of this book, you probably already know (or can easily guess) how it ends. Even knowing this, it broke me. An important book about a time in history that should never be forgotten.

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness is one of my favourite writers for the pure beauty of his words and his ability to spin human experiences into exquisite, fantastical metaphor. 

This book has been adapted for the stage and screen due to its immense popularity; it tells the story of a young boy coming to terms with his mother’s illness in the way only a child can. 

A story of courage, grief and healing, even when all seems lost.

The Phone Box at the Edge of the World – Laura Imai Messina

***Trigger warning – this book heavily features pregnancy and child death***

In March 2011, a tsunami devastated the province of Tōhoku, Japan and killed almost 20,000 people. As with any disaster on such a monumental scale, the sheer volume of tragedy often eclipses the individual stories of which there are so many. This book tells one such story. Translated from the original Italian, this story revolves around the ‘Wind Phone’—a real place in the area of Tōhoku where words can be sent on the wind to those they have lost.

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