12 Books Guaranteed to Give You Emotional Damage

For some reason, booklovers tend to gravitate towards book that will leave them in tears! Below are some amazing recs for some real tearjerkers!

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12 Books Guaranteed to Give You Emotional Damage

This article discusses books that feature experiences of sexual abuse, depression, suicide, and drug and alcohol abuse, which may be triggering for some readers. Please exercise personal care when reading.

In the world of literature, there exists a peculiar fascination with stories that wield the power to rend hearts and leave souls in turmoil. From classic tragedies to contemporary tearjerkers, there’s an undeniable allure to books that provoke profound emotional responses, leaving readers grappling with a myriad of feelings long after the final page is turned. But why do we find solace in narratives that inflict emotional wounds, inviting us to dwell in the depths of sorrow and vulnerability? Exploring the intricate relationship between readers and the poignant tales that evoke tears and emotional scars unveils a complex tapestry of human emotions, empathy, and the transformative power of storytelling.

Come along to discover just a glimpse of the types of books that feed our desires for heartbreak and emotional damage.

1. You’d Be Home Now by Kathleen Glasgow

A journey of one sister, one brother, one family, to finally recognize and love each other for who they are, not who they are supposed to be, You’d Be Home Now is Kathleen Glasgow’s glorious and heartbreaking story about the opioid crisis, and how it touches all of us.

a teal background with pills filling in the "O"s of the title and scattering around the page

Emory has always been defined by others: the affluent descendant in town, the sibling of her popular sister, and the responsible caretaker for her troubled brother Joey. However, after a tragic car accident exposes Joey’s drug addiction, Emory’s identity is shaken to her core. As her junior year begins amidst the aftermath, Emory grapples with the expectations of her small town, questioning if she ever truly knew herself.

With Joey back from rehab and Mill Haven still reeling, Emory realizes that people are more complex than their appearances suggest. As the town imposes its narrative, Emory begins to carve her own path, discovering the nuances of life’s pain and beauty. Kathleen Glasgow’s You’d Be Home Now is a contemporary homage to Our Town, weaving a tale of secrets, resilience, and self-discovery in a town haunted by ghosts and hidden truths.

2. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Four students from a small Massachusetts college venture to New York City in pursuit of their dreams, finding themselves financially strapped and uncertain, yet bound together by their friendship and aspirations. Among them are Willem, a charming aspiring actor; JB, a sharp-tongued painter from Brooklyn with ambitions in the art scene; Malcolm, a disillusioned architect working at a prestigious firm; and Jude, a withdrawn and enigmatic figure whose intellect and complexity anchor the group.

a black and white image of a man crying while leaning on his hand

Throughout the passing years, their bonds evolve, growing more complex and shadowed by addiction, achievements, and hubris. However, they soon come to recognize that their most formidable obstacle is Jude, now a formidable litigator yet a man increasingly fractured by his past. Scarred by a harrowing childhood and tormented by the specter of enduring trauma, Jude grapples with the daunting realization that his past may forever shape his existence, casting a long shadow over his mind and body.

3. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

A love story for this generation and perfect for fans of John Green’s The Fault in Our StarsMe Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common — a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks: What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

a pink sky with rolling green hills and trees and a bush. In the background is a yellow house and a red sunset. In the foreground is a bumblebee

Louisa Clark leads a life of routine and familiarity in her small village, content with her steady relationship and close-knit family. However, when she takes on a much-needed job caring for Will Traynor, a former high-flying businessman now confined to a wheelchair after an accident, her world expands beyond imagination.

Accustomed to a life of adventure and success, Will grapples with the limitations of his new reality. Despite his acerbic demeanor, Lou refuses to handle him with delicacy, forming an unexpected bond with him. As she discovers Will’s shocking intentions, Lou embarks on a mission to prove to him the enduring beauty of life, determined to show him that there’s still joy to be found amidst adversity.

4. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early-twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance, and silence.

two black women, one of which is leaning on the other's shoulder wearing different shades of purple.

Portrayed through nearly three decades of letters, The Color Purple unfolds a powerful narrative, beginning with Celie’s heartfelt correspondence to God and expanding to include exchanges between sisters. Through these letters, readers are immersed in a vivid depiction of Black women, exploring their hardships, solidarity, evolution, resilience, and courage. With profound empathy and exquisite storytelling, The Color Purple confronts the silence surrounding domestic and sexual violence, guiding readers on a transformative odyssey towards healing, redemption, and love, ultimately affirming the indomitable spirit within.

5. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life… through the eyes of man’s best friend.

a black background with a golden retriever poking his head up at the bottom of the cover

Enzo, a unique dog with a philosopher’s spirit and an unusual fixation on opposable thumbs, recognizes his divergence from other dogs. Educating himself through extensive television viewing and attentive listening to his master, Denny Swift, an aspiring race car driver, Enzo gains profound insights into the human experience.

From Denny, Enzo learns that life mirrors the racetrack — it’s not solely about speed but about employing strategic techniques to navigate through life’s challenges and triumphs.

6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

This classic novel sees Randle Patrick McMurphy, a boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel, swagger into the world of a mental hospital and take over. But don’t be fooled by his suave demeanor because what lies ahead of him, he would never expect.

a blue background with turning machine gears and a black bird flying to the right of the page

A spirited fighter, McMurphy ignites a sense of vitality among his fellow patients by confronting the oppressive rule of Big Nurse. He fosters camaraderie through gambling, sneaks in contraband, such as alcohol and female company, and consistently challenges the established regulations. However, what begins as an act of defiance soon escalates into a fierce battle — a relentless clash between two unwavering adversaries: Big Nurse, wielding the authority’s full might, and McMurphy, armed only with his indomitable willpower.

7. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Ove is the kind of man who points at people he dislikes, as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. But can we call Ove bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered on his face all the time?

a grey-blue sky with a man in a hat with his back to the audience and a cat by his feet

Beneath his gruff demeanor lies a tale of sorrow and depth. When a talkative young family, accompanied by their lively daughters, inadvertently demolish Ove’s mailbox one November morning, it sets the stage for a delightful and touching narrative. Filled with mishaps involving stray cats, unlikely bonds, and the age-old challenge of maneuvering a U-Haul, this story unfolds into a heartwarming journey. Through these encounters, one cantankerous old man and a neighborhood association find themselves transformed to their core.

8. Stay True by Hua Hsu

Determined to hold on to all that was left of one of his closest friends and memories, Hua turned to writing. Stay True is a coming-of-age story that details both the ordinary and extraordinary, a bracing memoir about growing up and about moving through the world in search of meaning and belonging.

a photo of a person taking a picture in which the camera hides their face

From the perspective of eighteen-year-old Hua Hsu, Ken’s affinity for Dave Matthews, Abercrombie & Fitch, and fraternity life poses a dilemma: he epitomizes the conventional. Being of Japanese American descent with deep roots in the United States, Ken embodies mainstream culture. However, for Hua, the son of Taiwanese immigrants who immerses himself in ‘zines and frequents Bay Area record stores, Ken represents everything he resists identifying with. Despite their differing approaches, both Hua and Ken find themselves at odds with American culture, feeling like outsiders in a society that fails to fully embrace their identities.

9. Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved tells the story of a dysfunctional family of formerly enslaved people whose Cincinnati home is haunted by a malevolent spirit. The narrative derives from the life of Margaret Garner, an enslaved person in the slave state of Kentucky who escaped and fled to the free state of Ohio in 1856.

a red plain background with gold text

Garner is subject to capture under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and when U.S. marshals break into the cabin where she and her children barricaded themselves, she attempts to kill her children—and has already killed her youngest daughter—in hopes of sparing them from being returned to slavery.

10. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

On the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he is a doctor treating the dying, and the next he is a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporates.

a white background with black text and a blue feather falling down

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

11. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family that once was deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. In moments of sobriety, Jeannette’s father, with his brilliance and charisma, captivates his children’s minds, imparting lessons in physics, geology, and the art of embracing life without fear. However, his descent into alcoholism reveals a different side — marked by dishonesty and destructiveness. Conversely, Jeannette’s mother, a free-spirited individual, rejects the notion of traditional domestic life and shies away from the responsibilities of parenthood.

a blue background with a cut out in the middle showing a black and white image of a girl crying

The Walls siblings become self-sufficient, looking out for each other’s well-being by providing food, clothing, and protection, eventually forging their path to New York City. Despite their success, their parents opt for homelessness, even as their children thrive. The Glass Castle stands as a remarkable memoir, suffused with the profound love of an unconventional yet steadfast family.

12. The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

The Outsiders is a dramatic and enduring work of fiction that laid the groundwork for the YA genre. S. E. Hinton’s classic story of a boy who finds himself on the outskirts of regular society remains as powerful today as it did when it was first published.

a black background with the top of a guy with a greased up hairdo

Life was never meant to be easy, but Ponyboy believes he has a handle on things. With the unwavering support of his brothers, Darry and Sodapop, and his loyal friends, Johnny and Two-Bit, he feels secure. Yet, the threat of trouble looms in the form of the Socs, affluent youths who derive pleasure from tormenting “greasers” like Ponyboy. Despite this, he’s confident in what to anticipate — until one fateful night when events escalate beyond his expectations.

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