Teen Tearjerkers

Teen Tearjerkers: Stories to make you sniff


2007
05.03
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Every now and again, we all need a good cry. When that feeling hits me, I usually take out my all-time favorite weeper, Old Yeller (you know, the one where the heroic dog dies). Never fails, I’m sobbing by the last page. Why do we like books that make us cry? I don’t like people who make me cry–why books? Maybe because between the pages, it’s a safe place to be sad. Crying over a character in some ways prepares us for the crying that we may be doing over real people, places or animals some day. Or maybe it’s because we’re feeling sad about something else, and the book just gives us an excuse to wail about it. Whatever your reason for liking tearjerkers (and I’m sure there are many more than what I noted here) go ahead and sit yourself down with a big box of Kleenex, work your way through the weepies listed below, and try not to get the pages too wet!

Weepie Key:
4 weepies (you’ll be too depressed to go to leave the house after reading)
3 weepies (you may need more than one box of Kleenex)
2 weepies (there’s light at the end of the tunnel)
1 weepie (some sad parts, but ultimately a hopeful ending. But you’ll cry getting there)

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson


2014
12.17



Jude and Noah are fraternal twins, and so close that they can practically read each other’s minds. Both are artists (Noah draws, Jude sews and sculpts) and in his mind, Noah knows exactly what their joined spirit looks like: “Jude and me have one soul between us that we have to share: a tree with its leaves on fire.” They know each other’s thoughts, they keep each other safe. “We were keeping each other company when we didn’t have any eyes or hands. Before our soul even got delivered.” They even facetiously divide up the world between them, trading sun, flowers and trees back and forth for favors like they are the only two people on the planet. And then the unthinkable happens. Their beautiful, kind mother, a friend and mentor to both, dies in a car accident. And just like that, according to Jude, “our twin-telepathy is long gone. When Mom died, he hung up on me. And now, because of everything that’s happened, we avoid each other–worse, repel each other.” Now gentle, oddball Noah has become shiny, brittle and popular while bright and sunny Jude has become gray and withdrawn. Then Jude finds an artist mentor with a mysterious connection to her family that just might allow her to finally truly grieve her mother’s death and find her way back to her brother.

Oh, friends, this book! This book! I’ll Give You the Sun is the most delicious, word-juicy tome I have ever read. I underlined so many gorgeous sentences and passages that the pages of my copy are practically phosphorescent with highlighter. You’ll want to squeeze it like an orange in order to get every golden effervescent drop into your brain. The paragraphs sing with marvelous descriptions of the joy of making art and the disappointment of missed connections. Jandy Nelson hasn’t just given lucky readers the sun, but an ENTIRE UNIVERSE in 300+ pages. Read it, weep, and then read it again. A simply spectacular book that you absolutely must not miss for all the sun, stars, oceans and trees in the world!

Little Peach by Peggy Kern


2014
12.08



“A little more of me, leaking on the floor, on bedsheets, on this table, till I am vacant as an empty house. My roof is caving in.” Michelle is only fourteen years old but she’s losing herself bit by bit as the newest member of Devon’s “family.” After running away from a drug addicted mother who accused her of seducing her boyfriend, Michelle is picked up by Devon, a good looking well-dressed young man who promises her food, clothing and a place to stay–for a price. Michelle, now known as “Peach,” must join Baby and Kat in selling her body for sex in exchange for Devon’s dubious “protection.” At first Michelle is just thankful to be off the street. But soon she sees that what Devon is asking them to do is slowly killing them from the inside out. Baby sleeps all the time to avoid reality, while Kat uses anger to hide her fear. She tells Michelle to give up thinking that anyone cares about them:”‘You only missin’ if somebody looking for you…Understand? We ain’t missin’, Peach. We just gone.'” Does Michelle dare to go outside the “family” for help, or will she become like one of the skinny, addicted women who wander the Coney Island boardwalk just like her mother? According to author Peggy Kern‘s note at the book’s end, “the average age of entry into prostitution is thirteen years old. In the New York City area, an estimated two thousand young girls are being sold for sex.” This frightening statistic comes to heartbreaking life through Michelle, who is by turns confused, sad, angry and hopeful. In other words, a real teen. Her voice is unforgettable, her story a call to action. This devastating read reminded me of the work of one of my all-time favorite writers, E.R. Frank, and I can’t wait to see what Peggy Kern does next. For more stories of teens in crisis, check out E.R Frank’s Life is Funny and America. To read more about teen sex trafficking and what you can do to help (or get help), check out LOVE146 and WomensLaw.org Little Peach is coming to a library, bookstore or e-reader near you March 2015.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson


2014
01.15



There are many memories Hayley would like to forget because they hurt too much: the clicking sound of her grandmother’s knitting needles, the taste of her stepmother’s peanut butter and banana sandwiches, the days and nights spent in the cab of her dad’s truck while he drove and homeschooled her at the same time. But every once in awhile, “A knife ripped through the veil between Now and Then and I fell in…” The knife of memory that brings back the past and makes it even harder for Hayley to live in her impossible present. The present where her father, an Iraq war veteran, copes with his PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) by drinking or smoking it away. A present where she can never concentrate on school because she’s too worried about what her dad might be doing at home–where the guns are. “How many of the girls in my gym class had to clean up gunpowder and barrel oil after school?” A present where she has to be the parent and there isn’t any time for her to just be a girl in love–until Finn comes along. Finn makes her feel safe. Finn makes her feel wanted. Finn makes her want to remember. But how can Hayley give her heart to anyone else when she needs all of it to care for her father? This tough, tender story of pain and redemption will resonate deeply with anyone who ever had to welcome home a loved one who went to war as one person and came back as someone else. Touching and true.

 

The Whole Stupid Way We Are by N. Griffin


2013
09.25


Dinah is a worrywart with a big heart who just wants everyone to get along and everything to be okay. She can’t bear hearing bad news and tries to stay positive even though sometimes she is just so sad about her best friend Skint she can’t take it. Skint is teenage cynic who is angry most of the time about all the bad things that happen to good people, but mostly about the bad thing that has happened to his good family: his smart, generous father is suffering from dementia, and Skint can’t do anything to stop it. When Dinah and Skint befriend a little boy who’s suffering in a way they both recognize all too well, their act of kindness towards him turns out to be a bomb that nearly detonates their friendship. The greatest strength of this character-driven book about real teenagers and real adults with real problems are its long, smart riffs of rich dialogue that just zip off the page, reminding me of some of my favorite titles, like this one, this one and oh, yeah, this one too. The Whole Stupid Way We Are is a sometimes sad, sometimes funny and always moving story about doing the best you can with what you have.

Chopsticks: a novel by Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral


2012
03.05


chopsticks

Seventeen-year-old Gloria Fleming is a beautiful young piano prodigy who’s still mourning the death of her mother when she was ten and chafes under her widowed father’s strict rules. Frank Mendoza is the impetuous young artist who moves in next door and sweeps Gloria off her feet with his sensuous drawings, paintings of flowers and romantic mix discs. When Gloria’s father forces her to go on a European concert tour, the two are devastated, and Gloria rebels the only one she knows how–by turning each classic composition into a version of Chopsticks. Gloria and Frank correspond throughout the disastarous tour with IM and postcards, while Gloria’s performances continue to deteriorate. Finally Gloria’s frustrated father is forced to bring her home, and the star crossed pair can’t wait to be reunited. But Gloria’s homecoming isn’t at all what she imagined. Teetering on the edge of madness, Gloria must finally face the fact she hasn’t been entirely truthful to herself about the role Frank has played in her life and his fate in her uncertain future. A romantic mystery told entirely in objects, photos, IM’s and handwritten notes, CHOPSTICKS will remind readers of a certain generation (that would be X) of an awesome little book called Griffin & Sabine, which also chronicles the meandering journey of  pair of misbegotten lovers who are kept apart by strange circumstances beyond their control. The gut-wrenching ending will have you flipping back to the front to comb the pages for clues and understanding, and be prepared to argue about what actually happened with your best friend, who you will be giving it to as soon as you’ve finished. Although CHOPSTICKS has an accompanying tumblr & app, this provocative and hugely entertaining mixed media (book? collection? picture narrative?) stands strongly on it’s own four piano legs. (I’m VERY interested in what you teen people think of this one–leave me your thoughts in the comments)

Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson


2012
01.20


moon
Laurel used to have it all—a top spot on the cheerleading team, a loving father and brother who doted on her and T-Boom, the cute co-captain of the basketball team as her Friday night date. But now Laurel doesn’t care about pom poms, basketball or even her family. Because T-Boom introduced her to a new friend—powdery, chalky meth, which Laurel calls moon. And there’s no room for anything else in Laurel’s life now that she has moon. Even T-Boom has become little more than her dealer. Laurel loves how the moon makes her forget how much she misses her mom and grandmother, who died in a hurricane when she was eleven. Alone and living in the back room of an abandoned hardware store, Laurel gets high and writes poems on  paper bags, just marking time until she can get more moon. Then she meets Moses, a gay street artist who specializes in memorial paintings of kids who died young. Moses tries to help Laurel, but the moon’s pull is strong. Will Laurel end up being his next subject? This beautifully rendered tome is vintage Woodson, full of bittersweet images of first love, heartache and what it is like to want a drug more than anything else: “Moon smoke so thick around me, like a blanket, like an arm…and me there on the ground in the bright morning, staring out through it—not knowing anything else anymore but this new thing, this wanting nothing, needing nothing, feeling nothing…but moon.”

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


2012
01.12


fault
“Boys do not have a monopoly on the Staring Business, after all. So I looked him over…and soon it was a staring contest. After a while the boy smiled, and then finally his blue eyes glanced away. When he looked back at me, I flicked my eyebrows up to say, I win.” So begins the tragic comedy of Hazel and Augustus’s love affair. He is seventeen and in remission from osteosarcoma and has a prosthetic to show for it. She is sixteen and terminal, diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer “…three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You’re a woman. Now die.” They meet sort of cute in a support group, after being introduced by a mutual friend whose cancer will soon render him blind. Though between them they are missing a leg and a great deal of lung capacity, their humor is still intact. Hazel: “I looked down my blouse at my chest. ‘Keep your shit together,’ I whispered to my lungs.” Augustus: “I didn’t cut this fella off for the sheer unadulterated pleasure of it, although it is an excellent weight loss strategy. Legs are heavy!” Though they are very different, they bond over their shared love of cancer perks,(“little things cancer kids get that regular kids don’t: basketballs signed by sports heroes, free passes on late homework, unearned driver’s licenses, etc.”) impromptu picnics and an abruptly ending novel by a crazy private author who lives in Amsterdam. Hazel doesn’t want to be the “grenade” that destroys Augustus’s life when she goes. But his gallows humor, big blue eyes and lanky, one leg frame are impossible to resist. And when Augustus plans a wild trip that will fulfill one of Hazel’s life long dreams, she finally gives in to her feelings. Hazel know that her future is short, and she thinks she’s prepared for what comes next. But it turns out that loving Augustus is more painful than any life-sucking tumor. Friends, I was undone by this novel. I had the pleasure of being on the Printz Committee that chose Looking for Alaska as the best YA title of 2005, and I have a been a raving fan of John Green’s work ever since. He understands how smart teens are, and never condescends to you in his fiction. (I mean, the man actually mentions Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in this book, a concept I wasn’t familiar with until my college freshman Intro. to Psychology class.) But I was not ready for the sweet, simple power of this story that is more about life, love and the pursuit of awesomeness than it is about cancer. I was not ready for the zen, steady eddie-ness that is Hazel or the articulate, video-game obsessed whirlwind that is Augustus. And once having met them, traveled with them and cried with them, I certainly wasn’t ready to let them go. My one regret about this book is that I read it too fast. I can read it again, but it won’t be like the first time. Hazel, despite her acceptance of her fate, “liked being a person. I wanted to keep at it.” Thankfully, she always will within the pages of this exquisitely painful and painfully funny novel. Read it soon–just not too fast.

Pearl by Jo Knowles


2011
09.05


pearl
Pearl aka Bean, has never felt close to her mother Lexie, who had Bean when she was a teenager. Grandpa Gus has always been the one to take her fishing, teach her how to cook and tell her stories about her grandmother, who died before Bean was born. All her mother does is work, argue with Gus, and go to the bar with her best bud Claire, which doesn’t leave much time in her life to be a mom. So Bean depends on her soulmate Henry and his mom Sally for comfort when the fights between Lexie and Gus get to be too much. When Gus dies suddenly, Bean is completely bereft. Strangely, she seems to be the only one. She knows Lexie and Gus didn’t get along, but Lexie seems almost happy that Gus has passed away, drinking and giggling with Claire in the days after the funeral. What is going on? Bean becomes determined to find out the reasons behind Lexie and Gus’s troubled relationship, and her mother’s strange euphoria now that Gus is gone. But when the truth comes out, it’s even more shocking and painful than the most melodramatic storyline on the daytime soaps that Bean and Henry watch with Sally. Though it hurts to fully understand the reality of her family’s past, it also helps Bean finally become the Pearl she was always meant to be. Jo Knowles has deftly taken what could have been a soap opera scenario and instead written a poignant story about the definition of family, the importance of honesty and the power of change. Lovely and spare, it is the perfect antidote to all that dystopian fiction you’ve been reading…

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay and inspired by Siobhan Dowd


2011
08.15


monster
What would you do if you had a fear that was bigger than you were? Run away? Hide? Or would you call for help? Thirteen-year-old Conor is keeping a terrible secret about his mother’s illness, one that is so awful he doesn’t dare speak it aloud. So when a giant monster shows up outside his window one night and threatens him, he isn’t even scared. Because no monster is equal to the rage and sorrow he has locked away inside. But when the monster tells Conor that the reason it’s there is because Conor called it, he doesn’t understand. How could he have brought the monster without knowing? And is the monster there to help or to hurt him? As the monster continues to make its nightly visits and Conor’s mother gets sicker, Conor becomes desperate to put an end to the mystery of the monster’s presence. When the truth is finally revealed, it is both wonderful and terrible.  This intriguing modern day fable about the lies we tell ourselves in order to survive tragedy was actually thought up by British author and activist Siobhan Dowd, who died before she could complete it. It was then passed into the hands of her colleague Patrick Ness, who in his own words, “took it and ran with it.” The result is a lyrical, melancholy tale, lushly illustrated with haunting images by debut illustrator Jim Kay, that provides no easy answer to the question of human suffering, but is full of hope nevertheless.

Contact

Jen Hubert Swan
Librarian, Book Reviewer,
Reading Addict
swampophelia27@yahoo.com