Teen Tearjerkers

Teen Tearjerkers: Stories to make you sniff

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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)

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson


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


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



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


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


“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


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


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.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys



“They took me in my nightgown.” So begins teenage Lina’s horrific journey from her beloved home in Lithuania to the icy land of Siberia, when she and her family are deported by the Soviets who have annexed her country and are systematically ridding it of anyone they consider “anti-Soviet.” Lina, her mother and brother are separated from her father and packed into cattle cars that travel ever farther North to hardscrabble beet and potato farms where deportees are literally worked to death. There are many times along the way that Lina wants to give up. Like when a fellow traveler is shot in the head and dumped from the train for mourning her lost child. Or when her younger brother gets scurvy from months of starvation rations. But through it all, Lina’s beautiful mother Elena keeps the family’s spirits up by constantly telling them that not only will their imprisonment soon end, but they will find their father and all live together again in their own house. Lina just tries to make it through each long hungry day, only made bearable by her mother’s hope, her ability to lose herself by drawing, and her crush on Andrius, a fellow prisoner. Then, another blow. Lina and her family are being sent North again, this time to Siberia where the sun doesn’t rise for six months and the cold can kill. Lina’s despair is complete. How can she keep believing in her mother’s words when she is surrounded on all sides by darkness and death? In Between Shades of Gray, author Ruta Sepetys, herself the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, brings to light a little known period of history that many Americans are unfamiliar with: the systematic deportation of doctors, lawyers, teachers, artists, business owners, or anyone considered “counter-revolutionary” from the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia during dictator Josef Stalin’s reign (1922-1953). In her author’s note at the back of the novel, Sepetys states, “It is estimated that Josef Stalin killed more than twenty million people during his reign of terror. The Baltic States…lost more than a third of their population during the Soviet genocide…to this day, many Russians deny they ever deported a single person.” Sepetys’ unflinching portrayal of the work camps and the bravery of the people who survived them will tug at your heart and hurt your head. And I’m not the only one both devastated and uplifted by Lina’s story. Check out these other reviews of Between Shades of Gray, then head to your nearest library, bookstore or ereader to experience the heartbreak for yourself. 4 weepies.

You Are Not Here by Samantha Schutz


you are not here
In this heart-breaking verse novel, Annaleah is devastated when she gets the call that her sometime boyfriend Brian collapsed on the basketball court at the park and died. Just like that, Brian is gone. The situation feels surreal and Annaleah is in a state of shock. “It was absurd/that I had dirty laundry/and that Brian/was dead.” She goes to his funeral, even though she’s never met his parents and doesn’t know his friends. Now Annaleah has to manage all the conflicting feelings she had for the boy she only dated for three months and who she was never really sure of. Of course she feels grief at all the things they will never do together: “I will never/take a trip with you./I will never/dance with you at prom./I will never/know if we had a future/beyond this summer./ I will never/know if you would have said,/‘I love you.’” But she also realizes that their short relationship was far from perfect. “I wonder what it would have felt like/to have a relationship with Brian/where I wasn’t always questioning/and worrying/and feeling so alone.” After spending the summer visiting Brian’s grave, nursing her sorrow and avoiding her friends, Annaleah begins to wonder who she is without Brian’s grief to bear. “Feeling sad/has kept me busy–/it’s been my job./And if I come here less,/what will I have?” But then she meets quirky Ethan at the pizza joint where she works and finds out a secret about Brian that casts their brief relationship in a whole new light. Can Annaleah put the past and Brian’s ghost behind her? Or will she allow the memory of her lost love to destroy her ability to make any new ones? Samantha Schutz’s second book is a sad yet interesting look at the phenomenon of grieving over a relationship that never really was. 1 weepie.


Jen Hubert Swan
Librarian, Book Reviewer,
Reading Addict