Books That Made Me Cry: Fantasy, Sci-fi and Dystopian Tearjerkers

Last week I mentioned some reasons why movies are usually bigger tearjerkers than books for me. However, there are still several books that have prickled my eyes or had me in tears, so today I thought I’d pay tribute these emotional tales.

Before I begin: this list will include SPOILERS. Discussing the sad moments in books necessarily involves mentioning character deaths and tragedies, and while I’ll try to keep it vague, I can’t promise I won’t give away too much. So if you haven’t read one of these books and don’t want a key plot point revealed, I suggest skipping the second paragraph of each section.

The Third Day, The Frost

(Tomorrow Series, Book 3)

Book Cover: The Third Day, The FrostThe Third Day, The Frost (US title: A Killing Frost) is the third book in a YA dystopian series set in the Australian bush, where a group of teenagers return from a camping trip to find their hometown (and presumably the whole nation) invaded by a foreign army. They have to struggle to survive, and they start engaging in guerrilla warfare. I’m starting with this one because I think it’s one of the first books I remember that made me cry.

THE MOMENT: When Ellie (the main character) and her friends try to blow up an enemy container ship, the mission goes wrong, and one of her best friends sacrifices herself so that the others can escape. The whole series is full of harrowing moments, but this one took the cake for me. I’d grown attached to the character, and her noble self-sacrifice, coupled with the brilliant writing in this section, had me sobbing.

The Keeping Place

(Obernewtyn Chronicles, Book 4)

Book Cover: The Keeping PlaceThe Keeping Place is the fourth book in a dystopian YA fantasy series set in a post-nuclear-war world where “misfits” with mind powers are hunted down and burned or imprisoned. It’s the second book I can remember that made me cry.

THE MOMENT: In the book, Elspeth and her misfit friends find themselves suddenly ambushed and trapped by people they thought were their allies and friends. Many key characters are murdered in one fell swoop, and the scope of the betrayal is staggering. It is literally a massacre, and one I didn’t see coming. It had me in tears both times I read this book!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

(Harry Potter Series, Books 6 & 7)

Book Cover: The Half-Blood PrinceI don’t think this one needs any introduction…

THE MOMENT: Yes, I cried when Dumbledore died. I was lying on a picnic blanket in the park leaning on a pillow, and left big splotchy tear puddles on it. I couldn’t help it. After becoming attached to this character for 6 books – books which I’d been reading since I was a young teenager – to see him nobly sacrifice himself was just too sad. The movie didn’t provoke a single tear (I didn’t find the character as endearing in the films, and the scene was badly handled in my opinion), but the book had them flowing. I also got teary-eyed in the Deathly Hallows when Harry is essentially saying goodbye to the world and preparing to sacrifice himself… not because I really thought Harry would die, but because of the bleakness of that moment and because everything – i.e. the whole series and the years spent waiting for each new book – was coming to an end. (I discuss my long-term relationship with the Potter series in another post if you’re interested: Growing up with Harry: What it Was like to Be a Teen During the Potter Craze)

The Fellowship of the Ring

(Lord of the Rings, Book 1)

Book Cover: The Fellowship of the RingAgain, this one probably needs no introduction.

THE MOMENT: Even without the mournful music and the cinematic visuals later provided by the movie, Gandalf’s death made me cry. The character, who had become one of my favourites, seemed well and truly dead in the first book, and the sorrow of the other characters compounded it.  It was also such a noble self-sacrificing death, and those are the ones that so often seem to get me. I don’t believe Boromir’s death had the same effect – though I definitely cried in the movie during that scene as well.

The Hunger Games

(The Hunger Games Trilogy, Book 1)

Book Cover: The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games is the first book in a YA dystopian series where teenagers are selected and forced by a tyrannical government to kill each other in order to win a game that is televised for entertainment. Given it is very popular and has been adapted to film, I’m sure most people would be familiar with it.

THE MOMENT: Which bit had me crying? It was after Rue’s death, when the people of District 11 send Katniss the small crescent-moon shaped bread that was originally intended for Rue – a gift that would have cost the people of that very poor district a fortune. Even thinking about it now makes me teary… it’s a moment that combines grief, hope, anger and defiance, one that really pulls on my emotions.

The Knife of Never Letting Go

(Chaos Walking, Book 1)

Book Cover: The Knife of Never Letting GoThe Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book in a YA science fantasy dystopian series. Set on a newly colonised planet where everyone can hear each other’s thoughts and all the women have mysteriously gone missing, it is a brilliant and gripping story well worth reading.

THE MOMENT: If you’ve read it, you probably know the one that got me – a friend of mine said it had her bawling. It’s going to sound banal when I say it here (and again SPOILER ALERT, GO NO FURTHER IF YOU INTEND TO READ THIS SERIES), but the character has to leave his dog behind to die. A dog whose thoughts you can hear – who is unendingly loyal and innocent and sweet, who doesn’t understand why it’s being abandoned, and who calls its owners name “Todd? Todd?” to the bitter end. It’s one of the most gut-wrenching moments I’ve ever encountered in a book.

Ready Player One

Book Cover: Ready Player OneReady Player One is a stand-alone YA dystopian science fiction novel, and one of my absolute favourites. It’s set in a future where people spend most of their time in a virtual reality called the ‘Oasis’. The Oasis’s creator, James Halliday, a game designer who grew up in the 80s, dies and leaves his fortune (and control of the Oasis) to whoever can find the “easter eggs” he left behind. A teenager named Wade and other “Gunters” (egg hunters) must use their gaming skills and 80s pop culture knowledge to win the challenge before an evil corporation bent on commercialising the Oasis does.

THE MOMENT: Now, if you’ve read this book you’re probably going to raise your eyebrow and ask “Really? This book made you cry?”.  Let me try to explain: throughout the book, I felt that Wade, and by extension I, had come to know Halliday well through the tasks and challenges into which he had sewn so many of his passions and his childhood memories. Halliday feels like an alive and active force in the story. So at the end, in the cathartic moment where Wade finally comes face to face with a virtual projection of Halliday, it really hits home that Halliday is dead… that Wade will never truly meet Halliday. It’s also clear that this is Halliday’s way of living on after death – of leaving something of himself behind and connecting with people in a way he never really could in real life. All of this makes the moment bitter-sweet and poignant and happy-sad… so sue me, I cried.

Hyperion & The Fall of Hyperion

(Hyperion Cantos, Books 1 and 2)

Book Cover: HyperionThe Hyperion Cantos is a science fiction series with horror elements. The first two books follow the journey of seven pilgrims to the Time Tombs on the planet Hyperion, and tell of their past encounters with the terrifying and brutal god-like creature that haunts the planet: the Shrike.

THE MOMENT: This is a tough one to add to the list, because I can’t remember the exact points when I cried. Both books evoked such feelings of sorrow (and horror) that in my memory it becomes a haze of emotion. Thus picking out a moment where I was actually teary is hard… though I must have gotten watery-eyed at some point. I’m fairly sure it would have been during the Scholar’s tale, where Saul’s daughter Rachel begins to age backwards, as this story was so very tragic. Moments to do with the poet Keats and the tragic demise of “Old Earth” (the original human home world that has been destroyed and almost forgotten about) were also deeply saddening. But I’m afraid the detail eludes me – suffice to say it was an emotional series!


Of course, plenty more books have made me feel sad and have toyed with my emotions, but above are the novels that actually got my eyes stinging or had the tears flowing. It’s not so easy for a book to do that, so I respect all of them for having managed it.

I’d be curious to know, did these books make anyone else a bit teary? And does anyone else have a fantasy, sci-fi or dystopian tearjerker they think deserves a mention?

12 thoughts on “Books That Made Me Cry: Fantasy, Sci-fi and Dystopian Tearjerkers

  1. This is great!! I always forget which books make me cry (I do it so often, I tend to forget :p ) I actually cried in Harry Potter 5 (the second time I read it, I sobbed through the whole thing) but I don’t think I cried in Harry Potter 6. I’ve cried at loads of points in the LOTR movies- the moment that still has me tearing up to this day is the line “no parent should have to bury their child”- even writing that has me getting emotional. Also the moment at the end with Sam saying “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you”- and loads of other Sam moments. (God I love those movies) The part that has me weeping though is in the Hobbit films (not the movies- those were sacrilege) when Thorin dies 😥 I didn’t cry in the first Hunger Games (I felt like Rue’s character and death were too much of a plot device), but book 3 had me weeping buckets!! Ah unfortunately I found Knife of Never Letting Go too confusing to really get into it.
    Other than that, I’ve not read the books on this list. I did, however, cry at the end of the Black Magician’s trilogy- have you ever read that? And the Pellinor series- have you come across it? There are loads of others, but those are the ones that came to mind
    Great post- sorry for getting carried away- it’s just such a great topic!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks!! Glad you like the topic too – not sure why it’s fun to discuss things that made people cry but it is! And yes it’s easy to forget – with movies I wouldn’t have a hope of keeping track as I cry so often. With books it’s easier for me, but still, I’m sure there are a couple of books that should be on this list that I’ve just forgotten about.

      Interesting with the Hunger Games because I think our crying moments are opposite! I cried in the first book (though I knew it was meant to make me cry, couldn’t help it), but I don’t think I did in the last book… I guess because it just felt like people were dying left, right and centre and I kind of became numb to it (also I think some of the decisions Katniss made annoyed me, so I was too busy being angry to be sad…).

      I also cried a whole bunch in the LOTR movies – the “no parent should have to bury their child” part was one of them, it’s one of those lines that sticks with you 😦 It’s been too long since I read The Hobbit to remember my reaction… but yeah the movies didn’t have any tears flowing!

      I haven’t read either the Black Magicians trilogy or the Pellinor series. The first one has been on my TBR list for a while and the second has just been added now that you mentioned it! Not sure how I missed the Pellinor series, given it’s by an Australian author and popular and a fantasy, and looks to be right up my alley… but now I know about it I’ll be sure to read it!

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome! Not sure why either- I guess cos I like a good cathartic cry and I often love talking about the books that did that to me. Yeah me too! I think there are fewer books that make me cry, but it takes me a while to remember which ones managed it. I often only remember it when other people bring it up.
        Huh that’s funny- I sobbed over Finnick and Prim (was that her name?) Yeah that’s a bit like me in Harry Potter 7- so even though I felt like I wanted to cry over Lupin (another one of my favourite characters) I just didn’t feel like there was space for it to sink in. The same goes for Fred and Hedwig. Ahh fair enough.
        Yup I watched that with friends and we were all tearing up over that- so emotional. It really is. I used to reread that book annually (cos I’m really cool) and it had the same affect every time. Yeah, the movies were awful- they were incapable of that kind of emotional punch, cos they were too busy acting as an advert for video games and merchandise :/ They’re both wonderful! Black Magician takes a while to get into, but is so worth it! And I loved Pellinor when I was younger- I reread that quite a few times as well. I can’t remember it that much now- only snippets- like crying over certain bits and loving certain characters.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes sometimes in books there’s too much going on or too much death for a tragic moment to sink in – Lupin, Fred, Hedwig… those were all sad moments, but placed in the middle of such catastrophe that I didn’t really linger on them or feel them as deeply (that was kind of the case for me with Prim – but also I felt I never really got to connect with her character so it didn’t hit me as hard).

          I agree about the Hobbit movies – I still found them entertaining, but very much like a video game/merchandise ad… and the third one had me rolling my eyes a lot because it overdid the “Dramatic fight scene! Dramatic death! Dramatic battle! Dramatic music!” thing. Meant I wasn’t as saddened by important deaths as I should have been.

          Anyway, will definitely check out Pellinor and Black Magician! Curious if they manage to provoke some tears too 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah exactly- I feel like those kind of deaths can sometimes be effective (like the ones in Harry Potter) because it exposes the reader to the kind of numbness one feels about mass devastation. Ahh that’s fair about Prim- in her case I didn’t care about her character as much as Katniss’ reaction to her death.
          Yeah- I saw them all in the cinema and like you said they were fun to watch (and roll my eyes at :p ) In the last one I was giggling through the whole thing with my friend. Yeah exactly- and they made the deaths over-complicated so the action took away from the sadness, like you said.
          Awesome!!! 😀

          Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I know… so heartbreaking, that had me sobbing. One of those moments where if someone else is in the room while you’re reading you won’t be able to convey why you’re suddenly a mess… because they won’t understand till they read the book!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I cried when Aslan was sacrificed and the girls were crying over his body in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. I was about 9 years old.

    When Gandalf died in Moria I was far more shocked than sad.

    Liked by 1 person

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