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)
The 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)
The 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)
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)
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)
The 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)
The 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
Ready 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)
The 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?