The 8 Most Heartbreaking Books You’ll Read This Year

Every now and then, a book will leave us with an unexpected emotional hangover.

Sometimes, the hangover hits in a good way: we feel better, like we’ve processed something, and can now move forward, just like the characters in the book.

Studies show that when something fictional provokes an emotional response, it feels more real, making it a more “enjoyable” experience.

But there are some books (that, shockingly, aren't textbooks) that can leave a reader completely gutted to the point they never want to pick the book up again.

1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

As controversial and personal of a topic as book recommendations can be, most readers can agree that Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is the most depressing book (that you should still read). Or, as one person online put it: “the best book I’ll never read twice.”

Another said reading The Road was “nothing but nightmares and tears.”

The Road is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that follows a father and son as they travel through post-apocalyptic America, one where vegetation and hope have disintegrated into ash.

2. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

After writing The Kite Runner, it was hard to imagine Khaled Hosseini writing an even more heartbreaking book. But then he returned with A Thousand Splendid Suns, which paints a searing, raw portrait of what it means to be a woman living in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

One reader admitted they cried after finishing the book.

Another realized that it was one of the only books they’d ever read where they had to take breaks because the book was “causing way too much emotion.”

3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

For most, Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar is the OG depressing read. But for one reader, the book actually made them feel less alone in their depression and anxiety.

Pulling from Plath’s real life, The Bell Jar follows writer Esther Greenwood, a young writer living on her own in New York City for the first time, as she tries not to succumb to her neurosis and the darker corners of her mind.

4. She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

Despite admitting She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb is one of their favorites, one book lover said it was still one of the most depressing books they’ve ever read.

In this coming of age story, She's Come Undone follows Dolores Price, a 13-year-old whose love of television and food turns into an obsession that grips her for five years. Now 257 pounds, she wants to try to start living before giving up completely.

5. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

One reader shared that after reading The Bluest Eye 19 years ago, the book still “hasn’t left” them.”

In Toni Morrison’s debut novel, 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove is a Black girl who prays for blue eyes. If she has blue eyes, then maybe she’ll be beautiful, be accepted, and fit in with the blonde hair and blue-eyed golden children America loves.

6. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

One reader said they found We Need To Talk About Kevin a “very hard read, but worth it.” However, they didn’t think they’d be able to reread the book. Another said the book “wiped [them] out.”

When you read the description of the book, it’s easy to understand why. We Need To Talk About Kevin is the aftermath of a teenage boy’s deadly violence and his mother’s journey to understand the role she played in what happened.

7. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

No list of depressing books would not be complete without A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. If you’ve seen the book mentioned on BookTok or Instagram, it’s probably come with the warning that this book will rip your heart out.

For one reader, the first quarter of the book, which follows four best friends who move to New York City after college, “was so so good.” But when the narrative shifts focus entirely to Jude, you witness “every type of suffering a person can go through.”

Another echoed similar sentiments, saying that, “in the second half Jude gets absolutely brutalized,” and it was “heartbreaking.”

8. 1984 by George Orwell

A “compelling read, but depressing,” to one person, George Orwell’s 1984 was among the most depressing books they’ve ever read.

In 1984, Orwell created a dystopian world where your actions and your thoughts are always under surveillance. The book is considered more timely than ever, adding weight to the existential emotional hangover you’re left with when you’re done reading.

One reader admitted that “the sheer hopelessness” of 1984 made the book one of the most depressing books they’ve ever read. Another said they were “miserable” after they finished.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

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