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YA books run the full emotional range. Some are upbeat or funny, some take your breath away with high-octane adventure…and some rip your heart out and stomp on it, leaving you emotionally devastated. Sometimes, a sad story is exactly the thing you want to read. Exploring sadness through the safe environment of fiction can be a great form of catharsis, letting us feel the emotion without any real-world stakes attached. It can also be a useful way of processing existing sadness in our own lives; reading about grief, breakups, or life plans going awry helps remind us that many people have had these experiences, making us feel less alone.
Safe places to explore emotion are particularly important for teens and young readers, as many of them will be dealing with major life events for the first time and going through the emotional rollercoaster that comes with physical and mental development as they do it. Because of this, it’s unsurprising that YA tearjerkers make for such popular reads.
There are plenty of YA books that are sad but satisfying, giving readers a chance to wallow in the characters’ feelings and explore our own. Here are some of the best YA tearjerkers, but be warned — you’re going to need some tissues and a lot of chocolate on hand to get through them.
Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury
Every witch in Voya Thomas’ family is given a task to complete as part of their Calling, a process where they meet their ancestors and gain full control of their magical powers. However, Voya’s task is both unprecedented and chilling — in order to save not only her own magic, but that of everyone else in her family, she must destroy her first love. Voya tries to find a loophole in her ancestor’s command, but Calling tasks have very little wiggle room, and the decision Voya eventually makes will punch the reader in the gut.
Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas
The second book by the author of Cemetery Boys, this retelling of Peter Pan is a tearjerker full of first love, childhood loss, and overcoming trauma. Several years ago, Wendy and her two brothers went missing in the woods, and Wendy was the only one who returned; when children in her small town begin to go missing again, a teenage Wendy teams up with Peter, a boy she believed to be part of her traumatised imaginings, in order to uncover the mystery.
Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Tessa, a teenage girl with a terminal illness, is in her last few months of life. Knowing that she isn’t going to get better, Tessa is determined to make the most of her time left, so she writes a list of things that she wants to experience before she dies. Tessa is a vibrant and compelling protagonist, making it even more heart-wrenching as her story unfolds and the amount of time she has left becomes smaller and smaller.
Afterlove by Tanya Byrne
One of the most tear-jerking aspects of a YA story is a teenager for whom death is inevitable. In Afterlove, this happens right at the beginning of the story — Ash dies in an accident on New Year’s Eve and begins work as a Reaper, guiding the souls of other dead teenagers to the afterlife. However, Ash is still clinging to her past, particularly her first love, Poppy, whom she had only just started dating. This bittersweet story of separated lovers is a great YA tearjerker.
Hideous Beauty by William Hussey
This tale of grief, first love, and friendship is a hard but compelling read. Dylan and his boyfriend, Ellis, are just beginning their relationship, when they are both involved in a car accident that Dylan survives, and Ellis does not. The grieving Dylan decides to piece together the last few weeks of his boyfriend’s life, trying to make sense of his sudden change in demeanour before his death.
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Inspired by a real plane crash, flight AA587 from New York City to the Dominican Republic, Clap When You Land is the story of two sisters who find out about each others’ existence after their father, who had two families in the two countries, is killed in the disaster. Dealing not only with their grief but the revelation about their father’s double life, Camino and Yahaira Rios learn to rely on each other.
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Fans of time loop stories will love Before I Fall, the story of popular girl Samantha, whose perfect teenage life crashes when she dies in an accident and is resurrected to repeat her final day. As Samantha works to change her final day, she realises the impact she has had on other people’s lives, and understands that she may not be working just to save herself.
Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson
Tiffany D. Jackson is the queen of the twist that punches you in the heart, and Monday’s Not Coming is one of her most chilling and tear-jerking thrillers. Claudia is looking forward to seeing her best friend Monday when they start the new school year, but Monday never shows up — and no one seems to care that she’s missing. As she searches for her friend, Claudia has to contend not only with the mystery, but the fact that almost no one seems to care about the welfare of a vulnerable teenage girl.
As Good As Dead by Holly Jackson
The final installment in the A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder trilogy, As Good As Dead sees young investigator Pip in a very different place to the beginning of the series. After her previous adventures, she has PTSD and is a target for death threats; and as she tries to uncover the truth about another murder, Pip realises that she is perhaps in more danger than she’s ever been, and that her life has been irrevocably damaged by her search for justice.
Every Little Piece of My Heart by Non Pratt
Tearjerkers often focus on life and death scenarios, or past trauma, but friendship breakups and leaving one’s childhood behind can make for just as emotional a read. In Every Little Piece of My Heart, Sophie gets a parcel from her former best friend, Freya, who left town unexpectedly and has given no explanation since. With new friend Win, Sophie discovers things about her ex-best friend that she never previously knew.
While these YA tearjerkers are great for exploring your feelings, grappling with significant topics, or just having a good cry, there are plenty of other brilliant YA reads out there. For a change of pace and a break from the sads, try Laugh Out Loud With These Recent Funny YA Books. If you want to check out the latest YA trends, look at The Most Popular YA Books on TikTok.