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The Books that Made Us Ugly-Sob

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Sharanya Sharma

Staff Writer

Growing up, Sharanya Sharma was frequently caught leaving home and tumbling into places like Hogwarts, Prydain, and Frell. These days, she spends most of her time running around after (adorable) children in Washington, DC, trying to teach them things like math and social studies and reading. Especially reading. All of her spare time (and change) is spent in bookstores, inhaling books and coffee. She's had a life-long love affair with middle-grade and YA lit, and hopes to write her own novel(s) in those genres some day. Blog: Inkstinedreads Twitter: @srsharms

Stop me if you know this story:

You, dear reader, are settled in with a book. It’s engrossed you so completely, you don’t feel the jostling of the other bodies around you in the bus, the hum of the lights at your office (if you work at an office, that is), or, later, the ticking of your clock, trying furtively to remind you it’s 4 o’clock in the morning, so maybe now, now you should go to sleep (you won’t, of course).

And then, The Thing happens.

The Thing could be anything, really — a line, a phrase, that reminded you of something sad, or painful. A plot point that shocked and hurt you as if it were your own life. An irreconcilable choice. An enlightening sentence. A death. Whatever The Thing is, when it happens, it wrenches a hole into your very self.

And then, you feel it.

The knot in your throat.

The wobble in your chin.

And before long, the tears are streaming — nay, flooding — down your face. At this point, the bus driver might actually be wondering if he needs to pull over because you do not look okay. Or, your pillow kind of looks like you tried to use it to float in the Atlantic (and failed).

Be honest, gentle reader. You’ve been there, haven’t you? The bittersweet agony. The enraged sorrow. A well-crafted story, after all, can be a mirror that somehow simultaneously reflects what the world is, could be, and what you wish it would be. And, sometimes, it can become a deep reflection of your own self. How could that not be heart-wrenching?

Well, don’t worry, you’re in good company! Many of us here at Book Riot have a book (okay, okay, books) where the unforgettable, unimaginable Thing happens. And before long, we were all, at one point or another, complete and utter nonfunctioning wrecks. From the inconvenient to the eye-opening, below are some books, and the moments, when your fellow Rioters found themselves engaging in full-out, uncontrolled, wretchedly ugly sobbing. Read & enjoy…or cry (and beware of spoilers as you go). Holler if these sound familiar to you, or if you’ve got an ugly-sob book of your own!

Tangles, by Sarah Leavitt

Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me by Sarah Leavitt

The librarian said, “Oh, this looks beautiful” as she handed it over. I nodded, carried it home, and read it in one sitting. The tears waited until I closed the back cover. A graphic novel about a mother’s deterioration into the depths of Alzheimer’s ain’t a cozy book, my friends. But it’s a good, important, eye-opening one. Ashley Holstrom

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

This was like Bambi all over again! Jamie Canaves


Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I did not expect to cry. But then there was the horse scene. It was an audiobook and I was driving through a tunnel toward Asheville, NC. This was really not a convenient moment to realize devastation. Jessi Lewis

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The why here is pretty straightforward: I have a younger sister who I love fiercely. The relationship between Katniss and Prim, with all its protectiveness and sacrifice and courage, always struck a chord with me. To put this in perspective, let me tell you that I cried when I read on the jacket of the first Hunger Games that Katniss volunteered as tribute in her sister’s place. So the culmination of that storyline in the third novel? Wrecked me. I was a wreck. A sobbing, snotty wreck, who texted her sister immediately after reading. Maddie Rodriguez

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

When Eva was a teenager, her father died. Me too. What really pushed me over the edge was Eva’s relationship with her mother. For most of the plot, the strained interactions reminded me uncomfortably of redefining the connection with my own mother after my dad died. There is a simple moment in the book where Eva realizes something so obvious it’s almost embarrassing: her mother is grieving, too. This notion, expressed in a simple sentence that I would quote if I hadn’t returned the library book, completely gutted me. Even if you don’t have a close personal experience with these themes, Kissing in America is a gorgeous book about women supporting each other, and it is totally worth the ugly cry. Ashlie Swicker

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I probably read The Kite Runner a couple of years before I should’ve, and I remember going over the pivotal scene with Hassan’s assault three times, trying to comprehend it. On the third try it sunk in, and I jumped up and stuffed the book behind an entire row of other novels in my bookshelf, following which I curled up in a corner and ugly-cried. Deepali Agarwal

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

This is a non-fiction book and I never cry at non-fiction, but the topic of life, death, and morality hit so close to home that I basically cried at least once a chapter. There was one particular story that Atul Gawande talks about with his own father that made me ugly cry I had to put the book down for the day and come back to it later. Rincey Abraham

If You Come Softly

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

It doesn’t help that I read this a few months after Trayvon Martin was murdered, but I probably would have been affected just as badly if I’d read it the year before. I knew going in, that something in the story would go horribly wrong. It says so in the Goodreads description. But while you learn early on that someone is “gone”, you follow the hopeful development of a couple, and suddenly, too soon, your world is pulled out from under you, just like everyone’s in the book. I devoured this book in the span of a few hours and then just slid off my couch to the floor and cried for what could have been five minutes or two hours. It wasn’t the first time I had read of such useless loss of life, but something about it just…killed me. Jessica Pryde

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

This book is beautiful on so many levels, but to me it is first and foremost a story about relationships, and love. Yes, the relationships aren’t always pretty, which I recognize, but the one truth Janie holds close is that marriage is not about convenience, or about adding an able body to the family: it is about love. Full stop. So with her May/December romance with Tea Cake, which comes after her marriage, Janie has found love at long last, and is ready to literally weather any storm the world throws at these two folks. Until a big old hurricane hits. In the Florida Everglades. It’s not good. I won’t spoil the end, but it has me in tears every time I read it, and in absolute wonder at the storytelling genius of Ms. Hurston.Alison Peters

How about you? What are the books that sent you spiraling into a frenzied session of red-faced, snot-nosed, inconsolable sobbing? Comment below!