11 books with sad endings to destroy you

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Well, listen up. I’m a sucker for HEAs (Happily Ever After) as much as the next reader. Do I get angry if the book doesn’t have a happy ending? naturally. This has happened quite a number of times. But in the end, I’m a millennial. And I suffer from unhappiness. Thus, the search for books with sad endings.

Just like some people who like to listen to sad music (and that’s me too), there are a lot of us here who like to enjoy crying out a good healing book. You’ve got your classic sad book sandwich, which starts with a happy, has a sad middle, and then ends with a happy ending. You have books that are just a sad journey all the way and the book ends the same way. And of course, there’s the deceptively happy books, and then BAM.

The point is, there is a difference between a sad book and a sad ending. Sometimes it’s both alike, and sometimes it’s all right until it’s not. I mean, Romeo and Juliet It was a great time until the monk screwed everything up, right? right?

So, here are 11 great books with heart-wrenching endings for the days that we all want to plunge into our grief a little longer. I have YA and I have an adult. I have science fiction, historical romance, lighted-up horror, and even a bit of physical horror. I hope you find the next book that will destroy your soul. Happy reading! (Mysterious spoilers are ahead!)

vegan han kang

One night after a disturbing nightmare, Yeong-hye suddenly decides to cut meat from her diet and start a vegan lifestyle. But in a culture where compatibility is the norm (and vegetarianism isn’t exactly common), choosing it is seen as an act of rebellion. This is a book where the ending can be left to interpretation, but no matter how you break it down, it’s not pretty. Also, be prepared for a bit of physical terror.

donor book cover

The Giver by Louis Lowry

The narrator, Jonas, lives in a utopian society where there is no pain. When he’s 12 years old, he’s chosen to become the next giver recipient (you guessed it). The giver holds all the painful memories of the past so that the people of the city can live in peace. Jonas and the Giver make plans to bring these memories back to the people, but this requires Jonas to venture outside of society. This whole book sounds like a gut-punch but that ending?! I read this book in sixth grade and I am still upset.

History is all you left for me book cover

History is all that Adam Silvera left for me

Griffin is heartbroken when he hears about the death of his ex-boyfriend and first love, Theo. While he is grieving and healing, the only person Griffin finds solace in is Jackson, who was in a relationship with Theo at the time of his death. When people think of Adam Silvera’s sad books, most immediately go to both of them dying in the end. But this felt like one punch after another, and then, when you gasped for breath, it was over.

flowers for gernon cover

Flowers of Algernon by Daniel Keyes

He told us through a series of progress reports, we met Charlie, the first human recipient of an experimental process of intelligence augmentation. Starting with an IQ of 68, the operation was successful and Charlie’s IQ tripled. This world opens up in ways Charlie never knew were possible before – but the effects are short-lived, and his newfound intelligence begins to wane. First person narration makes each note very personal and real. This was another book I read at a very young age and it left a lasting mark. A sign of complete sadness.

Never Let Me Go cover

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This sci-fi novel is set in a dystopian version of late 1990s England, where Kathy and her friends were students at a secluded and very exclusive boarding school. At Hailsham, its students are expected to adhere to strict and unusual rules. It is also universally understood among students that Hailsham is only a stopover on their journey and eventually they will be asked to leave. But they don’t know why. Personally, the “twist” wasn’t shocking or upsetting. But acceptance? This made me feel sad and empty.

Everything I Never Told You Celeste Ng

The Lee family was shaken when the middle child, Olivia, was found dead. For parents James and Marilyn, Olivia was the child on whom they put all their hopes and dreams. Her death completely destroys the family and secrets are revealed. This book is full of family dynamics and cross-generational themes of generational trauma and race. The general public seems inclined to turn to Little Fires Everywhere for an initial recommendation, but in terms of hitting that final emotional note, Ng’s debut takes the lead for me.

A monster calling book cover

The Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dodd and Jim Kay

Ever since Connor found out that his mother was ill, he’s had strange nightmares. Now that she has stopped responding to treatment, the dreams are becoming more realistic. One night, Connor woke up to the presence of a mysterious visitor. Monster. Not quite a graphic novel, the illustrations add an extra level of destruction. This book breaks your heart, slightly heals it, and then finally breaks completely. Also note that this book is often marketed as a mediocre because the main character is younger, but the topics are definitely dark and should be approached with caution.

My sister's book

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Sisters Anna and Kate are pretty close to each other, but not for the reasons they should be. After Kate was diagnosed with leukemia, Anna purposely engineered to be a match for her sister’s bone marrow. Now 13, Anna is tired of not having an agency, and she decides to sue her parents for the legal rights to her body. If you’ve just seen the movie, I beg you to pick up the book. Because the ending is 100 times more tragic.

A Small Life, book cover by Hania Yanagihara

A Small Life by Hania Yanagihara

This book follows four college friends, Willem, JB, and Malcolm, and Jude over the course of their adult lives. I am not exaggerating when I say that everything terrible that can happen to a person happens to Jude. All the while you’re itching to reach for the pages and give the poor guy a hug. Choosing a cliché for this list? expected option? yes. But this is one of two books I would feel incompetent as a writer for not being included in my list of books with devastating endings – but most importantly, I would feel incompetent without leaving the warning Please, please look for trigger warnings before choosing this.

Achilles cover song

Achilles song by Madeline Miller

Even if you’re not big on Greek mythology, I recommend taking this book for a spin. A mixture of historical fiction and romance, Madeline Miller’s writing is deeply lyrical and fascinating. This story focuses on the lifelong friendship between Achilles (yes, who – which Achilles) and Patroclus, how they grew up together and developed an inextricable bond. This is the second title to be included in every book list about devastating endings. Just have the tissue paper ready: you’ve been warned.

Gorgeous sun cover

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Follow success Kite RunnerHosseini’s sophomore release is a multi-generational story focusing on two Afghan women. Mariam and Laila were born in two different times, but their lives are intertwined and they are forced to marry the same man. Just like its beginning, Hosseini knows how to hit you with brilliant prose and this ending is heartbreaking and heartbreaking as well.


If you can’t get enough of books with sad endings or read everything on the list and want something a little more mysterious, the reference scholars at TBR are here to provide you with recommendations. Check out our tailor-made book recommendations, Book Riot’s subscription service!

A gif with text: Tailored book recommendations: Real book geeks who make really, really good personalized recommendations.

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