R E C O M M E N D A T I O N S – B O O K S
Death is inevitable, but so is storytelling. Everyone has undoubtedly either lost someone close to them or knows someone who has. While we are taught to expect death itself, we are never taught to expect the complicated feelings and the process of coming to terms with the likely, unexpected loss.
At times of grief, some people turn to fiction as an escape, while others read to cope with their feelings and relate to characters who are going through similar emotions. Fiction doesn’t always have to be just a mode of escape from reality, it can also be comforting and healing. It is a consolation, knowing that we are not alone, and that we can indeed get through it.
That is why, I compiled a list of books on losing a loved one, the process of grief, coming to terms with the loss, and finally accepting and moving on. These books are heavy, gripping, often intense and heart wrenching, but most of all, they will surely leave you lying in a puddle of tears (in the best way possible). They are sad and angsty and hard to read sometimes, but they are also full of important life lessons and messages. I like to call them “tearjerker” novels.
1. The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
After Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her unarmed, childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer, she struggles with something very human – grief.
Popular Bangladeshi bookstagrammer, Sharfin Islam (@atinyreader) describes it as “a brilliant book with poignant writing that leaves you feeling enlightened and empowered. There’s a reason this book has been hailed as one of the best own-voice, PoC (People of Colour) representative fiction in recent times. Even though its characters are young adults, The Hate You Give is definitely meant for people of all ages. The story talks about systemic racism, police brutality, acceptance, White privilege, and of course, the inner workings of the Black Lives Matter movement. Getting an up close and personal view of a family and neighbourhood’s struggle against the daily injustices and media’s misrepresentation of Black culture, and what drives them to fight back despite having so much to lose.”
This story is real, powerful, complex and it hits a bit too close to home.
2. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour
It’s Marin’s first year of college but she has no one to go home to for the winter holidays — since her grandfather passed away right before she got into college. Her best friend Mabel, who she hasn’t talked to since college started, is coming over. The problem is, Mabel doesn’t know about the complicated emotions Marin is going through. Now, she has to confront the truth and come to terms with her loss and the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.
Nina LaCour’s award-winning novel, We Are Okay, is a deeply personal, unforgettable, and tremendously moving story about grief and connection, and finding hope in the darkest moments. Most importantly, the story shows that it is okay to feel guilt, it is okay to stop mourning and live your own life, and it is definitely okay to move on.
3. Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
Rachel Sweetie went away to the sea, leaving her life with books and her best friend Henry. But grief is a strange thing, it connects two people across space and time. It brought her back to Henry again. Now all Rachel wants is to forget, forget the pain of losing her brother Cal, forget how the sea felt, forget who she is, and who she wants to be. But it’s not easy, it never was. Maybe the magical power of words will help what time couldn’t heal.
Marketed as a “love story”, Words in Deep Blue is that and so much more. This is a story about two best friends, two halves of one whole. It is a story about two best friends falling in love yet drifting apart and experiencing tragic losses. And about a book store, where you can write letters and keep them in-between pages; for your loved ones, strangers or even poets. It is a story about waiting, yearning, and finally accepting reality and moving on. It is a story which hits you the most when you least expect it, in places in your heart, you didn’t know you could feel so much pain.
4. Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner
Have you ever lost your best friend? Have you ever been so consumed by egoism, pain, and misunderstandings that it cost you your only best friend? Carver did. He lost three of his closest best friends all in one night. And nothing he does can turn back time and fix it. A simple apology won’t be able to fix it this time. And it’s all his fault. One text and they are gone.
And now, Carver has to attend their funerals, one by one, all while everyone around him blame him for their deaths. Worst of all is, he blames himself. Soon, the grieving families come up with the idea for a Goodbye Day in order to process their grief and move on, and they’ve invited Carver to join. Everyone has a different version of a person in their mind, a different face, a different memory. Will they all be able to make peace with their losses, or will this Goodbye Day bring Carver one step closer to a complete breakdown or even worse, prison?
5. Five Feet Apart by Rachel Lippincott
Can you love someone you can never touch? Goodreads describes this as “a moving story in which two teens fall in love with just one minor complication — they can’t get within five feet of each other without risking their lives.” When two teens with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) meet in the hospital, their literal presence in the same room can lead to death, but that never stopped love, did it? With bittersweet love, opposite attractions, and risky clandestine meetings, Five Feet Apart uses the typical forbidden love trope to entice its readers but underneath it is a deeper, darker tale of untimely deaths, loss, grief, and acceptance.
This book made me re-evaluate how much I take being able to breath without any help for granted. It made me appreciate my body a lot more for functioning and supporting me throughout the years. It reminds me of just how human we all are and how much we take for granted, not realising that it is a privilege.
6. The Last to Let Go by Amber Smith
Brook is supposed to be having a fresh start with a new school and plans to move to a new town, leaving her family and past behind. However, everything comes crashing down when Brook’s mother is arrested for killing her abusive father. Now she is forced to grow up early at a time in her life when she is supposed to be figuring herself out. Brook must confront the ever-looming shadow of her dysfunctional family’s violent history, as she struggles to embrace her identity, finds her individual place in the world, and learns how to let go of the past.
Shehrin Tabassum Odri (@alltheuglyandpoeticthing), a self- proclaimed connoisseur of tearjerker novels, admits that this book made her reflect on a lot of things.
“It made me wonder how much are we holding on to. Would things be better if we just let go of our pasts and our sad memories? Or are those memories important because they’ll make us better, stronger people in the future? This is the kind of book which has the power to keep the reader captivated till the end and the kind of book which starts to flow through you very easily from the first word.”
7. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee, a Chinese-American family living in small-town Ohio in the 1970s. They are adamant on making Lydia follow the dreams they couldn’t. However, when Lydia’s dead body is found in the local lake, the already fraying wire which has been keeping the family together is torn, pitching them into chaos.
Adiba Alim (@adibareads), contemplates how “just like Marilyn and James, most of our parents want us to do things that they couldn’t do at our age and they want us to have everything that they didn’t have. They make Lydia and her sister Hanna feel like they had to earn their love and affection by doing something prestigious, otherwise they don’t deserve it. I think this is normal, I mean that’s how it is in our society as well. But one thing parents need to know is that more than anything, their children need them and their time the most.”
Living in a brown-Asian household, a lot of children can relate to being pressured into achieving unreachable success and goals from a very young age.
8. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Even if by some miracle none of the books so far have made you cry, this one certainly will. All the Bright Places starts on abrupt, startling note as Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the edge of the school’s bell tower roof. Despite all odds, two completely different people connect and save each other in this heart wrenching novel. The book deals with mental illness and the feeling of being alone and an outsider, a freak. The story will break your heart and make you ugly cry.
Paromita Piya (@peekabook_01) reviews how this book changed her life: “Starting with the writing along with the character development and story, this is book is phenomenal. It is very easy take a book on mental illness and turn it into a love story with an unrealistic happy ending. The author avoided this and wrote a story that will leave a mark on your heart and is sure to leave you speechless. There are some books that change the way you see the world after reading it. All the Bright Places is an example of such a book. As cliché as it is, this book changed my life.”
9. The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk
The Beauty That Remains is told from the dual perspective of three characters — Autumn, Shay, and Logan. Each of them has lost a very close person in their life recently. This untimely loss leaves them reeling and at a loss for how to move on for they can’t even imagine life without them. The story revolves around them dealing with their grief and unexpected loss and finding healing in music and friendship.
Tabassum Irin (@whatirinreads), who proclaims that this book is one of her all-time favourites, shares, “Losing someone who matters the most to you isn’t easy. Even though I have never faced the grief of losing the people I love, I think The Beauty That Remains did an excellent job of representing the feelings and emotions of people who have to see the people they love die. The way Shay, Autumn’s and Logan’s friends supported them in their hardest times, through panic attacks, nightmares and depression, made me feel so weirdly relieved. I felt so happy knowing that these three heart-broken humans had people who loved them endlessly around them. If you love books with amazing friendships and music which will break you and fix you all over again, pick this up!”
10. Little Universes by Heather Demetrios
Little Universes focuses on two sisters, Hannah and Mae, who have lost their parents to a Tsunami and are now living with their aunt, uncle, and cousin Nate.
Faeeja Humaira Meem (@mistghost1398), a Literature student by day and avid reader by night, shares her heart-breaking experience reading the book, “Hannah and Mae broke me. Each of them was dealing with so much together and on their own and they broke me. My heart clenched over the loss of their parents, and the loss of their relationship. I was in tears over Hannah’s self-worth and over Mae being unable to fix everything like a math equation. And I loved every bit of it, because it’s so raw, so poignant, so powerful. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
It’s a book about grief, love, and self-esteem. It’s about learning you are enough even when you don’t feel like you are. It’s about learning not everything can be solved like an equation, not everything is fixable. And look, this book is heavy. It isn’t a quick or easy read. But it just so lovely, so full of heart, and at the end of the day, so hopeful, that it is completely worth the journey. All the stars to Little Universes, a book about love overcoming death, and realising there’s nothing greater than that.”
Special mention to:
- When We Collided by Emery Lord
- The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X. R. Pan
- How to Make Friends with the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow
- The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu
- Girls Like Me by Lola StVil
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
- The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
Sara Kabir is the quintessential Literature student, always finding joy in her favourite books, shows, songs, and artwork and being able to discuss them with her friends. Find her @scarletfangirl on Instagram to join in the discussion and see which new language she’s attempting to learn this week by watching TV shows and dramas.