Every once in a while, I get a request at work for a sad book. Usually this comes from a teenage girl. I used to dread this request a little bit, because it makes me worry about my young patrons. Are they wanting sad because they’re depressed, and will reading sad make them dangerously depressed? I always hope not. But I never know, and while being a librarian is sometimes like being a bar tender—you listen to a lot of other people’s stories—I’m not sure I can fix them anyway. I try to give encouraging smiles and send uplifting, supportive vibes, but the truth is (at least for me), you need the care and support of the people who love you to help you survive adolescent depression—but there is also a moment when you have to save yourself.
(And sometimes books can help you do that.)
Of course, the other true is that I’m sort of a connoisseur of sad books, so I totally get this request. It all started when I discovered Sylvia Plath and The Bell Jar. It might be strange that a novel about a girl who tried to commit suicide, written by a poet before she actually committed suicide, helped me so much when I was in my black places. But it did. It made life feel valuable enough to hold on to when I considered, through story, the very real consequences of such an ugly choice. That’s what I hope the girls seeking sad books find in the novels they take home: hope through stories. Sometimes the way to make yourself feel better is to wallow in someone else’s sadness. Sometimes it’s just good to know you’re not the only person who feels like this. Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that there are harder things than what you’re going through.
If you, too, are looking for sad books, here’s a list (all of it, I just realized, is YA):
A Swift Pure Cry by Siobhan Dowd (about a girl whose father is an alcoholic, and she gets in trouble with a boy, and how she sort of loses it and then finds it.)
Willow by Julia Hoban (Willow is a cutter...the novel tells about her experiences and how her boyfriend tries to get her to stop.)
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Frankie goes to a private school, where she takes control of the all-boy secret society...this one isn't quite so crazy/depressing but it works because at the end Frankie gets a little bit crazy for a while. I love this book!)
Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr (The fallout after Deanna's dad catches her in the backseat of her boyfriend's car.)
Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (before Hannah commits suicide, she records tapes of herself explaining the thirteen reasons she killed herself, with instructions for the tapes to be mailed to each person on the list)
You Know Where to Find Me by Rachel Cohn (Goth-girl Miles tries to cope after her best friend commits suicide.)
And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard (17-year-old Emily moves to Amherst, Massachusetts after her boyfriend shoots himself in the high school library.)
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (Lia is anorexic.)
Where I Want to Be by Adele Griffin (The story of two sisters, one of whom is dead; they are still connected, though, because Jane tells her story after her death, which happened when she went off her anti-psychotic meds.)
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock (A suicidal boy tells the four important people in his life goodbye.)
Fat Kids Rule the World by Kelly Going. (Troy, who weighs over 300 pounds and is suicidal, gets a new perspective via music when a homeless teenager asks him to be the drummer in his band.)
Hold Still by Nina LaCour. (Her best friend didn’t leave a suicide note, but her journal provides some understanding to Caitlin as she struggles to move on.)
This Song will Save your Life by Leila Sales. (Almost a year after her failed suicide attempt, Elise discovers she wants to be a DJ.)
Before I Die by Jenny Downham. (A dying girl makes a list of all the things she wants to experience before death.)
Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira (Laurel, whose sister recently died and mom left home, is given an assignment in Freshman English: write a letter to a dead person. She chooses Kurt Cobain, but never turns the letter in; instead, she uses the writing exercise as a way to explore what really happened to her sister.)
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer. (When coping with the loss of her boyfriend becomes too much, Jam Gallahue is sent to a boarding school in Vermont that specializes in treating teenage depression. A journal-writing assignment transports her to a magical place called Belzhar. A touch of fantasy mixes with her attempts to figure out herself and her life.)
How do you feel about sad books?