Make My Daughter Cry (over a good book)
December 22, 2017 4:59 AM   Subscribe

My daughter, age 11 and a strong and enthusiastic reader, is looking for “sad” fiction books.

Although her reading level is high, probably above grade level, she enjoys “middle-grade” readers like Umbrella Summer and Heart of a Dolphin. She likes books about animals and loves the Warriors series, a multi-volume saga about various cat clans. Aside from that, she is not into any specific genre like fantasy or sci-fi.

I’ve suggested Bridge to Terabithia because I’m old and it’s the saddest book I can recall from when I was her age. Together, we've read Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Shiloh, and pretty much the entire canon of weepy dog books. (All of which made me cry, not so much her.) We’ve also read Kate DiCamillo (Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, etc.) and although I am a fan, DiCamillo doesn’t speak to her in the same way.

Any ideas?
posted by dreamphone to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
When I was her age, my friends and I read all the Lurlene McDaniels books we could find. Not high quality literature by any means but we adored them. In retrospect I'm not sure why because they are so very sad - each one is about a different teen suffering from a horrible illness (while also suffering from the general awfulness of being a teenager!) Sample here.
posted by cessair at 5:06 AM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

It takes a while to build up to the sad bits but I cried a bunch reading Harry Potter. Same with the His Dark Materials series. And I haven't read The Book Thief but I know it was a weepy one.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:08 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

She seems about the right age for some of sad/disturbing classic short stories, like:
Gift of the Magi
The Monkey's Paw
To Build a Fire
The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
The Lottery
The Necklace/La Parure
posted by cgs06 at 5:38 AM on December 22, 2017

I'm old too and I don't have children, so apologies if this misses the mark. But the only book I can remember crying over somewhere around that age is "Charlotte's Web."
posted by veggieboy at 5:41 AM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Katherine Paterson, who wrote Bridge to Terabithia wrote other books that are totally weepy. Try Come Sing, Jimmy Jo and Jacob Have I Loved.

Cynthia Voigt is also great for her age group. The Tillerman Cycle books are awesome. The first one is Homecoming.

And definitely Madeline L'Engle, too. The Wrinkle books are more famous and maybe not quite as weepy, but if she hasn't read A Wrinkle in Time, she should, especially before the movie comes out this spring. The Austin Family books are much weepier, in my opinion. The first one is Meet the Austins.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:42 AM on December 22, 2017 [12 favorites]

The Book of the Dun Cow, if she's ok with allegory (sounds like she's fine with talking animals), and if you judge she's able to handle it. There's a lot of fantasy violence in it, but like as in a fairy tale.
posted by bonehead at 5:49 AM on December 22, 2017

This is an oldie, but A Summer to Die is about as weepy as the title would suggest.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 5:50 AM on December 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Tailchaser's Song jumped immediately to mind when you mentioned a series about warrior cat clans. It was one of my boyfriend's favorites growing up, and it is apparently being made into a movie in 2018. I don't actually think it's particularly sad, but I bet she will love it if she hasn't read it yet.

One of my favorites is Watership Down which I first read as a precocious preteen. It definitely has sad parts, and also scary. It may be better as a co-read with you, depending on your 11 year old. But it is gorgeous and classic and I reread it almost annually.
posted by the primroses were over at 5:54 AM on December 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

When he was your daughter's age, my son loved the Bartimaeus Sequence. The last book definitely made him cry. I found the series rather interesting as well.
posted by cooker girl at 6:04 AM on December 22, 2017

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:11 AM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Johnny Tremain is a terrific book and definitely sad. It’s Revolutionary War era historical fiction.

Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is just relentless in beloved characters dying due to alcoholism (car accidents, fights, fires). Alexie has made the point there and elsewhere that the overwhelming number of funerals is a major way an Indian childhood differs from a white childhood.

Beth’s death in Little Women is heartbreaking.
posted by FencingGal at 6:16 AM on December 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

The One and Only Ivan
posted by raspberrE at 6:22 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, I can't believe I forgot maybe the most tear inducing YA novel ever, Code Name Verity. Has an equally tear jerky follow up Rose Under Fire. These are probably a little mature for an 11 year old, but maybe keep them on the back burner and sob over Number the Stars for now, if she hasn't already.
posted by the primroses were over at 6:24 AM on December 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles is a fantastic contemporary addition to the Canon of Dead Dogs.
posted by Jeanne at 6:24 AM on December 22, 2017

Is she too young for The Color Purple?
posted by essexjan at 6:37 AM on December 22, 2017

Probably the most tearjerking dog/child story ever written is A Dog of Flanders. The full text is available online so you can have a look at it. Your daughter ought to be able to get a good cry out of it if she doesn't mind something old fashioned that doesn't sound at all like a modern middle grade novel. The boy and the dog are good and honorable and loyal to each other and both die at the end, due to undeserved cruelty that everyone regrets after they discover the truth - too late!
posted by Redstart at 6:37 AM on December 22, 2017

She might not be too young for To Kill a Mockingbird if she can deal with reports of rape and lynching. These things happen "off-stage", but they're still pretty disturbing. OTOH, it's rather magically told through the eyes of an intelligent six-year-old girl, so it might appeal. And it's certainly a tear-jerker.
posted by ubiquity at 6:38 AM on December 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Super surprised no one has mentioned Wonder. It's about a boy that was born with various facial abnormalities and his first year of school after years of surgeries. I cried so so much. It also just came out as a movie if she really likes the book.

SPOILER the family pup passes away as well
posted by eisforcool at 7:10 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Little Women and Anne of Green Gables are classic weepers for girls, both should be well-within her reading level.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:13 AM on December 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

As a grown up, I cried HARD during Harry Potter, especially Deathly Hallows. Not kidding, I had salt stains on my pillowcase from all the crying while I read in bed.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:38 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is a novel in verse about a basketball player who loses his father halfway through the book. It is a little outside her wheelhouse, but I think she would enjoy it!

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley is magical realism, but a major plot point is a dying grandfather and a kid who doesn't fit in.

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo bummed ME out, and I'm pretty cold hearted.

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier is a graphic novel that deals with some tough stuff, namely a chronically sick sibling and not fitting in.

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand is about a little girl who is struggling with actual depression and anxiety, and honestly, it's one of the best depictions of those that I've seen in literature (including adult literature!)
posted by itsamermaid at 7:43 AM on December 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh! I know you said you've read all the sad dog books, but Pax by Sara Pennypacker and Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin are two of the best in that genre I've read in recent years (although Pax is actually about a fox).
posted by itsamermaid at 7:45 AM on December 22, 2017

Another older one, but according to my little cousins, Lois Lowry's The Giver is still making young girls cry just as hard as it did me when I was eleven.
posted by haruspicina at 7:55 AM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

At about that age, I found Donna Jo Napoli pretty devastating, particularly the fairy tale retellings (I remember finding both Zel and Spinners especially moving). Some of them are probably too mature for eleven in terms of subject matter, so you may want to check them out yourself first.
posted by elanid at 7:56 AM on December 22, 2017

Was coming in to recommend A Summer to Die, The One and Only Ivan and Bridge to Terabithia and Where the Red Fern Grows. Got beaten to the punch on all, but they all made me cry and cry at that age (and now for Ivan).
posted by goggie at 8:05 AM on December 22, 2017

Came here to say that I wept inconsolably over both Beth in Little Women and Matthew in Anne of Green Gables, as well as Sara's predicament in A Little Princess (her dad DIED and she lost all her MONEY and she had to go live in the ATTIC and the other girls were MEAN to her!). They aren't sad throughout but they definitely had a big "made my cry" moment in late elementary school.
posted by oblique red at 8:09 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding Tailchasers Song. I also love/ hated Plague Dogs.
posted by spunweb at 8:20 AM on December 22, 2017

Are you open to considering graphic novels? If so, Ursula Vernon's (2012 Hugo award winner) Digger would be my personal pick. It's hardly unrelieved misery from cover to cover, but if you don't cry like an angry baby at That One Bit, and That Other Bit (and That Bit Over There), then whatever you use in place of a heart is pumping a black and viscous fluid entirely unlike human blood.
posted by sourcequench at 8:26 AM on December 22, 2017

Erin Bow's Plain Kate.
posted by jeather at 9:00 AM on December 22, 2017

She may be too young for this, but Flowers for Algernon is great literature and made me weep buckets
posted by moiraine at 9:22 AM on December 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

I think I was about that age when I read (and loved) Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. It is very sad but has a positive ending.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:30 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

My Brother Sam is Dead
Rifles for Watie

lots of L.M. Montgomery, not just Anne of Green Gables. Mistress Pat can still make me ugly-cry. Bonus: there's tons of books and short stories, and they're all or almost all out of copyright so they're available very cheaply, especially if you go to Project Gutenberg or similar
Number the Stars, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, and the Diary of Anne Frank are all pretty much guaranteed to turn on the waterworks

In general the Newbery Award lists have a lot of options. Many of the books already mentioned are winners or honorees, and we're just scratching the surface.
posted by katemonster at 9:56 AM on December 22, 2017

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry made me cry. So did Bridge to Terabithia.
posted by buttonedup at 10:42 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I see that no one has mentioned The Outsiders; when I was a tween, that was considered the ne plus ultra of make-you-cry books. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, about a nine-year-old black girl living in the Jim Crow South, is sad throughout and the ending is shattering. The Lottery Rose also made me cry when I was a kid of about 11 or 12.
posted by holborne at 10:46 AM on December 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

I owe you a Coke, buttonedup!
posted by holborne at 10:47 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Middle grade books I read this year that made me cry:
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill

Enjoy! Sometimes a good cry is the best.
posted by tuesdayschild at 11:36 AM on December 22, 2017

Black Beauty fits this pretty well

Tuck Everlasting is also pretty sad
posted by Polychrome at 12:12 PM on December 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Came in to say 11 is a terrific age for Black Beauty. The book was written to promote decent treatment for horses. It's also about decent treatment for working humans, and about friendship.

Diary of Anne Frank?

I suspect the Golden Compass would be a good match. It's not teary, but there's plenty of tragic events.
posted by theora55 at 12:59 PM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Our Only May Amelia. My daughter really sobbed over this one.
posted by gryphonlover at 1:11 PM on December 22, 2017

My Sister's Keeper is slightly chick-lit-y, but IIRC it's age appropriate and raises some interesting (but heavy) questions.
posted by mosst at 1:25 PM on December 22, 2017

Julie of the Wolves was a favourite of mine when I was 13 or so. A half-Native girl sets off across the Alaska bush in search of her father. Her life is saved by a pack of wolves, who sort of adopt her. The animal stuff seemed realistic, with interesting sciencey details. Heartbreaking ending, but not gratuitously so. (I don't know how it rates for cultural sensitivity.)
posted by heatherlogan at 2:04 PM on December 22, 2017

I was handed The Outsiders (linked above) when I made a similar request back in the day. I also remember Ronnie and Rosey being so so sad, but apparently it's out of print.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 3:07 PM on December 22, 2017

Glenda Millard is incredible. The Naming of Tishkin Silk breaks my heart, and deals with a LOT of things. You can read an excerpt here.
posted by geek anachronism at 9:47 PM on December 22, 2017

I cried outrageously every time I read and then reread Tuck Everlasting. I still love that book. Agree also on Watership Down. I also really loved the Witch of Blackbird Pond at that age and wept over it.

The Color Purple is 100% not okay for an 11 year old.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 10:04 PM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Girl Who Owned City is a story about a girl who works really hard to build a compassionate city and loses the city at the end. It starts out strong but ends so bleakly.
posted by bendy at 10:04 PM on December 22, 2017

(Not to mention that all of the kids’ parents have died.)
posted by bendy at 10:05 PM on December 22, 2017

Island of the Blue Dolphins.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.
The Incredible Journey.
Hatter Fox.
Bless the Beasts and the Children.
If you are having trouble finding some of these titles, you might check with your local library and obtain them through Interlibrary Loan.
posted by TrishaU at 1:31 AM on December 23, 2017

I always cry over There's A Boy In the Girls' Bathroom, an underrated book if ever there was one.
posted by daisystomper at 9:26 PM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

I remember my daughter being angry with me for giving her Georgie by Malachy Doyle to read because it had made her cry. Don't remember it well enough to know if it's dated in any important way.
posted by sianifach at 5:38 AM on December 24, 2017

Velveteen Rabbit. I'm getting misty just thinking about it.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:13 AM on December 26, 2017

Such great stuff! Some we’ve already read (and loved)—Potter; Rain, Reign; Wonder; Ghosts. So much more to read, for both of us. Thank you as always, well-read MeFites!
posted by dreamphone at 11:43 AM on December 28, 2017

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