Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

What Book Makes You Ugly Cry?

This week on Keeping Up With The Penguins, I made a confession: I actually got a little teary reading the book for this week’s review! Still Alice is the heart-wrenching story of a woman losing her mind to early-onset Alzheimer’s. I was fine for the most part, until her final student wrote her a letter to thank her for teaching him so well and remind her of all the wonderful things she had done…! I’d thought I was made of stone, but all of a sudden my eyes were wet. It’s super-rare that a book moves me to tears, but I kind of love it when they do. Is there anything more satisfying than a good ol’ cry?

This week, I asked Keeping Up With The Penguins readers what book makes them ugly cry. The answers are really surprising!

What Book Makes You Ugly Cry? Black text in speech bubble overlaid on a photo of a woman resting her head on her knees as though crying - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

The Fault In Our Stars - John Green - Book Cover Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

OK, fine, I wasn’t really surprised by this one. A book that chronicles the relationship of two teens living (and dying) with cancer is pretty much guaranteed to make most readers tear up at some point. In fact, John Green seems to have picked a topic for The Fault In Our Stars specifically designed to pull on the maximum number of heart strings. A doomed romance between two youngsters who should have the rest of their lives ahead of them? Next stop, Ugly-Cry City! Read my full review of The Fault In Our Stars here.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Plath’s real-life story is sad enough (she died by suicide barely a month after The Bell Jar was published), and this – her best-known work – draws a lot from her experiences of mental illness. If you’re particularly sensitive to depictions of depression and suicidality, you’ll have to give this one a miss. If, on the other hand, you’re in the mood for a book that will make you ugly cry and you relate to stories about lost young women, Plath’s work is exactly what you need. Read my full review of The Bell Jar here.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

I chuckled appreciatively when one lovely reader confessed to crying in Harry Potter – specifically, the scene where Dumbledore dies (and no, I’m not giving a spoiler alert for that, because if you haven’t read Harry Potter by now…). I don’t remember crying myself, but surely I must have – what kind of monster doesn’t get sniffly when Dumbledore is murdered by Snape… and then again, when we find out the heart-breaking reason why?

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars - E Lockhart - Book Laid Flat on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

You might have noticed a bit of a trend emerging here: a lot of the books that make us ugly cry are written for and marketed to young adults. Why is that? Whatever the reason, according to Keeper Upperers, we can count E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars among them. This thriller follows the Sinclairs, a wealthy family, as they gather on a private island each summer… but there’s a dark secret (isn’t there always?). The truth of what happened to the family members absent this season (and their dogs!) will have you reaching for the tissues. Read my full review of We Were Liars here.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee - Book laid on a wooden table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Most of us had the privilege of reading Harper Lee’s essential, heart-wrenching classic in high-school. Through the eyes of Scout, the young daughter of a criminal defense attorney in 1930s Alabama, To Kill A Mockingbird depicts the story of a black man accused of raping a white woman. If the beautiful simplicity of Lee’s prose doesn’t make you cry, you’re guaranteed to at least feel something for the victims of racial oppression in America’s Deep South. Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Jumping forward to a contemporary setting, what could be more likely to induce an ugly-cry than a touching father-son story told against the backdrop of the Taliban regime’s ascendancy in Afghanistan? That’s what you’ll find in The Kite Runner. It’s a multi-dimensional story of guilt and redemption, universal themes plonked into the middle of a setting that most of us struggle to imagine. More than one KUWTP reader has found some ugly tears here! Read my full review of The Kite Runner here.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

And here’s one for the dog-lovers! I’ve got to admit, I haven’t found the courage to read The Art of Racing in the Rain yet – even though I love animals in literature, stories about dogs just pull on my heartstrings too damn hard and I’m a mess for weeks afterwards. According to the blurbs, it follows the story of a race-car driver and his dog; the dog believes that he can be reincarnated as a human in his next life, and sets about doing everything he can to prepare himself for the transition. I can feel myself tearing up just thinking about it…

What book makes you ugly cry? Have I missed your special favourite? Let me know in the comments below (or tell us over at KUWTP on Facebook!).


  1. At the very least this is an interesting looking list of books. I have only read To Kill a Mockingbird. I would probably not read The Art of Racing in the Rain for the same reasons that you have avoided reading it so far.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      May 19, 2018 at 11:44 AM

      Ah, a fellow dog-lover!! 🙂 It’s a shame because it sounds so good and so many people have recommended it… but I’m not sure I can hack it. Glad I’m not the only one!

  2. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the most recent book to get me reaching for the tissues! Oh blimey, it’s an emotional journey alright! The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is also devastating…

    • ShereeKUWTP

      May 19, 2018 at 11:45 AM

      Damn, J.K. Rowling won’t rest until she’s broken the heart of everyone on the planet, will she? 😉 I’ve heard so many people recommend Elanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, I’ll have to think about putting it on The Next List…!

  3. I can’t do sad dog stories, either.

    My (non-fiction) contribution—Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      May 20, 2018 at 12:42 PM

      Oh, I feel like I’ve been seeing that one everywhere lately too! I must take a look at it sometime soon! Thank you! 🙂

  4. “Illusions the adventures of a reluctant messiah” by Richard Bach, when Donald Shimoda dies. Still remember the shock all these years later.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      May 24, 2018 at 3:27 PM

      Ooooh, interesting! I’ve not read that one! Might pick it up next time I need a good cry 😉

  5. What a great question. A good ugly cry does us lots of good, and I agree with the ones you’ve mentioned here. TKAM is always touching, partly because of the innocence of the narrator. And that scene in the Half Blood Prince always gets to me, even in the lead-up to the big death, when Dumbledore convinces Draco he’s not a killer. Always looking out for his students to the bitter end. The extra book I’d add would be The Light Between Oceans, because those tears flowed for an hour until I could hardly open my eyes 🙁

    • ShereeKUWTP

      June 8, 2018 at 1:25 PM

      J.K. Rowling certainly has a lot of ugly cries to answer for with Dumbledore’s death!!! Hahaha. The Light Between Oceans is a great call – I’ve not read it yet, but I’ve heard that it’s a real heartbreaker. I’ll keep it in mind next time I think I could do with a good cry – thank you!!

  6. Megan @ Ginger Mom & the Kindle Quest

    July 13, 2018 at 2:05 PM

    I haven’t read any of the ones on your list but I had heard a few of them were tear jerkers. Great discussion!

    • ShereeKUWTP

      July 14, 2018 at 10:18 AM

      Cheers, Megan! 🙂 To Kill A Mockingbird is a great one to start with, or maybe The Bell Jar (but be warned with that one, it’s a *heavy* read – you’d want to be in a pretty happy, stable frame of mind before you tackle it). Happy reading/ugly crying!

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