The Art of Breaking Hearts

I remember, as a child, sobbing over books. Sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe, trying to gasp for air that never quite made it past that hole in my heart or that nauseating loss in my stomach.

You know that type of crying: it’s the ugly kind. Nothing delicate or sweet about it, just pure hurt and loss accompanied by a splotchy face, throbbing headache, and stuffed-up nose.


My parents didn’t know how to comfort me.
“It’s not real,” they would say. “It didn’t really happen.”

That, as any reader knows, isn’t quite the case.

It was real.
It did happen.
You experienced it alongside the narrator, and you took it into your heart as your own.

This is the magic of reading.

I think the arguments for reading are well established. If you’re reading this, chances are you love books…but how do you feel about books that break your heart?

I don’t know about you, but I love and hate them all in the same breath. I worry over having my heart broken by a book (especially if the story involves animals), but even as I protest I find my hands wrapped around another heartache I want to absorb.

Books like Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls and Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner were among the first to teach my heart just how it could break.

Since then, I have had my heart broken in more ways than I can count, but the only hurt I pursue time and time again is the heartbreak I find in books.

When it comes to reading and hearts, I realize I have a strange mantra: Break hearts well. Break them young.

With that in mind, here are a few of our staff’s favorite heartaches.

Picture Books

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Good News, Bad News by Jeff Mack
Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs by Tomie DePaola
Pete and Pickles by Berkeley Breathed

Rickie and Henri  by Jane Goodall
The Velveteen Rabbit 
by Margery Williams/ Komako Sakai

Essential Classics


Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Island of the Blue Dolphins 
by Scott O’Dell
Little Women 
by Louisa May Alcott
Old Yeller 
by Fred Gibson
Stone Fox 
by John Reynolds Gardnier
Watership Down
 by Richard Adams
Where the Red Fern Grows
by Wilson Rawls
The Yearling
 by Marjorie Rawlings

Middle Grade Readers

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Diary of a Young Girl 
by Anne Frank
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
by Eleanor Coerr
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane 
by Kate DiCamillo

Young Adult Novels

Before I Fall 
by Lauren Oliver
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak  
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 
by John Boyne
The Fault in Our Stars
 by John Green
Thirteen Reasons Why
 by Jay Asher

Heartbreak for Adults

Bel Canto
 by Ann Pratchett

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth
Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
A Severed Head
by Iris Murdock
Sophie’s Choice
by William Styron
We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

What did I get from having books break my heart when I was little? What do I get when a book breaks my heart now?

Books can be our safest, most secret confidants. They provide a safe place for children and adults alike to feel vulnerable. The stories they share teach us compassion, empathy, and kindness; they invoke an awareness of the Other outside ourselves, both human and not. Within the pages of a story we are granted permission to cry, to mourn, to hurt. Books are, perhaps, our safest cathartic outlets.


Books understand the art of breaking hearts.

But what do you think? Is it important for us to read books that break our hearts? What books taught your heart how to break?

~ Justus


3 thoughts on “The Art of Breaking Hearts

  1. Who wrote this? It’s fantastic. I’d add The Viirgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides and Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman…

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