It is inevitable that in seeking books that go beyond entertainment to find the things that are provocative, moving, and lasting that we’ll find many stories that leave us heartbroken long after we’ve turned the last page. Here are ten beautifully written books that broke our hearts while also teaching us something about ourselves and humanity.
The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy: Having trapped a she-wolf, sixteen-year-old Billy leaves his home in the bootheel of New Mexico to restore her to the mountains of Mexico–only to find, when he returns home, that everything has changed, except his kid brother Boyd, with whom he sets out to explore a nation caught between the old frontier and the Second World War.
Heck Superhero by Martine Leavitt: Heck is a 13-year old artist with great talent and imagination as well as a chaotic home life. When he returns home to find his mother gone and the locks changed, he goes on a hero’s quest to find and complete the good deed that he believes will restore order and happiness for him and his mom.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski: A tale reminiscent of “Hamlet” that also celebrates the alliance between humans and dogs follows speech-disabled Wisconsin youth Edgar, who bonds with three yearling canines and struggles to prove that his sinister uncle is responsible for his father’s death.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: The Joads are forced to leave the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma and travel toward new jobs in California, finding that America has no mercy for the poor.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: A birthday party is being held in South America in honor of a powerful Japanese businessman when terrorists break in and take everyone hostage. But what begins as a terrifying scenario turns into something different as terrorists and hostages forge an unexpected bond and love blooms in an unlikely place.
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines: An unwitting witness to the murder of a white man in a liquor-store shooting, Jefferson is the only survivor and, in the Jim Crow South, convicted of the murder even though he is innocent. Grant Wiggins, whose mother is a friend of Jefferson’s mother, has returned to his hometown to teach. His mother asks him to visit Jefferson in his prison cell before he is executed, to teach him how to die as a man.
All the Little Live Things by Wallace Stegner: The beautifully written story of Joe and Ruth Allston after they’ve retreated to the California coast to try and make sense of the senseless death of their son. Their new home may look like Eden, but the Allston’s are quick to discover that there are dangers lurking under the surface that will change the way they view the world.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: Spending the summers on her family’s private island off the coast of Massachusetts with her cousins and a special boy named Gat, teenaged Cadence struggles to remember what happened during her fifteenth summer.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: The story of a woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own past.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by a friend’s family and struggles to make sense of his new life. In the years that follow, he becomes entranced by one of the few things that reminds him of his mother: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the art underworld.