9 Stirring Memoirs That Will Make You Cry


What’s the saddest book ever? If you are looking to read a tearjerker, try these stirring memoirs that will make you cry. From recent true stories to tragic memoirs about wars, be prepared for a good cry with these powerful books.

Every now and again, you just need a good cry.

While there are tons of fiction books that make you cry, it’s just not quite the same. The story might be sad, but in the back of your mind, you know it didn’t really happen.

No such luck when it comes to memoirs that will make you cry. Knowing these tragic memoirs are true stories just adds in a whole new level of emotion.

If you think you can handle the raw emotion, here are 9 stirring memoirs that will make you cry your eyes out. Be sure to grab the tissues and hug your kids, because life has not been easy for these 9 individuals.

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Recent Memoirs That Will Make You Cry

I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O'Farrell

I Am, I Am, I Am
by Maggie O’Farrell

We can’t begin to describe how incredible this book is. Instead of telling you her life story, Maggie O’Farrell gives you glimpses into her life through separate incidents where she brushed against death, which has occurred surprisingly often. From a childhood illness to near fatal accidents to miscarriage, O’Farrell give you such an intriguing look not just at how she has almost died, but more importantly how she has lived. If you are really looking to listen to memoirs that make you cry, the outstanding narration of the audiobook makes it a great choice. Read more →


book cover When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi

At the top of recent memoirs that will make you cry sits Paula Kalanithi’s moving work. At only 36 years old, Dr. Kalanithi was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Suddenly, he found himself thrust from the role of neurosurgeon to that of dying patient. Coming face-to-face with his own mortality, Kalanithi decided to write his memoir and wrestle with the question: “What makes life worth living in the face of dying?” 


book cover The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls

One of the most depressing memoirs of the last decade, Jeannette Walls recounts the story of her tumultuous childhood. She opens the book with the account of how at 3 years old, she ends up hospitalized with severe burns after pouring scalding water on herself when cooking hot dogs for lunch. You meet her charming father Rex, equal measures brilliant and paranoid; her mother Rose, selfish and depressed; and her three siblings, trying their best just to survive. To quote my husband, “Sometimes someone’s train wreck of a life is fascinating.”

Related: 14 Books That Make You Cry Embarrassingly Hard

Tragic Memoirs About War

Night by Elie Wiesel

by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel’s story is a heart-wrenching account that really shows no mercy. While I love good World War 2 novels, World War 2 nonfiction books really illustrate the depth of the Holocaust. Sent to the German concentration camp of Auschwitz with his father, Wiesel gives a no holds bar recollection of the horror he faced. It is our responsibility to read books like this, no matter how depressing, so that truly understand the horror of these events to ensure they don’t happen again.


book cover Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

Testament of Youth
by Vera Brittain

If you asked me what is the absolute saddest book ever, hands down the answer would be Vera Brittain’s autobiography. When the First World War comes to Britain, Vera’s older brother and all his friends enlist in the military. Not to be left behind, Vera herself ends up leaving school to become a nurse, serving in London, Malta and the Western front in France. By the end of the war, basically all the men she ever knew are dead. Just writing this snippet is making me cry all over again. The memoir is extremely long (700+ pages) and you could easily just skip the second half about the post-war years. But if you really like tragic memoirs, Vera Brittain’s perfectly captures the experiences of “The Lost Generation.”


book cover The Girl with the White Flag by Tomiko Higa

The Girl with the White Flag
by Tomiko Higa

I read this book in elementary school, and I still remember bawling my eyes out as a little kid. Seven year old Tomiko Higa becomes separated from her family during World War II. She is forced to survive on her own as a battle rages all around her for control of Okinawa, Japan. An eye-opening account of the trauma children face during war, The Girl with the White Flag was written for children, but is one of those memoirs that will make you cry even as an adult. Side note: The cover is an actual famous photo of her snapped by a war correspondent in Okinawa.

Related: All the Feels: 27 Powerful Books That Move You

Powerful Books That Will Make You Cry

Warriors Don't Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals

Warriors Don’t Cry
by Melba Pattillo Beals

We’ve all seen the pictures of Elizabeth Eckford being screamed at as she tries to attend her first day of school at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. But did you realize how long it took to integrate? Melba Pattillo Beals tells her memories of being part of the Little Rock Nine, of her oppressing junior year protected at times by the 101st Airborne Division and at times left alone to face the horrors laid upon by the other students. Of all the books we’ve read, Warriors Don’t Cry will definitely make you angry at race relations in the 1950s and make you wonder about how we handle the same and similar issues today.


book cover Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala

by Sonali Deraniyagala

Some memoirs that will make you cry are almost too tragic to read. On a December morning in 2004, a tsunami struck Sri Lanka, killing Sonali Deraniyagala’s parents, husband and children. If you really want to read depressing memoirs, Wave loads on page upon page of tragedy. Deraniyagala describes the loss of her family and the difficult journey she had to create a new life for herself. Many readers have called this the saddest book ever, so be prepared for a deep look at how one woman has learned to process her almost unbearable pain.


Grab the tissues because this book will definitely make you cry. You really ought to read Marley and Me by John Grogan

Marley & Me
by John Grogan

I don’t even like dogs, and I love this book enough to suggest that it is one of the books every millennial needs to read. Marley’s antics are absolutely hilarious. I laughed so hard at all the havoc he wrecked upon his family. But the love that springs up between Marley and his owner despite Marley’s many flaws is so touching. And when Marley eventually dies at a ripe old age, I was just in tears thinking of the wonderful life of the “world’s worst dog.” If this is not one of those memoirs that will make you cry, there must be something wrong with you.

What are some other memoirs that will make you cry that you would recommend?

9 Memoirs That Will Make You Cry

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1 Comment

  • Reply Sheree @ Keeping Up With The Penguins June 19, 2019 at 10:20 pm

    All three of the recent memoirs are on my TBR, as well as Wave – I’ll be sure to stock up on tissues! 😭😉

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