The best YA books for when you need a good cry

The Books I Picked & Why

Code Name Verity

By Elizabeth Wein

Book cover of Code Name Verity

Why this book?

Code Name Verity ticks a ridiculous number of boxes for my favorite kinds of books. Female friendships? Check. Puzzles and mind games? Check. Incredible writing? Check. A snapshot into something I knew nothing about (women pilots in WWII)? Check. Super-moving emotional ending that destroys me but also is deeply satisfying? Check and check again. 

This book is historical fiction, a genre that when done well is just so amazing…it brings me into a time and place I know nothing about, and connects the past to the present. There are spies, daring rescues, and friendships that transcend everything, and bravery and storytelling and…basically everything! And yes, you’ll ugly-cry, but trust me, it’s worth it.

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They Both Die at the End

By Adam Silvera

Book cover of They Both Die at the End

Why this book?

Okay, this book warns you that you’re going to cry in the title. It’s speculative fiction, with fantastic/supernatural elements that make the story work. The two main characters, teen boys in NYC who are strangers to each other, are informed by phone that they will die that day. And they know they have to make the time count. A meditation on friendship, romance, and the meaning of life and death, this one definitely hits in the gut. Silvera’s own background brings his characters, who are Cuban and Puerto Rican, and who identify as LGBT+, vividly to life. Even though they do both die in the end, I’m glad I read it, and glad I got to meet them at all. Which, ultimately, may be the whole point of the book.

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The Sky Is Everywhere

By Jandy Nelson

Book cover of The Sky Is Everywhere

Why this book?

The Sky Is Everywhere does that amazing thing…taking a book that opens with the death of a sibling and making it gorgeous and playful and ultimately joyful. Part of it is how beautiful Nelson writes, with snippets of poetry woven through the text. Part of it is the absolute weirdness and awesomeness of the supporting characters. Part of it is the super-swoony love story that plays out, because death doesn’t stop love. I’ve reread this book several times, and yes, I cry every time, but somehow still feel better for having read it.

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Picture Us in the Light

By Kelly Loy Gilbert

Book cover of Picture Us in the Light

Why this book?

Picture Us in the Light is the kind of book I want to fling at people who snidely look down on young adult books. It’s the story of Danny Cheng, who got into his dream college and is excited for his next chapter, except that the ghosts of his past are too much a part of him to just let go. It is nuanced, and beautifully and carefully written to portray the hearts and souls of the characters, all of whom are imperfect but also so, so lovable. Somehow Gilbert manages to be achingly honest about mental health, family secrets, the Asian American experience in America, LGBT+ relationships, and more, while crafting a deeply satisfying and ultimately optimistic story. But yeah, bring tissues.

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Clap When You Land

By Elizabeth Acevedo

Book cover of Clap When You Land

Why this book?

This is another one that you know will make you cry: the father of the main characters dies in a plane crash. (I’m not ruining anything…it’s right on the back cover!). But two girls, one in the Dominican Republic and one in New York, are both mourning the same man, and neither knew their sister existed until now. The tragedy of their loss is layered with the tragedy of these deep buried secrets. But Elizabeth Acevedo, who writes in verse, manages to bring so much life and vibrancy and humor and heart into these girls! And ultimately there is a tenderness in how she treats all the characters…she shows us their love, their connections, and ultimately their willingness to move forward together.

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