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These Sad SFF Books Will Pull at Your Heartstrings

Sometimes a good cry is just what the doctor ordered.

this collage of sci-fi titles includes the road by cormac mccarthy

While science fiction and fantasy stories are meant to capture our imaginations, some stories prefer to explore the darker side of what’s possible. Alien worlds may be wondrous, but they can also be cold and cruel, inflicting untold danger on the unsuspecting and unprepared human mind. And that’s to say nothing of what humans are capable of themselves. 

We struggle with grief, make decisions that haunt us throughout our lives, and endure misery for better or worse. Through this darker lens, we’re able to not just envision life beyond our world, but turn inward, and embrace the very things that make us human. 

Here are nine SFF books that will wrench your emotions and make you cry.

under the whispering door

Under the Whispering Door

By TJ Klune

At first, Wallace doesn’t believe he’s dead. Sure, the reaper collected him from his funeral. Then he arrives at Charon’s Crossing, a lovely but peculiar tea shop, he meets Hugo, who offers to see him to the other side. That’s when he knows: He’s dead. 

But Wallace isn’t ready to let go. When he’s given seven days to cross over, he decides to live the life he was never brave enough to live. In TJ Klune's story about death and grief, sadness is expected. But it’s the melancholy regret steeped into trying to embrace life only in death that will tear your heart open as you close the cover.

Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Hailsham appears ordinary in every way from the outside. The students are kept away from the negative influences of the city and raised to value their health above all else. Three children grow up within these walls, only venturing outside when they turn sixteen. But it’s this relative freedom that shows them the truth of who they are and what Hailsham really is. 

Never Let Me Go is a powerful, terrible, tragic love story that stabs into the heart of what it means to be human in the most heartbreaking way possible.

short books to read in a weekend a monster calls patrick ness

A Monster Calls

By Patrick Ness

Ever since his mother got sick, Conor dreams the same dream every night. Until tonight. When he wakes up, there’s someone at the window. Or rather, something. It’s dark, ancient, elemental. But what it wants is more dangerous than blood. It wants the truth. In a story that tears you apart only to put you back together, A Monster Calls forces you to face the monsters inside so that you can learn to survive.

Childhood's End

Childhood's End

By Arthur C. Clarke

A book with a title like Childhood’s End shouldn’t surprise anyone that the story doesn’t have a happy ending. It starts well enough. The Overlords come, and while they are superior to humans in every way, they usher in a golden age of peace. But at what cost? 

Without struggle, creativity falters and humanity suffers without purpose. And when the true intention of the Overlords are brought to light, humans are brought to a crossroads. 

Is it the end? Or a new beginning?

dystopia donald trump presidency the road cormac mccarthy

The Road

By Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy isn’t known for writing happy books, but this story about a father and son trying to survive a grim apocalypse is heartbreaking in so many ways. The two live in a world without hope, only finding reason to live in each other. 

But this isn’t simply about staying alive in a physical sense. This is a profound story about trying to retain your humanity in a world determined to take it away.


Assassin's Apprentice

By Robin Hobb

A dark, gritty story about a young, abused boy trained to become an assassin. From the start, there’s a unhappy tint to the world, and while Fitz find solace in his magical link to animals, his life is solitary and alone. 

But when he’s taken into the royal house, he has to give up every aspect of the life he once knew, the small joys he once found, and learn how to kill in the name of the crown.

the school for good mothers by jessamine chan

The School for Good Mothers

By Jessamine Chan

Frida Liu is barely hanging on. Nothing in her life is going as planned: not her career, which doesn’t meet her parent’s expectations, or her husband, who won’t give up his mistress. The only thing she’s done right is her daughter … until one terrible day and one awful decision. 

Now, Frida finds herself in a government run institution where she has to prove that she has what it takes to be a good mother. There’s nothing more terrifying than the possibility of losing your children, and Chan taps into that terror with heartrending accuracy. 

Light from Uncommon Stars

Light from Uncommon Stars

By Ryka Aoki

To escape a curse and save her soul, Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil. To escape, she has to deliver seven violin prodigies in exchange for her soul. And when she hears the young transgender Katrina Nguyen play, she knows she’s found her final candidate. 

Then she meets Lan Tran, a retired starship captain in a coffee shop. Shizuka’s soul is on the line. But maybe, a kind smile and a warm donut are powerful enough to break a curse. By exploring the both the dark and the light, Aoki creates a story that will make you ache with the kindness and despair as three people discover what it means to love and find hope. 

the sparrow

The Sparrow

By Mary Doria Russell

Humanity finally finds proof that life exists outside Earth. As UN diplomats endlessly debate a possible mission, the Society of Jesus organizes one of their own. Eight Jesuits will lead the scientific expedition and make first contact. 

But what they discover is a world they can’t comprehend, a world that makes them question everything—including what it means to be human. But when the sole survivor returns to Earth, he finds his religion shattered and that he’s blamed for the mission’s failure. While some first contact stories focus on the hope or terror, The Sparrow explores the bleak reality of through the lens of trauma.