In case you’re new to the Pond’s book recommendation posts, the recommendation posts are brought to you by Varian, the Pond’s very own Toadshifter who is knowledgeable in all kinds of magic! One of Varian’s ambitions is to get better at sewing, hence why whenever Varian has come up with their latest costume, they will always recommend a few books that inspired them!
It’s been a tough year, hasn’t it friend? Sometimes when things are hard and there’s just so much building inside you, there are few things more liberating and cathartic than a really good cry. Unfortunately, I don’t possess the extraordinary ability to cry on command, but whenever I need a good cry, I pull up YouTube and masochistically re-watch the first five minutes of Pixar’s Up. But sometimes, you want something that not only makes you cry, you also want something that puts you back together again.
In today’s book recommendation post, which is inspired by my most recent episode of making-myself-cry-and-wondering-why-I-made-myself-feel-pain-yet-making-me-feel-strangely-better-after-it, I decided to put together a list of some of my favourite books that literally had my chest heaving, dehydrated from sobbing, snotty as heck, and lying on the literal floor but also a little hopeful, relieved, or put back together after all the pain. And because today’s book recommendation post is going to lean into self-depreciation, I thought I’d also give ratings of how much these books made me cry – henceforth called ‘CW’s sob-o-meter’. (Spoiler alert: all of these books rate high on the CW sob-o-meter.)
Because there’s nothing like pain and the promise of crying that gets you all to read a book. 💛
You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao
Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes.
Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his things, and tries everything to forget him and the tragic way he died. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces back memories. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail.
And Sam picks up the phone.
In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes her fall for him all over again, and with each call it becomes harder to let him go. However, keeping her otherworldly calls with Sam a secret isn’t easy, especially when Julie witnesses the suffering Sam’s family is going through. Unable to stand by the sidelines and watch their shared loved ones in pain, Julie is torn between spilling the truth about her calls with Sam and risking their connection and losing him forever.
CW’s sob-o-meter: Literally made me cry so hard that my tears and snot mixed together and I stopped wiping them away because I could not stop sobbing – I mean, why bother? Because after I’d wipe them away, this book would trigger my tearducts and I’d just be a crying mess all over again.
- What if you could talk to the person you loved and lost through a magical connection? Would you let them go? This book asked these questions and – yeah, I didn’t survive.
- If you loved Your Name/Kimi No Na Wa and sobbed watching P.S. I Love You, then I think this is a book made for you. In other words, You’ve Reached Sam takes your greatest fear of losing someone you love and turns it into a book. Yay!
- But seriously, this book explores the throes of grief, how grief can sometimes be complicated, and how letting go is one of the most difficult and impossible things you can do.
Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram
Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He’s about to take his first-ever trip to Iran, and it’s pretty overwhelming—especially when he’s also dealing with clinical depression, a disapproving dad, and a chronically anemic social life. In Iran, he gets to know his ailing but still formidable grandfather, his loving grandmother, and the rest of his mom’s family for the first time. And he meets Sohrab, the boy next door who changes everything.
Sohrab makes sure people speak English so Darius can understand what’s going on. He gets Darius an Iranian National Football Team jersey that makes him feel like a True Persian for the first time. And he understands that sometimes, best friends don’t have to talk. Darius has never had a true friend before, but now he’s spending his days with Sohrab playing soccer, eating rosewater ice cream, and sitting together for hours in their special place, a rooftop overlooking the Yazdi skyline.
Sohrab calls him Darioush—the original Persian version of his name—and Darius has never felt more like himself than he does now that he’s Darioush to Sohrab. When it’s time to go home to America, he’ll have to find a way to be Darioush on his own.
CW’s sob-o-meter: Made me cry on a full bus during rush hour. The stranger next to me asked if I was okay. I said that I was. I lied, friends. CW was not okay.
- This is a book I read years ago but it has stayed with me ever since – and whenever I think of that scene (clue: dad), I just tear up immediately.
- Not only is this book a gorgeous story about identity and friendship, it’s also a story about depression and how mental illness can shape a family’s lives.
- I leave you with a quote (which absolutely did not make me tear up while writing this /s): “Suicide isn’t the only way you can lose someone to depression.“
Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai
When eleven-year-old Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn’t speak English, and he’s often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.
To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she’s at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they’ll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama.
Told in prose and graphic novel elements, this middle-grade novel is about a boy’s immigration experience, his annoying little brother, and their cake-baking hijinks!
CW’s sob-o-meter: Read this after doing my Korean beauty regime, my face shiny with toner and moisturiser. I cried so much that I think my tears literally washed all the product away. Then I remembered that someone on Tumblr said that tears washed away dust… or something. So I took my tears and rubbed it all over my face. I didn’t get pimples for a month.
- If you love a story that’s utter delightful and charming with its humour, but underneath all the fun and cakes and baking shenanigans, is actually about grief and guilt? Then Pie in the Sky is for you!
- It’s also a moving story about moving to a new country, not fitting in and feeling out of place (like, as Jingwen describes, an alien), language barriers, and also the expectations of being the eldest sibling.
- The story also has gorgeous illustrations by Remy herself and the art is just so funny and expressive and adorable.
Yesterday is History by Kosoko Jackson
Weeks ago, Andre Cobb received a much-needed liver transplant.
He’s ready for his life to finally begin, until one night, when he passes out and wakes up somewhere totally unexpected…in 1969, where he connects with a magnetic boy named Michael.
And then, just as suddenly as he arrived, he slips back to present-day Boston, where the family of his donor is waiting to explain that his new liver came with a side effect—the ability to time travel. And they’ve tasked their youngest son, Blake, with teaching Andre how to use his unexpected new gift.
Andre splits his time bouncing between the past and future. Between Michael and Blake. Michael is everything Andre wishes he could be, and Blake, still reeling from the death of his brother, Andre’s donor, keeps him at arm’s length despite their obvious attraction to each other.
Torn between two boys, one in the past and one in the present, Andre has to figure out where he belongs—and more importantly who he wants to be—before the consequences of jumping in time catch up to him and change his future for good.
CW’s sob-o-meter: You ever feel so shaken by a book that you don’t actually cry on the outside but you feel yourself tearing up on the inside? When the pain/hope burrows into your soul? Yeah, that’s how this book made me feel. I just laid in the dark and wept silently.
- Blending time travel and romance together, Yesterday is History explores: does love transcend time and space? What if you traveled fifty years into the past – and met the love of your life?
- Perfect if you love time travel stories and all the great things that come with them: pain, existential questions about life, and exploration of love in its most vulnerable, tender, and selfless.
- This has a (queer!!) love triangle, but it’s one of the best love triangles I’ve read – less about ‘who will he choose’? but more about Andre’s life, his decisions, growth, and joy.
Clues to the Universe by Christine Li
The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.
Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.
Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?
As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.
CW’s sob-o-meter: Not to get too real, but this made me remember things: the feeling of the space left behind by a loved one who is no longer here, of wanting to share something with a someone because you know they’d love it and then realising… yeah, this broke me.
- This is one of the most tender explorations of grief I’ve read in a book. It’s about preserving the memories of those we love, about the insurmountable feelings of loss and how things are forever changed, but it’s also about closure and how connection helps us feel hope again.
- The two protagonists, Ro and Benji, connect with one another because they’ve both lost their fathers in different ways – and if that doesn’t pull at your heartstrings, I don’t know what will.
- It’s also a gorgeous story about friendship, and how sometimes conflict, though hard and horrible and sad it can be, sometimes make the friendships stronger.
Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee
Lora wants to stay a kid forever, and she’ll do anything to make that happen… including befriending Alexa, the ghost who haunts her house.
A middle-grade graphic novel about growing up that’s perfect for fans of Ghosts and Making Friends . Growing up sounds terrible. No one has time to do anything fun, or play outside, or use their imagination. Everything is suddenly so serious. People are more interested in their looks and what others think about them than having fun adventures. Who wants that? Not Lora. After watching her circle of friends seemingly fade away, Lora is determined to still have fun on her own. A tea party with a twist leaves Lora to re-discovering Alexa, the ghost that haunts her house — and Lora’s old imaginary friend! Lora and Alexa are thrilled to meet kindred spirits and they become best friends… but unfortunately, not everything can last forever.
CW’s sob-o-meter: Made me cry for about, no joke, 30 minutes. Gave up trying not to cry at the 15-minute mark and decided to just stand hunched over in the bathroom crying into the sink because I didn’t want to waste tissues.
- I’ve never read a book about growing up that hurt me so badly in all the best ways. It’s about how growing up can be scary yet inevitable, how change is inevitable, life carries on but friendships last forever.
- The theme that got me the hardest – and I will unashamedly admit that I am crying right now just thinking about it – was that how growing up and growing old is a privilege – and can also be beautiful. (lol ok brb, going to go wipe my face)
- Not only is this story beautifully told, it is also gorgeously illustrated. This book is a marvel and wonder to behold.
Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga
I am learning how to be
at the same time.
Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.
At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.
CW’s sob-o-meter: Cried tears of anger, sadness, joy, and hope. In other words, there was a lot of crying but this book deserves every single tear shed.
- Other Words for Home is told entirely in verse and the poetry in this… ugh, it is just so beautiful and sublime and incredible. It has some of the most stunning verses I’ve ever read.
- This story tells of a young Syrian girl’s journey to America; it’s not just about immigrating and the challenges that come with it, but it’s also about the very human ache of separation from your family, finding yourself, and regrowing roots.
- I was in awe of how book just captures the complexity and vulnerability of life-changing experiences but shows them in such simple and emotive ways. I’ll probably be in awe of this book forever.
The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum
Ryann Bird dreams of traveling across the stars. But a career in space isn’t an option for a girl who lives in a trailer park on the wrong side of town. So Ryann becomes her circumstances and settles for acting out and skipping school to hang out with her delinquent friends.
One day she meets Alexandria: a furious loner who spurns Ryann’s offer of friendship. After a horrific accident leaves Alexandria with a broken arm, the two misfits are brought together despite themselves—and Ryann learns her secret: Alexandria’s mother is an astronaut who volunteered for a one-way trip to the edge of the solar system.
Every night without fail, Alexandria waits to catch radio signals from her mother. And its up to Ryann to lift her onto the roof day after day until the silence between them grows into friendship, and eventually something more . . .
CW’s sob-o-meter: This book didn’t just make me cry. This book made me feel small and beautifully insignificant in our infinite universe, vast beyond my comprehension, and that, despite, love makes it all worthwhile.
- Thinking about this book makes me feel like there’s a balloon in my chest. And that I just need to exhale it all out because – honestly. This book is so beautiful. It’s set in a distant future and a girl who dreams of being among the stars.
- The story just feels so… immense and captures the imperfect circumstances of human existence, but that we can be more.
- It’s about friendship, the weight of secrets, the weight of the mistakes that we make in the past and its ripple effects across lives and the universe, and it’s just… it’s about life, to be honest. (Ok, going to go cry now!)