Aug 6 2013 2:30pm

Sometimes You Just Need a Good Cry: Unhappy Ever Afters in Books

I read JoJo Moyes’s Me Before You a couple of weeks ago, and after I finished explaining it to my husband, I asked him, “What would make an author write such a sad book?”

His response was, “Really...that’s your question? How about what would make you want to read such a sad book?”

The story revolves around Lou, an aimless woman in her mid-twenties who lives in the English countryside. After losing her job, she takes a position as care assistant to Will Traynor, a wealthy, good-looking, 35-year-old quadriplegic. Prior to a motorcycle accident two years earlier, Will had been a successful businessman with a penchant for dangerous sports and hot women. Now he’s pissed off and in constant pain.

Lou’s lot isn’t easy. She and her father are the only two employed members of her family, and his job hangs by a thread. She lives at home with her parents and grandfather, moving into a closet when her unwed sister came home from University with a baby in tow. Lou must make a go of this new job, even if her employer, Will’s mother, is a suspicious sort, and Will’s sarcastic, cutting behavior results in her feeling foolish and clumsy.

What Lou doesn’t know is that Will wants to kill himself, but he’s agreed to give his mother three more months before going through with it. His mother hired Lou to lift his spirits and though she doesn’t realize it, he does seem happier and more lively once she appears on the scene. He enjoys teaching her about literature, watching subtitled films together, and forcing her to see that she could have a bigger life with a small amount of effort.

When Lou learns about Will and his mother’s bargain, she determines to change his mind. She also falls in love with this impossible man. There came a point in the book when I realized there would be no sugar-coated ending, no last minute reprieve for Will and Lou, and I had to put the book down for a day to prepare for it. He loves her, but he no longer wants to live his life—totally at the mercy of others for the most basic of functions, unable to perform as a man, in constant pain, and with no hope of improvement, only continued decline. No matter what kind of life he may make with Lou, it will not be enough, and that’s the devastating reality Moyes creates for Lou, and for us, to understand.

While I’m sitting here writing about it, I’ve begun to cry, and I haven’t even talked about the ending, which required a half-box of Kleenex to read. I’m still wondering how and why Moyes decided to write this story to torture readers with its incandescent sadness, but it’s a lot easier for me to explain why I wanted to read it even though I knew going it that it had a Love Story vibe.

Sometimes I just need a good cry.

I used to watch Terms of Endearment whenever I found it on TV. I would invariably cry and my husband would invariably sigh, and wonder why I put myself through the agony of watching Debra Winger die of cancer after her mother theatrically ran around screaming for the nurse to give her the shot.

Why indeed? Sometimes I just need a good cry.

My favorite book of all time—Kathryn Lynn Davis’s Too Deep for Tears—is the first in a trilogy of romantic, historical novels that I read on a beach in Hawaii. My poor husband, once again witness to my blubbering despair, did not know what to do for me, other than help me clean the snot-soaked sand from my face when I finished reading. I love this trilogy and have re-read it often, even though I know I’m doomed to cry. When All We Hold Dear and Somewhere Lies the Moon were published, I actually set aside time to read each non-stop, as crying mini-vacations. Afterwards I felt relaxed and cleansed, as though I’d spent weekends at a spa doing yoga when by all rights I should have been exhausted from a lack of sleep and all that crying, twice over.

Joy Fielding’s The First Time is another romantic novel in which death is a foregone conclusion. Mattie Hart married her husband Jake when she discovered she was pregnant with their adolescent daughter. Jake is a serial cheater who had his first affair when their daughter was a toddler. Just as he’s about to leave her for his newest girlfriend, she has an accident, and subsequent medical tests reveal she has ALS.

Jake moves back home to help care for her and their daughter even as Mattie refuses to accept what’s happening to her body. She’s so resentful of the situation that she decides to sleep with a man who’s been coming on to her even as Jake is with his girlfriend...and their daughter is losing her virginity. It’s powerful and authentic, and afterwards, Mattie, who cannot bear her husband’s pity, gives him an ultimatum. She says, “Either pretend you love me, or get out.” He decides to pretend, and as a result, they share the emotional vulnerability lacking in the rest of their marriage.

As with Me Before You, The First Time offers the opportunity for a different sort of happy ending, for a chance at acceptance and love even when there is death. Although this book is nearly 20 years old, I can remember to this day sobbing so loudly at the ending that I scared the cat.

I don’t often choose to read weepies; I prefer light to dark because in my opinion reality offers enough darkness. And yet, there are times when I crave a good cry. I’ve focused on non-genre books, but a good number of weepies are among my favorite romance reads, including the following. All but the first are genre romances, and most are likely to be unknown to you...I don’t think I’ve written about any of them here at H&H:

The Wind from Hastings by Morgan Llywelyn (Historical Fiction)
Tallie’s Knight by Anne Gracie (Traditional Regency)
Lord St. Claire’s Angel by Donna Simpson (Traditional Regency)
A Fire in the Heart by Katherine Sutcliffe (Historical Romance)
Day Dreamer by Jill Marie Landis (Historical Romance)
Dawn’s Awakening by Lora Leigh (SF Romance)
The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell by Samantha James (Historical Romance)
Once an Angel by Teresa Medeiros (Historical Romance)
Too Hot to Handle and Chain Lightning by Elizabeth Lowell (originally Category Romances, reissued as single title Contemporary Romances)...Lowell’s books tend to be weepies, but rather than also list the many titles in her Only series that are cathartic reads for me, I chose these two possibly lesser-known titles instead.

I look forward to reading about your your favorite weepies in the comments.


Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on her My Obsessions tumblr blog, Goodreads (where she spends much of her time as late), follow her on Pinterest, or on @laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and [probably too often] politics.

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Patricia Wilkerson
1. Proofreaderpat
I started to read Me Before You (note how I said 'started'),until I got nonHEA vibes. I quickly flipped to the back of the book,which I rarely do,to read the ending and groaned in dismay. I was totally bummed out and couldn't bring myself to finish reading the book. Personally,I can't knowingly read a 'weepie'-I just can't do it!
2. AshleyG
I read Me Before You in one sitting. I absolutely could not put it down and it made me ugly cry. Even with all the emotional angst, I still love it and its one of the best books I've read in the last year. Two others that I loved but left me an emotional basketcase: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.
Laurie Gold
3. LaurieGold
I started to read Still Alice when it came out. It's about a woman who develops Alzheimer's at an early age. After crying nonstop for about the first 50 pages, I put the book down and wondered why I was torturing myself. I traded the book in the next day.

I don't often pick up a book knowing it'll destroy me. If it's a romance that really puts the couple through hell, I'll often pass. I probably wouldn't have read Me Before You if a friend who has similar reading tastes hadn't recommended it.
Laurie Gold
4. LaurieGold
Ashley, I've often thought about The Fault in our Stars, but can never seem to bring myself to pick it up. I know it's probably great, but it'd kill me.
5. pamelia
Books that ripped my heart out include: "Requiem for the Devil" by Jerri Smith-Ready, "The Reluctant Dom" by Tymber Dalton, the first half of "Rock Chick Regret" by Kristen Ashley, and I have to completely agree with you on "Dawn's Awakening".
Laurie Gold
6. LaurieGold
Pamelia, I didn't try the Dalton book specifically because of that. It sounded heartbreaking.
Lege Artis
7. LegeArtis
Oh, God...My first big cry for love that seemed dumed was famous Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann.
I still remeber Anne's resignation at the end...that Lyon is never going to change and that she is going to love him less and less with time... I know that this novel is about 3 girls,but to this day I remeber it by this sad love story.
Me Before You was so heartbreaking...I teared up just writing about it.
Great post, Laurie...
8. AMG
If you liked Moyes' writing, I would recommend her earlier book, The Ship of Brides. There is an HEA, but oh my goodness, did that book make me cry, because of the heartbreaking loneliness. It's a gorgeous book, with interesting characters.

Also I cry silent tears at the final third of Daughter of the Forest. Happy tears, but tears nontheless.
Megan Frampton
9. MFrampton
I can read these teary books, but I need to be forewarned. I wasn't sure Me Before You had an HEA (I was guessing not), but now that I know, I can launch into reading it without trepidation. That might be weird, but I'm much more sanguine about an unhappy ending if I'm alerted to it beforehand. I have Fault in our Stars to read, too.
Laurie Gold
10. LaurieGold
Megan, I'd read a review about the Moyes' book...it referenced Love Story, so I knew in advance, yet still was devastated. Honestly, if that particular friend hadn't been the one to recommend it--we're kind of separated at birth--I wouldn't have read it. You're brave to read Fault in Our Stars.
11. amg
Megan, seriously, try Moyes earlier books. Maybe more woman's fic than straight rom, but really compelling and interesting. Ship of Brides is wonderful, the Peacock Emporium is quirky.
In Canada, we've had her books for a while.
12. Rose In RoseBear
I have a multimedia list of "weepies" ... Tymber Dalton's The Reluctant Dom, Heinlein's short story "Requiem," and the movies Old Yeller, Wall-E, and Up. Just thinking about these stories is enough to make me tear up!
13. JenniferJ
What about (almost) anything written by Nicholas Sparks? They all seem to be weepers, with someone dying, often one of the principal characters. Message in a Bottle, Nights in Rodanthe, the book version (as opposed to the movie version) of Dear John, just to name a few.
14. Lm7418
Lover Eternal, will have me sobbing every time I re-read it, and it plays in my head for days afterwards. I had to be carried out of the cinema literally wailing when watching My Life starring Micheal Keaton & Nicole Kidman - he's got a terminal illness and is filming his life to show to his unborn baby - I never did find out how that film ended.
rachel sternberg
15. rae70
My first and only weepie was back in Jr. High. P.S. I Love You, by Barbara Conklin.. I was 13 and hormonal and bawling my eyes out..
sarah lee
16. slee7500
JR Ward's Lover Eternal because I could personally identify with the heroine and Lover Awakened because of the things the hero had to endure.
17. Poptart
I'm glad you made it through ME BEFORE YOU Laurie. I cried a lot but ultimately found the book kind of uplifting. Not a HEA, but I thought there was some peace in the end. Just loved that book. And I too read it one sitting.

Another book that gave me a similar emotional journey - but had a HEA or happy-for-now ending - is SEA OF TRANQUILITY by Katja Millay. It's billed as young adult but because of the serious topics addressed reads more like an adult book. I'd actually read it before ME BEFORE YOU and thought it might be my best book of the year, but now the two are running neck and neck. Another one I just loved this year, also a YA, is FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell. She wrote ELEANOR & PARK as well and both are deeply emotional reads. FANGIRL ends a little more HEA than E&P, but both very satisfying.

When I think about it I haven't had a recent 'hit one out of the park' emotional, straight romance. Some solid ones, Courtney Milan's latest, and Julie Anne Long's IT HAPPENED ONE MIDNIGHT. But when I look back at what I've been reading, none of these have hit those deep notes.
Thili Abuna
18. Thili
The Passions of Emma by Penelope Williamson, a woman meeting a woman with consumption and becoming her best friend, all the while falling in love with the woman's husband. It was a romance novel that was heartbreaking.
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