2014: The Year of the Sad Cry

2014, Year of Tears. Let’s see, I’ve cried over jobs I didn’t get. I’ve cried over jobs I did get but had to turn down for one reason or another. I’ve cried because I accidentally kicked one of the dogs in the face when I didn’t realize he was in my path (didn’t hurt him.) I’ve cried because I saw How to Train Your Dragon 2, and now I tear up every time I see Toothless, which is often since the merch remains omnipresent. Cartoons aside, I’ve had a bumpy year, and somehow the teariest books kept finding me. Should we avoid sad books, though? No! Catharsis is good for the soul, and we all know a book that triggers an emotional reaction as extreme as tears has something going for it. In that vein, let’s have a look at my top three most weep-worthy reads of 2014. In order of most sobs heaved and tears shed:

Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Abject rural poverty. An emotionally unavailable father. Sexual abuse. Struggles with same-sex attraction in a time and place that 100% did not accept such feelings. Blow had a rough though not completely joyless childhood, a rocky adolescence highlighted (lowlighted?) by a girl trying to pass off her child as his, and a college career marred by participation in brutal hazing rituals. Blow and many of his family members found better lives by the end of the memoir; he’s now an op-ed columnist for NYT. If only all tales of hardship ended so cheerfully! Blow’s memoir got great reviews from various sources, including mine for Shelf Awareness.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews (McSweeney’s)

Actually, Toews injects so much witty gallows humor into her prose that I got all the way through this gut-wrenching story, which follows a woman’s struggle against her sister’s determination to kill herself, without shedding a tear, which may also have had to do with the fact that I held my breath for 90% of it. When I went online to do research for my Shelf review, though, I discovered that the novel is semi-autobiographical and that Toews lived through the worst situations it details. Of course I know intellectually that oh so many people must face similar storms, but somehow knowing that she experienced it and felt enough grief that only writing an entire novel could comfort her, brought it home to me and touched off a belated mini-meltdown.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (The Penguin Press HC)

I think of this family drama/mystery as one of those books you don’t see coming. You know the type: slim, literary, analytical on the surface, but somehow all the dissection of motives and psyches rebounds into an emotional gut punch by the end of the story. Although the bulk of the novel focuses on an Asian-American man who has always felt like an outsider and the white wife who looks like she fits into 1950s-60s society but actually wanted to become a doctor, the reader spends the entire book waiting to find out how their teenage daughter drowned: accident, murder, or suicide? I felt so lucky to be a reviewer and get to read and review Ng’s debut before publication.

Mind you, this list is merely the top tier of sad books I read with a 2014 publication date. I started reading 2015 releases in October, and I’ve stumbled upon a few tearjerkers already. Happy New Year? In the realm of literature, it remains to be seen.