11 Novels That Will Give You An Emotional Ass Kicking

I am a sensitive, emotional soul. I feel all the feels, all the time. (It’s taken me the majority of my adult life to see this as a blessing and not a curse.)

Because I feel everything always, being an avid reader can be tough at times. I often experience what I call a Book Hangover, where I finish a book but continue living in its world. Knowing a book has subject matter that is heavy or difficult to get through doesn’t mean I don’t want to read it, won’t like it, or won’t learn and grow from it.

Sometimes I finish a book and feel like I just had my ass kicked emotionally. If I need a break after finishing a book, you know it was a big deal!

I’ve consulted with my book loving friends to compile this list of novels that were so intense, they knocked us down for a little while.

  1. All the Wonderful and Ugly Things —  Bryn Greenwood

My book club friends were surprised I made it through this one. It’s hands down the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been while reading. It’s the story of a girl raised by drug addict parents in their meth lab compound, and the one adult who is willing to take care of her. I’ve never encountered a story like this. It’s intense and difficult but beautifully written and absolutely breathtaking.



  1. Tell the Wolves I’m Home — Carol Rifka Brunt  

This was on my TBR List for years before I finally stumbled upon a used copy. It immediately went onto my Favorite Books Ever list. It’s about so many things. There’s a lot of heartbreak but also a lot of love. Set during the AIDs crisis of the 1980s, it’s a heartbreaking look at how this disease ravaged not only people and their bodies, but families and relationships because of how little understanding there was at the time.


  1. YOU —  Caroline Kepnes

This is a bit more into the horror genre than I typically go, but my mom gave me her copy after she’d finished and since books are one of the few places we can find common ground, I went for it. Even though I was horrified with each page I turned, I couldn’t put the book down. I was physically nauseous when I finished it! At times, I found myself feeling sorry for the psychopathic narrator, so masterful is the writing and manipulation of the reader.



  1. The Handmaid’s Tale —  Margaret Atwood  

The first person narrative here makes this story absolutely transfixing. Because it’s told as she’s looking back on what happened to her, it feels like you’re reading a memoir. The story is horrifying and compelling, and made me wonder if this scenario could ever happen in our society (I don’t think so) and truly contemplate my way of life.



  1. The Hour I First Believed —  Wally Lamb

This is a book my club didn’t like much, but I loved it. As many of Lamb’s books are, it’s a downer, and this particular story line covers so many horrible happenings in this poor guy’s life, my heart was breaking for him over and over. You wonder when is he ever going to get a break, and then realize it’s possible he may not.



  1. Rooftops of Tehran — Mahbod Seraji  

I have rarely ever cried while reading a book, and this one almost had me in tears. The story swept me in to a part of the world I’ve never experienced, and vividly displays a way of living I could not imagine otherwise. It’s a story about love and how one must live when everything is outside of his control.

  1. Of Mice and Men —  John Steinbeck

This is a classic emotional ass kicking. If I was a “sobbing at the end of a book” reader, this would have gotten me. There’s so much going on in this brief story, it was impossible to process it all for a couple days!




  1. A Fine Balance —  Rohinton Mistry  

This is one of two books my husband recommended for this list. I haven’t read it at his recommendation that it would be too difficult for me to get through. When he was reading it, he was frequently in awe of the cruelty and corruption. Set in India in 1975, this sweeping tale has often been compared to the work of Charles Dickens.


  1. The Road —  Cormac McCarthy

This is my husband’s second suggestion. I know the premise of this book and have chosen to avoid it due to the bleakness of the subject matter, and my general dislike of post-apocalyptic fiction. This Pulitzer Prize winner is considered a modern classic by many, and McCarthy’s trademark dark prose is apparently at his best here.


  1. The Lovely Bones —  Alice Sebold

I’ve mentioned before this is my favorite contemporary novel, and it covers some heavy subject matter. It was suggested for this list by a few of my friends, and while it doesn’t hit me quite as hard, I agree that this beautifully written story of tragedy packs a punch.



  1. The Time Traveler’s Wife —  Audrey Niffenegger

This is another of my favorite novels that several friends suggested. It’s a sweeping love story, presented in an unbelievable premise, but eventually you start to believe. Gut-wrenchingly sad at times, and  wonderfully sweet in others, this is an epic novel worth the heartache.


What do you think of this list? Did I leave out any novels (fiction) that have kicked your butt or brought you to tears?












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