Books That Broke Our Hearts

Last Saturday was Valentine’s Day, a celebration dedicated to love and romance. Leading up to it, Women Write About Comics contributors got into the spirit by sharing their dream dates with their favourite comic book characters. But now that Cupid’s holiday has passed us by, we thought we’d look at the other side of the coin–heart break. These are a few of the books that have broken our hearts over the years.

 The Girl Who Played Go, Shan Sa, Adriana Hunter (Translator), Vintage, 2004The Girl Who Played Go

Shan Sa

“I notice the silvery hair at his temples with a tinge of sadness. Why do parents grow old? Life is a castle of lies slowly dismantled by the passage of time. I regret not spending more time looking at the people I love.”

I’m not sure that this is necessarily YA fiction, but this story is about two young people and I read it as a young person myself. Go alternates perspectives between a male soldier in the Japanese army and a young woman in Manchuria. Like two go players, the characters take steps toward and around each other, slowly fencing the narrative in. Sa tells the story of accidental involvement in cultural resistance, purposeful “liberation” through military violence, and the crushing disappointment of love with powerful authority.

–Al Rosenberg

The Bridge to TerabithiaBridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson Trumpet Club Special Edition 1996

Katherine Paterson
Thomas Y. Crowell Co.

This is the first book that I remember absolutely wrecking me as I was growing up.  I had liked to read before this and had devoured endless number of Boxcar Children books, but it wasn’t until The Bridge to Terabithia that I really understood the emotional power fiction could have.  By which I mean it left me hysterically weeping while reading as fast as I could to finish in the hopes of a happy ending.  For those who missed being emotionally traumatized at a delicate age, The Bridge to Terabithia is about a boy who meets a girl and the pretend kingdom they create, but it’s really a meditation on growing up, mortality, and the power of reaching out to connect with other people.  Seriously, just thinking about it is making me a little verklempt right now.

–Catie Coleman

6437061The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

N.K. Jemisin
Hachette Book Group Orbit

There are many books about love and relationships, and there are many books about gods. This book is about the relationships between the three gods that created this world and its people, as told through the eyes of a mortal. Yeine is drawn into the political affairs of a group of powerful mortals, the Arameri who, after the Gods War, hold several gods on a leash and serve the one god who emerged victorious from that conflict. This is the overriding plot, but the heart and soul is the turmoil of rage, love, jealousy, loneliness, bitterness, and hate that fuels beings born from the Maelstrom that created the universe.

So there was love, once. More than love. And now there is more than hate. Mortals have no words for what we gods feel. Gods have no words for such things. But love like that doesn’t just disappear, does it? No matter how powerful the hate, there is always love left, underneath.”

This book tore me up. I loved it so much that I ended up reading it again just a few months later, but I was unable to read the sequel for another year, just to give my emotions time to settle down. The Broken Kingdoms did the same, and a year after that, I am finally reading the last book in the trilogy, The Kingdom of Gods.

–Wendy Browne

The Kite RunnerThe Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini Anchor Canada 2009

Khaled Hosseini
Penguin Publishing Group

I can count in one hand the number of books that made me cry and the very first one that got this cold hearted reader to shed a tear was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It’s a book that follows Amir and his servant as well as companion, Hassan, as they deal with the political tensions in Afghanistan. It’s about righting wrongs, sacrifice, and the relationship between fathers and sons. It’s soul crushing and just thinking about it six years later is still difficult. Of course, it’s not completely devoid of hope which is comforting for those of us who feel like we can never come back from the mistakes we make in our lives.

–Ardo Omer

51fUgqNZ8fL If You Come Softly

Jacqueline Woodson

The book that came to mind is a book I read once (unusual), by torchlight, inside a sleeping bag, desperately trying not to sob out loud so I wouldn’t get in trouble for still being awake. Family camping holidays! Canvas is not a noise-absorbent fabric. I was probably twelve or thirteen.

If You Come Softly is the story of a strong and committed teenage romance which ends, at the end, when one half of it dies. It’s terribly, terribly unfair, and classically tragic, and the build of the love story is so sweet, and genuine, and as I recall quite shyly sexy. The love is between a white girl and a black boy, both fifteen, and the book mostly, I suppose, is about the awfulness of institutionalised racism as suddenly seen by an ignorant white teenager. Jeremiah dies when he is killed by the police; he’s running to get home. His mother and his girlfriend just break down and do not recover, because they loved this precious person.

If You Come Softly was the first book I read that attempted to broach American racism, and it was probably the second book that I read that really illustrated racism as a structure (the first being Noughts and Crosses, by Mallory Blackman, which also centres on an interracial teenage romance and has death and impossibility and heartbreak, and also made me cry, and cry, and cry). It certainly didn’t equip me with an immediate understanding of institutional racial inequality, or a deep one, or even necessarily a complex one–I didn’t really comprehend that Jeremiah’s death was realistic. But it made me think about how the tiniest comments could hurt people and form huge barriers to their happiness, and it gave me the beginnings of awareness that made it easier for me to see a global reality as it unfolded for me. And it is just so, so, so sad. The writing has a clarity that dropped all of the emotional impact into my head as truth, and there’s no sentimentality that I can remember. It doesn’t indulge a reader’s tabloid urges. The things that happen in this story are atrociously unfair and self-evidently painful, and its kept itself in my head as a ward against excuses.


Swamplandia!Swamplandia Karen Russell Knopf 2011

Karen Russell
Vintage Contemporaries

Oh, Swamplandia!, you tempted me not once, not twice, but three times with the exclamation in your title, your delightfully outlandish premise, and the clear theme of Southern Gothic running through. When I finally caved in and bought you, I read you immediately. You pulled me in; your prose resembling the dense marshes and humidity of the Deep South. You coerced me into loving your characters; the Bigtree family delightfully eccentric in the most Southern of ways. You didn’t shy away from grappling with classism and environmentalism from a Southern, working class angle. The Bigtree family in the grips of financial collapse; their desperation creeped into me. When Ava met the Bird Man, I was in denial. I thought no, no, that’s not what will happen. But, it did. I still can’t decide if it was a cheap plot device or one of the few stories out there that does a rape storyline justice enough that it hits you in the gut just how cheap and shitty such an act is. I don’t know. I intended to immediately take you to the used bookstore for trade-in, but you still sit on my bookshelf, and when I see you, I still ask myself was it a cheap plot device or just that well done?


Christa Seeley

Christa Seeley

Books Editor. Maple Flavoured Darth Vader Fangirl.