12 Books About Grief And Loss | YA, Literary Fiction, Magical Realism and Memoir
One of my friends asked me if I had any recommendations for books about grief and loss—so that’s what I’m sharing today.
6 books I loved
Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey
Elizabeth is Missing is one of the cosiest, most genuinely moving thrillers you will probably ever read. It follows Maud, an elderly grandmother who keeps pestering everyone, because (according to the clues she leaves for herself due to her growing dementia) her friend Elizabeth is missing. The grief here is subtle, and not the explicit focus of the novel, due to her loss of memory — but it does, ultimately, underpin Maud’s entire story.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
When Breath Becomes Air is unique in that the grief the author writes of here is for his own life. A talented medical student on the way to becoming a neurosurgeon, Kalanithi suddenly discovers he is dying of cancer. The memoir as a whole is preoccupied with the search for meaning, and this preoccupation obviously intensifies once the author begins to confront the value and meaning of his own, passing life. Underlined with his love for literature and language, this is a moving memoir, peppered with fascinating information about the medical industry.
Tin Man by Sarah Winman
This beautifully queer, nostalgic novella follows a trio of friends as they explore different relationships and in part discover their attraction to each other. It’s tinged with sadness throughout, but also feels oddly comforting in its hopeful narration. The first half of Tin Man sets up the characters for the tragedy revealed in the second part of the story, beginning the exploration of grief and making you catch all of the feelings.
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo
It couldn’t cover this topic without mentioning Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me. Set in Nigeria, this debut novel follows a wife and husband as they struggle with the wife’s infertility and all of the grief that comes with the loss of a child. It’s absolutely stunning, even dips into magical realism at times — and it’s one of the few books that follows a married couple and doesn’t make the husband seem like a two-dimensional jerk. If, like me, you cannot resist novels about motherhood, this is a must-read.
Kumkum Malhotra by Preti Taneja
Taneja got a lot of buzz with her release of We That Are Young, a beast of an epic, family-driven novel. Whether you enjoyed that book or not, I would like to recommend her very underrated and very tiny novella, which was published by an even tinier press in Norwich. Kumkum Malhotra isn’t about grief in the sense of a personal loss, but about grief in the way that being a witness to death can make one’s mental health go downhill real fast. The protagonist of this hidden gem discovers a skull in her garden, which turns her very normal, steady life entirely upside down. It’s written with a monumental intensity and can be devoured in just a few hours.
The Truth About Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown
Savannah Brown — iconic YouTuber, self-published poet and hilarious Twitter presence — finally released a young adult novel in 2019. The Truth About Keeping Secrets follows Sydney after her dad, the town’s only psychiatrist, dies in a mysterious crash. When the popular girl shows up at his funeral, the two become closer, and Sydney begins to unravel the mystery of her father’s death while attempting to overcome her own grief. Something I absolutely loved about this queer thriller is the exposition of the protagonist’s coping mechanisms, most of them unhealthy and verging on creepy, and how she slowly begins to explore healthier ways of grieving. It’s an unsettling book that will keep you on the edge all the way through.
6 books I want to read
Grief is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
Grief is The Thing With Feathers is a highly praised, poetic novella. It explores the grief two young boys experience when their mother passes away, through the presence of Crow — a magical-realist bird and the novella’s physical manifestation of grief.
Loss Adjustment by Linda Collins
Loss Adjustment was published by Singaporean press Ethos Books and recounts a mother’s experience of her 17-year-old daughter’s suicide, explored through the journal the girl left behind on her laptop. It got a lot of buzz on Singaporean Bookstagram when it was released and has been praised for its beautiful intimacy.
The Way Through The Woods by Long Litt Woon
This memoir explores the author’s life after her husband’s death. Lost in her grief, Long Litt Woon signed up for a beginner’s course in mushrooming, finding a surprising source of meaning and joy in this new hobby. I personally love memoirs that detail unique and unusual activities and The Way Through The Woods sounds absolutely fantastic.
The Museum of You by Carys Bray
After her mother passes away, one of the rooms in Clover’s house is turned into a personal museum for herself and her father, filled with her mother’s things. In a search of answers about who her mother was and who Clover might become, she goes on an adventure into The Museum of You.
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
Queer and full of satisfying water imagery, Yuknavitch’s memoir recounts her traumatic childhood and the loss of her stillborn child. Darkly and poignantly written, The Chronology of Water is a memoir I am extremely excited to pick up.
Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
June is misunderstood by everyone except her uncle, who is her godfather and best friend. When he mysteriously passes away, she has no one — until a stranger sends her a parcel containing a teapot from her uncle’s apartment, and reveals that her uncle actually died from AIDS. The two become friends and June begins to figure out her own heart along the way. Tell The Wolves I’m Home gives me major queer vibes, has a beautifully promising title, and comes highly recommended by Jen Campbell, so I really have no idea why I haven’t picked it up yet.