Recently BuzzFeed published this listicle: 16 Books You Read As A Kid That Were Actual Emotional Torture.
I read the list. Exactly zero books listed match the sad books from my childhood.
Of the sixteen books, three I’ve read as an adult, six I’m aware of but have not read, and seven I’ve never heard of prior to this list. Some of these books weren’t even out when I was kid.
I’m not sure who comprises the BuzzFeed community that submitted those titles, but I’m going to guess millennials. I’m technically a millennial, but an old one, so I decided to share the six saddest books from my (very ’90s) childhood. I know some are still around and read, but I hope I’m not the only one that remembers the others.
Oh yeah, spoilers incoming.
The Gold Cadillac by Mildred D. Taylor
Reading this book was the first time I learned about and understood racism and injustice. Seeing the family in the book be treated so terribly for being black and driving a fancy car made me so sad and angry as a seven-year-old and I’ve never forgotten it.
A Dog Called Kitty by Bill Wallace
At some point we all read a book or see a movie where the dog dies. This point for me was first or second grade. I remember being really happy that the main character went from being mean to dogs to a dog-lover, but then the dog, Kitty, dies, because elementary school kids need more reasons to cry.
The Christmas Spurs by Bill Wallace
Bill Wallace really had it out for me as a kid. That, or he really thought kids should learn about death and how to deal with it. I don’t remember the exact specifics of the plot, just that there were two brothers, a pair of spurs, and that the younger brother dies from cancer. It has some kind of little twist that made the ending bittersweet.
On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer
This book was read to my class during library time by the librarian in fifth or sixth grade. I hated it. And then, when it got to the crux of the story, that one of the two main boys actually dies because they were being silly kids, I hated it even more. Then you have to actually be there when the surviving boy tries, and fails, to tell the other boy’s parents what happened. It’s The Worst.
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
My sixth grade reading teacher was a Lowry fan, so we read two of her books that year. This was my first Lowry book and the first time I’d read anything about the Holocaust. The oppression and terror the characters experienced was awful, but at least this story didn’t end too terribly (leaving everything to escape to a different country because your people are being kidnapped and killed is pretty happy, right?).
This short, simple book is full of terrible things. Infanticide, senicide, forced birth, forced suppression of biologic functions, and a complete and total lack of individualism make up the main character’s world. He doesn’t realize these things are terrible (or even happening) until he meets The Giver and receives the memories of the past before everything changed, and some of those memories are terrible and painful. Then the little kid narrator has to leave everyone and everything he knows to save a baby and escape his controlled existence, only to end the book near death in the snow. Talk about emotional.
These books taught me things, the main lesson being I prefer books where the overwhelming feeling at the end isn’t sadness. I’ll still read a sad book from time to time, but they are harder for me to start than most others. Is it because of these early forays into sadness or because currently, the world is sad enough as it is?
I’m going to go with both. Both is good.
What books would make your saddest childhood books list?