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Sad books to add to your TBR (That you’ll love)

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at ASU chapter.

You don’t have to be sad to read sad books, but these will make your reading list a little more melancholic.

Every year before the heat waves roll in, the internet prepares itself for hot girl summer: a time of light, tan-lines, and poolsides. The perfect summer girl is untouchable. She is airy and fun, skinny and toned, intelligent yet amicable. She wishes for the well-being of others, never allows her hair to frizz in the 110 degree heat, and has a sweatless body. Unless, of course, you envision it as sexy sweat. In that case, she does. She is desired, the symbol we all strive to emulate.

Well, my summer was not like that. Instead of adopting a soft bronze, I burned bright red under the sun’s rays, like bacon left too long in the oven. I wore tight-fitting shorts I was dying to trade out for sweatpants, hid my stomach rolls under pillows when I laid out to tan, and read tragic books. So. Many. Books. Sad, poetic, sapphic, you name it. And it was honestly comforting. I compiled a list of my favorites, the ones that stuck with me months after I finished reading them. 

So, in case you were looking for sad girl reads, I have listed some for you below. This is for all my Phoebe Bridgers-loving, big-sweater-wearing, book-collecting gals and pals. I hope you give any or all of them a chance. 

1) Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica:

This novel was originally written in Spanish in 2017 by Argentinian author Augustina Bazterrica, although it reminds me wholly of works published by George Orwell. The novel tackles a strange dystopia in which all livestock has been infected and thus died off. In its place, society has legalized cannibalism. Factories produce and sell human meat across the globe. Though the novel can be a bit intense in its descriptions, the light it casts on our current treatment of animals is enlightening, but also just the right amount of depressing. This is perfect for anyone who wants a sadder read with an intense, powerful meaning at its core. 

2) On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong: 

It seems like everyone on the planet has seemingly fallen in love with this book recently, but let me be the first to say that that is for a good reason. Written by a Vietnamese-American poet, the book explores themes of race, gender, sexuality, and the dynamics of a dysfunctional family through the lens of the main character Little Dog as he writes to his illiterate mother. He recounts his childhood and all the struggles he endured, from his formerly silent perspective. The beauty of this book shines through in Vuong’s writing style, and I recommend everyone read this at least once in their lives. 

3) A Bright Ray of Darkness by Ethan Hawke: 

Yes, that Ethan Hawke. The beloved star of Before Sunrise and, more recently, the Black Phone has written a few novels, but this one stuck out most to me. It explores a seemingly autobiographical side of Hawke’s life, as the main character is a famous actor undergoing a reckoning of self after the collapse of his marriage. The protagonist stars in a Broadway adaptation of Henry IV, simultaneously struggling with alcoholism and his own self-destructive tendencies. Not only is this book enlightening on Hawke’s perspective of life itself, but it also vividly illustrates the art of performing and the physical tolls it can take upon a person. 

4) Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado:

Beautiful is the only word that comes to mind as I sit and recall this book. Machado is clearly a poet, as we readers can feel in every line of her work. Her Body and Other Parties is a collection of short stories that are revealing in regard to the truths of womanhood. It is adapted to not only show truth but oftentimes terror and fear, yet presents such topics in a short, palatable format that is crafted beautifully on Machado’s behalf. As it is a collection of stories, it’s difficult to provide a descriptive summary of the novel, but I can say this: you should most definitely read it. 

5) The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante 

This book is written through the eyes of a young girl, Giovanna, as she navigates life and its complexities in Naples. A bright and inquisitive take on the traditional coming-of-age story, Ferrante bases the book on the ultimate questions of sex, fidelity, and fear as Giovanna tries to investigate them herself after reconciling her relationship with her Aunt Vittoria. It touches upon some richer topics (i.e, gender roles, class, female expectations, the struggle between good and evil, etc.), while Giovanna establishes herself as a young woman and searches for autonomy. Still, the novel vividly captures the people and lives lived in Naples, transporting you to an entirely new world. If you want to feel nostalgic for a place you’ve never seen, take a chance at this book. 

Mia Milinovich is a junior at Barrett, the Honors College, studying English (Literature) and Journalism & Mass Communications. She enjoys writing, reading, listening to garage rock, and going to random, last-minute concerts.