15 Books About Grief And Loss | YA Contemporary, Literary Fiction, Magical Realism, And Memoir

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Cover image for post. Recommendations for books about grief and loss.

One of my friends asked me yesterday if I had any recommendations for books about grief and loss. The books that fall into this category that I want to read significantly outnumber the books I have actually read, so I am here presenting you with a combination of the two.

5 books I loved

Book covers: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Tin Man by Sarah Winman, Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo, and Kumkum Malhotra by Preti Taneja

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

This 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. I also recommended this book as part of The 10 Best Books I Read in 2019.

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 the novella 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’s not truly my book blog if I don’t mention Stay With Me at least once. Set in Nigeria, this debut novel follows a wife and husband as they struggle with the wife’s infertility and all 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 seems 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. However, 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 (only 18 ratings on Goodreads!) discovers a skull in her garden, which turns her very normal, steady life entirely upside down. It’s written with intensity, and can be devoured in just a few hours.

10 books I want to read

Book covers: Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter, Loss Adjustment by Linda Collins, The Way Through the Woods by Long Litt Woon, The Museum of You by Carys Bray, and The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter

This 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 that is the novella’s physical representation of grief.

Loss Adjustment by Linda Collins

This memoir, published by Singaporean press Ethos Books, recounts a mother’s experience of her 17-year-old daughter’s suicide, explored through the journal the girl left on her laptop. It’s been getting a lot of buzz on Singaporean bookstagram, and has been praised for its beautiful intimacy.

The Way Through The Woods by Long Litt Woon

This memoir explores the author’s experience of grief after her husband’s death. Lost in her grief, the author signed up for a beginner’s course in mushrooming, finding a surprising source of meaning and joy. I personally love memoirs that detail unique and unusual activities, so this 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 for answers about who her mother was and who Clover might become, she goes on an adventure into the museum.

The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Steeped in magical realism, this novel follows Leigh, who believes that after her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Traveling to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time in Taiwan, she is determined in her search for her mother, and uncovers family secrets along the way, unraveling her own story.

Book covers: The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante, and The Truth About Keeping Secrets by Savannah Brown

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, this 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 really 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 strong 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.

History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

When his ex-boyfriend (who he is still very much in love with) dies in a drowning accident, Griffin has to find a way to tackle his own grief if he wants to avoid going downhill and losing himself in bad habits. So he has to confront his past – and the history his ex left him.

The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante

Caught when trying to cross the border to the United States from El Salvador with her younger sister, Marisol is given an unusual opportunity to remain in the country and keep her sister safe: she can become a grief keeper, absorbing someone else’s grief into her own body to save someone’s life. Then, as these things go, she falls in love – a risky undertaking for anyone, let alone a grief keeper.

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 he 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. Savannah Brown is famously afraid of death, so this promises to be a fascinating exploration of a teenager’s grief and loss. I will be reading it for #ReadTheMoon2020, alongside lots of other (hopefully) fantastic books.

What are your favourite books about loss and grief? If you have any recommendations, leave them in the comments below or get in touch with me on Goodreads or Instagram.

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