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Top 10 Saddest Deaths in YA Novels

VO: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Savannah Sher
Script written by Savannah Sher These are the saddest deaths in YA Novels. Get ready to cry! We’ve included deaths in novels like Thirteen Reasons Why, Charlotte’s Web, Allegiant, Little Women, Lord of the Flies, The Hunger Games, Bridge to Terebithia, Tuck Everlasting, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and of course... all the deaths in the Harry Potter series!

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Top 10 Saddest Deaths in YA Novels

Grab a box of Kleenex before reading any of these books. Welcome to MsMojo and today we're counting down our picks for the Top 10 Saddest Deaths in YA Novels.

For this list, we’re looking at the most devastating deaths in children’s and young adult books. We’re considering something to fit in this category if it’s expressly written for young people or if it’s commonly given as assigned reading in schools. Be ready for spoilers, because we’re not holding any details back on this one.

#10: Hannah
“Thirteen Reasons Why” (2007)

The entire premise of the YA novel, “13 Reasons Why,” is based on the fact that high school student Hannah Baker has taken her own life. That fact is known from the beginning of the story, but as the mystery behind her death unfolds, the reader gains more insight into why she made the decision she did. Hannah’s death happens “off screen” in the novel, but as we learn more about her motivation to kill herself, a picture emerges of the tortured life she was leading and how difficult it was for her to get help.

#9: Charlotte
“Charlotte's Web” (1952)

For a story geared towards quite young readers, this book had a pretty darn depressing ending. E. B. White’s 1952 children’s novel, which has actually sold more copies than any other children’s paperback, follows the story of an ill-fated pig named Wilbur and his new friend, a spider named Charlotte. After saving Wilbur from a trip to the slaughterhouse, Charlotte meets her own demise at the end of the book. The fact that she doesn’t recover is shocking for such a lighthearted story and was probably an introduction to the concept of death for many children.

#8: Tris
“Allegiant” (2013)

Veronica Roth’s blockbuster YA trilogy, “Divergent,” was hugely popular in the time when dystopian novels were the hottest thing on the market. While the main characters in children’s and young adult novels often survive to see evil vanquished, sadly this is not true for our brave protagonist, Tris. The character’s self-sacrificial nature and her dedication to her cause make this death seem somewhat inevitable, but readers were shocked and saddened by the revelation nonetheless, especially after everything she had been through. It was truly a bold note to leave the series on.

#7: Rachel
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (2012)

Jesse Andrews’ debut novel, which was adapted into a film of the same name, has death right there in the title - but it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” follows two friends who are charged with keeping an old acquaintance (Rachel) company after she is diagnosed with leukemia. In an attempt to deal with the situation in whatever way they can, Greg and Earl decide to make a film called “Rachel the Film.” Days after it is first screened, Rachel dies and even though readers knew it was going to happen, it was devastating to see the reactions of those who loved her.

#6: Beth
“Little Women” (1868-69)

This piece of classic literature may not be considered a “YA novel,” mostly because at the time of its publication, no such category existed. It is, however, a book that most people read during their formative years, as well as an important coming-of-age story. “Little Women” tells the story of the four March daughters and their trials and tribulations as they navigate the difficult period between childhood and adulthood. Elizabeth “Beth” March, is the most quiet and sensitive of the family and is marked with illness from a young age. Her eventual death is made all the sadder by the fact that her life went largely unfulfilled.

#5: Piggy
“Lord of the Flies” (1954)

You very likely had to read this book in school, and love it or hate it, there are some truly emotional moments throughout the story. “Lord of the Flies” is about a group of schoolboys who become stranded on an island after their plane crashes during an evacuation from England. There are several memorable deaths in this novel, which examines the true nature of humanity, but none is more upsetting than that of Piggy. The lovably chubby, glasses wearing boy is killed when Roger intentionally drops a boulder on him. Poor, poor Piggy.

#4: Rue
“The Hunger Games” (2008)

The concept of “The Hunger Games” has death written intrinsically into it, but that didn’t make it any less devastating when this one took place. During the games in the first book of the series, Katniss takes young tribute Rue under her wing in order to protect her. Her youth and innocence remind Katniss of her own sister, Prim. When Rue is killed by Marvel, Katniss shows an uncharacteristic display of sentimentality and tenderness when she sings to her as she fades away. Mirroring this death is that of Prim in the final novel of the series, bringing home the point that war sometimes takes the least deserving among us.

#3: Augustus Waters
“The Fault in Our Stars” (2012)

In a book about teens with cancer, you know you’re going to shed some tears. Don’t read this one in public, though, unless full on sobbing in front of strangers is something you’re okay with. Author John Green subverts expectations in this novel by having ailing protagonist, Hazel, survive while her seemingly healthier soulmate, Augustus, suddenly takes a turn for the worse. We’re not sure what’s saddest, when Augustus insists on throwing a funeral for himself before his death and Hazel reads his eulogy, or when she finally gets the news that he is gone.

#2: Leslie Burke
“Bridge to Terabithia” (1977)

This middle grade classic and Newbery Award winner will make you wistful for childhood, but remind you of how keen emotions can be at a young age. The book follows newfound friends Jesse and Leslie who each struggle with their own troubles, but collaborate to create an imaginary land called Terabithia. Readers of this book were shocked when they read that while Jesse is out of town one day, Leslie decides to visit Terabithia on her own and drowns in the creek. Jesse’s disbelief mirrors your own, because it seems impossible that someone so young and spirited could really be gone.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

“Tuck Everlasting” (1975)

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (1950)

Old Yeller
“Old Yeller” (1956)

#1: All of Them
“Harry Potter” series (1997-2007)

There’s no way we could pick just one of these character deaths, because all of them were devastating in their own ways. From the shocking moment Sirius fell laughing behind the veil to seeing the bodies of Lupin and Tonks lying together in the Great Hall, the second half of the “Harry Potter” series was a minefield of emotional character losses. You may have been most affected by the sudden killing of Cedric Diggory or by the sense of loss represented by Hedwig’s death in the seventh book. Snape’s final moments, Dobby’s self sacrifice, the shocking way Dumbledore met his end, and of course the separation of Fred and George will stay with us always.

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