Romance books by definition have a guaranteed happy ending but what about sad love stories without a happy ending? I’ve been burned before by a few love stories categorized as “romance” when in fact they weren’t because there was no happy ending in sight, but some people enjoy love stories even if they don’t have a happily ever after. If that’s you, then I’ve got the most popular love stories without a happy ending for you to enjoy.
SPOILER ALERT: Before scrolling to see the books on this list, know that their place on this list is a huge spoiler, already informing you that the book does not end in a happily ever after for the main characters. So as long as you’re OK with that spoiler, continue on to see which books you should add to your TBR list if you like sad love stories or listen to the podcast!
Episode 29: Popular Love Stories Without a Happy Ending
Happy reading…because life is better with a love story.
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Popular Love Stories Without Happy Endings
Romeo and Juliet are two young people fall in love despite their feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets, disapproval. From falling in love at first sight to the lovers’ final union that ends in tragedy, this play set in an extraordinary world has become the quintessential story of young love.
Romeo and Juliet is probably the most famous love story without a happy ending and you know this even without having read the play as the famed story of the star-crossed lovers is a classic.
Divorced and disillusioned about relationships, Theresa Osborne is jogging when she finds a bottle on the beach. Inside is a letter of love and longing to “Catherine,” signed simply “Garrett.” Challenged by the mystery and pulled by emotions she doesn’t fully understand, Theresa begins a search for this man that will change her life. What happens to her is unexpected, perhaps miraculous-an encounter that embraces all our hopes for finding someone special, for having a love that is timeless and everlasting.
Message in a Bottle is a book that made me want to throw my iPad at the wall after reading it because I thought I was reading a romance book but was sorely disappointed that it did NOT have a happy ending. I can still remember the severe disappointment, shock and anger I had after reading this is not what I was expecting after having read Sparks’ epic romance novel, The Notebook. Alas, I’ve since gotten over it and have read many more Spark’s novels, though always with a bit of trepidation!
There was a time when the world was sweeter….when the women in Beaufort, North Carolina, wore dresses, and the men donned hats…. Every April, when the wind smells of both the sea and lilacs, Landon Carter remembers 1958, his last year at Beaufort High. Landon had dated a girl or two, and even once sworn that he’d been in love. Certainly the last person he thought he’d fall for was Jamie, the shy, almost ethereal daughter of the town’s Baptist minister….Jamie, who was destined to show him the depths of the human heart-and the joy and pain of living.
Nicholas Spark’s books can’t be pinned down to just one category because while some are romance novels with a happy ending, several are not, including this novel that his based on his own sister. While A Walk to Remember is a beautiful love story, it does not have a happy ending for the young lovers.
It’s 1988 and Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley have only just met. But after only one day together, they cannot stop thinking about one another. Over twenty years, snapshots of that relationship are revealed on the same day—July 15th—of each year. Dex and Em face squabbles and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. And as the true meaning of this one crucial day is revealed, they must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself.
This love story that spans twenty years has been made into a movie and now a limited TV series that you can watch on Netflix, but don’t expect a happy ending for Emma and Dexter.
Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.
Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.
Jojo Moyes’ most popular book is a wonderful, heart-wrenching love story with amazing character development. It really makes you ponder Will’s position and the decision he ultimately comes to and doesn’t change despite Lou’s attempts to do so. This is a beautiful love story that does not have a happy ending so be prepared to read it with a box of tissues.
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
This young adult book is another one to read with a box of tissues at your side. Given the characters’ diagnoses and the fact that they meet at a cancer support group should clue you in that it doesn’t have a traditional happy ending. It does however have an interesting plot twist ending and a central love story that will suck you in and have you bawling your eyes out at the end.
Theodore Finch is fascinated by life’s ultimate ending. Every day he thinks of ways he might take his own life, but every day he also searches for—and manages to find—something to keep him here, and alive, and awake. Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her small Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent passing.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school—six stories above the ground— it’s unclear who saves whom. Soon it’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
All the Bright Places is another young adult book with a sweet love story that doesn’t have a happy ending but does deal with some heavy, important mental health topics. Readers should be aware of the book’s trigger warnings before reading it.
The Thorn Birds is a chronicle of three generations of Clearys—an indomitable clan of ranchers carving lives from a beautiful, hard land while contending with the bitterness, frailty, and secrets that penetrate their family.
It is a poignant love story, a powerful epic of struggle and sacrifice, a celebration of individuality and spirit. Most of all, it is the story of the Clearys’ only daughter, Meggie, and the haunted priest, Father Ralph de Bricassart—and the intense joining of two hearts and souls over a lifetime, a relationship that dangerously oversteps sacred boundaries of ethics and dogma.
While The Thorn Birds is a classic that weaves together several storylines, the forbidden affair between Meggie and Ralph is the storyline that makes it so popular and one of the most talked about love stories that does not have a happy ending.
For those who’ve ever experienced the one true love of your life, a love that for some reason could never be, such is the story of Robert Kincaid, the photographer and free spirit searching for the covered bridges of Madison County, and Francesca Johnson, the farm wife waiting for the fulfillment of a girlhood dream.
Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood brought this classic romantic tale to life in the movie adaptation of this love story that does not have a happy ending despite the love shared between the two main characters.
On a hot summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses a moment’s flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant and Cecilia’s childhood friend. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives—together with her precocious literary gifts—brings about a crime that will change all their lives.
I can still feel the devastation of this book, especially having watched the movie. It is a tragic, sad love story but one that is worth the heartache.
Related Book Lists:
- Unputdownable Books You’ll Read in One Sitting
- Ultimate Guide to the Romance Genre & Romance Book Tropes
- Romance Books for Newbie Readers to the Genre