The Fiction Fox
Ultimate Guide to Grief Fiction
Updated: Feb 4
1. Migrations – Charlotte McConaghy Genre: literary Fiction Representation: loss of home/family, trauma Triggerwarnings: sexual assault, suicide, physical violence. One-line synopsis: A young woman carrying the weight of her past on her shoulders leaves behind everything but her research gear, arriving in Greenland with a singular purpose: to follow the last Arctic terns in the world on what might be their final migration across the ocean to Antarctica.
2. Once There Were Wolves – Charlotte McConaghy Genre: literary fiction Representation: loss of home/family, trauma Trigger warning: domestic abuse, animal death, sexual violence, self-harm. One-line synopsis: Inti Flynn arrives in Scotland with her twin sister, Aggie, to lead a team of biologists tasked with reintroducing fourteen gray wolves into the remote Highlands. She hopes to heal not only the dying landscape, but Aggie, too, unmade by the terrible secrets that drove the sisters out of Alaska.
3. Where the Forest Meets the Stars – Glendy Vanderah Genre: literary fiction Representation: loss of parent, depression, cancer One-line synopsis: a mysterious child who claims to be from outer space, teaches two strangers, each haunted by their own grief, how to love and trust again.
4. Grief is the Thing With Feathers – Max Porter Genre: poetry Representation: loss of partner/mother from perspective of 2 young sons and their father. One-line synopsis: a family is taunted by the spirit of a meanspirited crow following the death of their mother.
5. The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan Genre: fantasy/magical realism Representation: various losses (friends, family, loved one, way of life) One-line synopsis: set in a waterlogged world flooded by the ocean, we follow two protagonists; Callanish who makes a living as a Gracekeeper, administering shoreside burials to the local islanders, and North; a circus performer with floating troupe of acrobats, clowns and dancers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance. A beautiful friendship blossoms when their stories intersect.
6. The Gloaming – Kirsty Logan Genre: fantasy/magical realism Representation: loss of family member/loved one to lingering illness, (facial) disfigurement, limb-differences. One-line synopsis: Set on an island where magic is more than the subject of folklore, we follow an unorthodox family of five in the wake of a tragedy that changed their lives forever.
7. Yerba Buena – Nina LaCour Genre: contemporary, romance Representation: loss of family, trauma One-line synopsis: two women, each damaged by their past in their own ways, find each other in this beautiful tale of love, healing and learning to trust again after an immense loss.
8. Pet Sematary – Stephen King Genre: horror Representation: loss of child Trigger warnings: gore, animal death, on-page death of child One-line synopsis: a sinister pet-cemetery with the power to resurrect whatever is buried there upsets the lives of a family having recently moved into the house nextdoor.
9. Crossroads - Laurel Hightower
Representation: loss of child
Trigger warnings: self-harm, suicide
One-line synopsis: a harrowing, disturbing and genuinely unsettling horror novella about a womans grief and the single minded obsession that results from the unbearable loss of her son.
10. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng Genre: literary fiction Representation: loss of child Trigger warnings: suicide One-line synopsis: the unexpected suicide of their daughter upsets the meticulously crafted facade of perfection held up by an Chinese-American family, tumbling the remaining family members into chaos.
11. Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel Genre: literary fiction, dystopian Representation: loss of family/friends/way-of-life due to pandemic. One-line synopsis: Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity in the wake of a global societal collapse.
12. The Glass Hotel – Emily St. John Mandel Genre: literary fiction Representation: loss of family/friends/way-of-life One-line synopsis: an exhilarating novel set at the glittering intersection of two seemingly disparate events–a massive Ponzi scheme collapse and the mysterious disappearance of a woman from a ship at sea.
13. Sea of Tranquillity – Emily St. John Mandel Genre: science fiction Representation: various types of loss One-line synopsis: A novel of art, time, love, and plague, fracturing through time from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon three hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.
14. How High We Go In the Dark – Sequioa Nagamatsu Genre: science fiction Representation: loss of family/ friends/ child/loved-ones/way-of-life due to pandemic. One-line synopsis: blending the line between novel and short-story-collection, we follow a cast of intricately linked characters over hundreds of years as humanity struggles to rebuild itself in the aftermath of a climate plague.
15. Our Wives Under the Sea – Julia Armfield Genre: literary horror Representation: loss of spouse, changes within relationship after a traumatic event One-line synopsis: Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep-sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah is not the same.
16. Creatures of Passage – Morowa Yejide Genre: magical realism Representation: loss of (twin)sibling Triggerwarning: racism, murder, alcoholism/substance abuse. One-line synopsis: A young woman spends her days ferrying ill-fated passengers in her haunted taxi-car (a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere with a ghost in the trunk) as she manages her grief over the death of her twin brother, Osiris who was murdered and dumped in the Anacostia River.
17. The Museum of You – Carys Bray Genre: contemporary fiction Representation: loss of parent One-line synopsis: a 12-year old girl with a fascination for museums and a deep desire to know her mother, who passed away when she was very young. Her father took his wife’s death hard, and has locked his grief away (literally) by keeping all his wife’s possessions in a dedicated room and sealing the door. Unable to talk to her dad about her mother, Clover takes to the locked room to find her own answers about her mom’s life.
18. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous - Ocean Vuong Genre: literary fiction Representation: loss of parent One-line synopsis: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when our protagonist is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known before her passing.
19. The Desert Sky Between Us – Anne Valente Genre: literary fiction Representation: loss of parent One-line synopsis: estranged sisters Billie and Rhiannon reconnect on a road trip together, to complete the scavenger hunt their mother designed for them before her death.
20. By Light We Knew Our Names – Anne Valente Genre: short stories, magical realism Representation: various sorts of loss One-line synopsis: From ghosts to pink dolphins to a fight club of young women who practice beneath the Alaskan aurora borealis, By Light We Knew Our Names examines the beauty in heartbreak and the thin border between magic and grief.
21. A Million Things – Emily Spurr Genre: literary fiction Representation: loss of parent. Trigger warning: obsessive hoarding disorder, addiction, suicide One-line synopsis: A bursting, heartfelt, debut following fifty-five days in the life of ten-year-old Rae, who must look after herself and her dog when her mother disappears.
22. The Unseen World – Liz Moore Genre: literary fiction Representation: loss of parent, dementia One-line synopsis: years after his passing, a young woman uncovers answers and grieves about a side of the life of her eccentric late father, who she never fully got to know.
23. Night Sleep Death The Stars – Joyce Carol Oates Genre: literary fiction Representation: loss of parent/spouse Triggerwarning: police violence One-line synopsis: a gripping examination of contemporary America through the prism of a family tragedy: when a powerful parent dies, each of his adult children reacts in startling and unexpected ways, and his grieving widow in the most surprising way of all.
24. The House At the Edge of the World – Julia Rochester Genre: literary fiction Representation: loss of parent One-line synopsis: twin siblings research their haunted family history, characterised by shipwrecks, mystery and misfortune, as tracked on an old seamap, following the tragic accidental death of their father.
25. Come With Me – Ronald Malfi Genre: horror Representation: loss of spouse to murder One-line synopsis: Piloted by grief and an increasing sense of curiosity, a husband embarks on a journey to discover track down the mysteries of his wife’s curious activities in the weeks prior to her death.
Genre: magical realism Representation: various sorts of loss, including grief over a life not lived/giving up on dreams.
One-line synopsis: An Yu’s enchanting and contemplative novel of music and mushrooms follows a former concert pianist searching for the truth about a vanished musician, and working through a spectrum of grief in all its multifacetted ways along the way.
27. Braised Pork – An Yu Genre: magical realism Representation: loss of husband One-line synopsis: a young woman finds her husband dead in their small Beijing apartment bathroom, having mysteriously drowned in their bath. Near his body, the only clue she finds is a sketch of a half-man, half-fish creature that may have had significance to her husband. What follows is an exploration of their pasts, their marriage of convenience and the mythology that surrounds them.
28. The Hollow Sea – Annie Kirby
Genre: literary fiction, magical realism
Representation: loss of child, infertility
One-line synopsis:When Scottie realises that she may never become a mother, she embarks on a journey to the North Atlantic archipelago of St Hia, chasing ghosts, folklore and answers about her own past in this beautiful meditation on motherhood in all its different forms.
Young Adult Fiction
1. We Are Okay – Nina LaCour Genre: contemporary Representation: loss of parents One-line synopsis: Snowed in in almost empty college dorm building during the winter break, Marin reconnects with a long lost friend whilst grieving the life and family she’s had to leave behind.
2. Watch Over Me – Nina LaCour Genre: magical realism Representation: loss of parents One-line synopsis: After having aged out of the foster system, 18- year old Mila accepts an opportunity to work at a teaching job at an isolated farm on the North Californian Coast. During the daytime she finds connection and friendship in her colleagues and the foster children she tutors, yet during the night the lingering sea mist is filled with ghosts.
3. Bridge of Clay – Markus Zusak Genre: contemporary Representation: loss of parent, terminal cancer One-line synopsis: a family of boys threatens to break apart after the death of their mother due to cancer.
4. Strange Creatures – Phoebe North Genre: contemporary Representation: loss of sibling (gone missing) One-line synopsis: Annie and her older brother Jamie have been inseparable for as long as she can remember. When Jamie goes missing without a trace, Annie becomes convinced he has entered the fantastical world they used to play pretend in, and believes that she's the only one who can bring him back.
5. Me Moth – Amber McBride Genre: novel in verse, magical realism Representation: loss of parents, traumatic accident One-line synopsis: a girl grieving the recent loss of her parents in a fatal car accident, and a boy battling depression find each other on a roadtrip, chasing down the ghosts that haunt them both.
6. The Last True Poets of the Sea – Julia Drake Genre: contemporary Representation: loss of sibling One-line synopsis: 16-year old Violet spends her summer researching her family history involving family-curses, shipwrecks and coastal tragedies to keep her mind of the recent loss of her brother.
7. The Astonishing Color of After – Emily X.R. Pan Genre: magical realism Representation: loss of parent Trigger warning: suicide (not on page) One-line synopsis: Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Her search for the bird brings her to her family’s roots in Taiwan, on a journey of chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents.
8. The Undead Truth of Us – Britney S. Lewis Genre: magical realism Representation: loss of parent, depression, anxiety One-line synopsis: 16-year old Zharie Young is absolutely certain her mother morphed into a zombie before her untimely death, but she can't seem to figure out why. Why her mother died, why her aunt doesn't want her around, why all her dreams seem suddenly, hopelessly out of reach. And why, ever since that day, she's been seeing zombies everywhere.
9. We Are the Ants – Shaun David Hutchinson Genre: magical realism Representation: loss of boyfriend, depression. One-line synopsis: Henry Denton has spent years being periodically abducted by aliens. Then the aliens give him an ultimatum: The world will end in 144 days, and all Henry has to do to stop it is push a big red button. Only he isn’t sure he wants to, following the tragic events in his life recently.
10. Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt Genre: historical Representation: loss of uncle One-line synopsis: following his death due to an unnamed illness in 1987, fourteen-year-old June uncovers that the uncle she idolized may have been leading a secret life for years.
11. How To Make Friends With the Dark – Kathleen Glasgow Genre: contemporary Representation: loss of parent One-line synopsis: an intimate portrayal of a 16-year olds travel through the darkest depth of grief following the loss of her mother.
12. Letters to the Lost – Bridget Kemmerer Genre: contemporary Representation: loss of parent One-line synopsis: An unlikely friendship and romance begins when a boy finds a series of haunting letters on a grave; letter written from a girl to her deceased mother.
13. Catfish Rolling - Clara Kumagai
Genre: magical realism
Representation: missing parent
One-line synopsis: Magic-realism blends with Japanese myth and legend in an original story about grief, memory, time in the wake of an earthquake that shook a nation.
Middle Grade Fiction
1. A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness Genre: magical realism Representation: loss of parent, terminal cancer One-line synopsis: A young boy finds an unexpected partner in dealing with his grief over his mothers terminal illness within a monster that appears at night outside his window.
2. Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea – Ashley Herring Blake Genre: contemporary Representation: loss of parent, loss of (twin)sibling, traumatic accident One-line synopsis: A novel about a girl navigating grief, trauma, and friendship as she explores the local legend of the mermaid that is said to haunt the ocean near their coastal town in Maine.
3. August Isle – Ali Standish Genre: contemporary Representation: loss of sibling/family member, trauma One-line synopsis: a young girl uncovers family secrets when she visits the island town of August Isle, Florida, where her mother used to spend her vacations when she was a child.
4. How To Disappear Completely – Ali Standish Genre: contemporary Representation: loss of grandparent One-line synopsis: 12-year old Emma navigates her new diagnosis of vitiligo - a condition that makes patches of her skin lose their colour-, as well as the grief over the loss of her grandmother and best friend by journaling letters to her grandma. One day, a mysterious “friend” writes back.
5. The Thing about Jellyfish – Ali Benjamin Genre: contemporary Representation: childhood loss of close friend, traumatic accident One-line synopsis: After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting. She sets out on a research-journey of her own in order to confirm her theory.
6. Sadé and her Shadow Beasts – Rachel Faturoti Genre: magical realism Representation: loss of parent One-line synopsis: Twelve-year-old Sadé has been escaping to an imaginary world ever since her mum passed away - with its candy-floss lilac sky and endless whimsical adventures. But soon she discovers that frightening shadow beasts live here too and they are seeping into the real world.
7. Hour of the Bees – Lindsay Eagar Genre: contemporary Representation: grandparent suffering dementia One-line synopsis: a young girl becomes fascinated by the magical stories told by her aging grandfather, as her family moves in with him over the summer to help out with his progressive dementia.
8. Where the Sky Lives – Margaret Dilloway Genre: contemporary Representation: loss of uncle One-line synopsis: When life doesn’t make sense, twelve-year-old amateur astronomer Tuesday Beals has always looked to the stars above Zion National Park, where she lives. Her beloved late uncle Ezra taught her astronomy, but now their special stargazing sites are all she has left of him, along with his ashes and a poem that may be a riddle.
9. King and the Dragonflies – Kacen Callender Genre: contemporary Representation: loss of sibling Trigger warning: suicide, homophobic and racist language (called out on page) One-line synopsis: Twelve-year-old King is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly, following his unexpected passing. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.
10. Imaginary – Lee Bacon Genre: magical realism Representation: loss of parent One-line synopsis: The story of a boy and his imaginary friend--told by the imaginary friend Zach should've outgrown his imaginary friend by now.
1. When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi Genre: memoir Representation: terminal cancer One-line synopsis: a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question 'What makes a life worth living?'
2. Traveling With Ghosts; A Memoir – Shannon Leone Fowler Genre: memoir Representation: loss of spouse One-line synopsis: From grief to reckoning to reflection to solace, a marine biologist shares the solo journey she took—through war-ravaged Eastern Europe, Israel, and beyond—to find peace after her fiancé suffered a fatal attack by a box jellyfish in Thailand.
3. Undying: a love story – Michel Faber Genre: poetry Representation: loss of spouse, terminal cancer One-line synopsis: a memoir in verse written by author and poet Faber following the death of his wife due to cancer.
4. A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis Genre: memoir Representation: loss of spouse One-line synopsis: the authors thought, written in longhand journals, chronicling his grief over the loss of his wife.
5. The Long Goodbye – Meghan O’Rourke Genre: memoir Representation: loss of parent, terminal cancer One-line synopsis: Following the death of her mother, O’Rourke attempts to answer the question “What does it mean to mourn today, in a culture that has largely set aside rituals that acknowledge grief?”
6. Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir – Kat Chow Genre: memoir Representation: loss of parent One-line synopsis: An intimate and haunting portrait of grief and the search for meaning from a singular new talent as told through the prism of three generations of her Chinese American family.
7. Notes on Grief – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche Genre: essays Representation: loss of parent One-line synopsis: a work of mediation, remembrance, and hope, written in the wake of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's beloved father’s death in the summer of 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
8. It's OK that You're Not OK - Megan Devine
Genre: self-help Representation: loss of spouse (own voice), various losses (authors experience as a therapist) One-line synopsis: blending the line between self-help and memoir: the authro shares her personal experiences, tips and research about grieving in a society that often doesn't offer the opportunity, time and space to do so.
9. The Way Through the Woods: of Mourning and Mushrooms - Long Litt Woon
Genre: memoir, science
Representation: loss of spouse
One-line synopsis: A grieving widow feeling disconnected from life discovers a most unexpected obsession--hunting for mushrooms--in a story of healing and purpose.
Looking for even more grief-recommendations?
Link to my post on my personal favourite grief-themed novels here. Link to my Goodreads Grief-and-trauma shelf here. Note, this shelf also includes books that are on my TBR, or that I don't necessarily recommend.