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View Full Version : What was the first novel you ever read that left you emotionally exhausted?


Skald the Rhymer
04-28-2011, 10:01 AM
And I mean that in a good way. I'm looking for written, book-length fiction which so drew you into the point of view of the protagonist(s) that once you could hardly make yourself stop reading--and once you finished, you felt drained, weak, and oddly happy.

I added the first qualifier just to make you think a little. But if you can't recall the very first time that happened, it's okay.

Having made that concession, I'll start with my own first. It was actually a pair of Madeleine L'Engle novels: The Arm of the Starfish (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_arm_of_the_starfish) and A Ring of Endless Light (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Ring_of_Endless_Light). I'm counting them together because I found them both in the summer of '85 and I don't recall which I read first. I do know that I checked them out from the library around the same time; I'd read L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time a few years before and wanted more of her. In fact, neither of the first two books is very like Time; they're more realistic. But the stories of Adam Eddington (the protagonist of the former and a supporting character in the latter) and Vicky Austin (narrator of the latter) completely engrossed me: partly, I think now, because my grandfather had just died. Ring is about Vicky's last summer with her grandfather before his death, and while it's not necessary to have read Starfish to understand what's going on in the other book, the experience is somewhat richer if you have.

Anyway, that's just me. Anybody else?

Claire Beauchamp
04-28-2011, 10:07 AM
Lord of the Flies. Eighth grade book for English class. Got it in 2nd period, started reading between classes, didn't stop reading until I finished it lat that night. Although I can't say I'd use "happy" to describe my feelings. Amazed, rocked, stunned, a little sick to my stomach.

P.S. LOVE all the L'Engle books.

Skald the Rhymer
04-28-2011, 10:19 AM
Lord of the Flies. Eighth grade book for English class. Got it in 2nd period, started reading between classes, didn't stop reading until I finished it lat that night. Although I can't say I'd use "happy" to describe my feelings. Amazed, rocked, stunned, a little sick to my stomach.

P.S. LOVE all the L'Engle books.

I don't mean happy with the way the story turned out; I mean happy (or perhaps grateful or awed) to have read the story. Both of my nominees are seriously depressing: particularly Ring, if you think about it in terms of A Wrinkle in Time, and especially in terms of Lewis's The Magician's Nephew. If I'd read Meet the Austins first I'd have been less surprised, I suppose.

And as I think on it, I must have read Ring before Starfish.

Mr. Excellent
04-28-2011, 10:19 AM
Ender's Game, in elementary school. Say what you will of OSC's politics (and I could say plenty in the Pit), the man can write. It was impossible not to sympathize with Ender's suffering - both the bullying and his bone-deep horror at the genuinely horrible things that he'd done. The ending of the novel, with its suggestion that he might genuinely find some peace, moved me pretty deeply.

I also quite liked Speaker for the Dead, though it was a little bit over my head when I came across it the first time. I did find Ender's "breakup" with Jane quite distressing, though. Poor Jane. (I won't say "poor Ender", though - dude should have known better than to shut off his earpiece. Jane would disagree with me - but she's nicer than I am.)

Chefguy
04-28-2011, 10:22 AM
Possibly Mila 18, by Leon Uris.

WhyNot
04-28-2011, 10:24 AM
I'm also going to cheat and use a trilogy, because it's one story spread over three books, and I read all three in a row because I just couldn't stop. The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey, aka Magic's Promise, Magic's Pawn and Magic's Price.

I know a lot of people are harsh on the Valdemar books because of the magical white horsey goofiness, but I love them. And, magical white horsies aside, there's some pretty dark stuff in there, and Vanyel (the hero of this trilogy) isn't a Mary Sue, he's actually got real faults. Hell, he starts out an insufferable, spoiled entitled brat, and he never fully shakes his habit of emotionally locking out everyone who loves him.

I think this was the first series I read where the hero really couldn't save the day or himself when faced with someone more powerful than he was, and I was fairly rocked by that. There's an epilogue which kept me from slitting my wrists, but yeah, "emotionally exhausted" is a good description.

It was also the first book I ever read with a gay hero, and I found that pretty awesome as a preteen.

Malthus
04-28-2011, 10:26 AM
I was still in grade school when I came across Elie Wiesel 's Night, which was only a hundred pages long - I read it in one sitting, and I found it utterly emotionally devistating.

From the wiki article:

God is not lost to Eliezer entirely. During the hanging of a child, which the camp is forced to watch, he hears someone ask: Where is God? Where is he? Not heavy enough for the weight of his body to break his neck, the boy dies slowly and in agony. Wiesel files past him, sees his tongue still pink and his eyes clear, and weeps.

"Behind me, I heard the same man asking: Where is God now?
And I heard a voice within me answer him: ... Here He is—He is hanging here on this gallows."

Edit: I missed the notion that this experience was supposed to make you happy ...

Skald the Rhymer
04-28-2011, 10:32 AM
I'm also going to cheat and use a trilogy, because it's one story spread over three books, and I read all three in a row because I just couldn't stop. The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey, aka Magic's Promise, Magic's Pawn and Magic's Price.


:: shrugs ::

It hardly matters anyway, but I don't call that instance cheating. Those three by Lackey are like Lord of the Rings; the division between books is arbitrary and more about keeping the published volumes from being unwieldy than anything else.

Thudlow Boink
04-28-2011, 10:40 AM
The earliest one I can remember is The Bronze Bow (http://www.amazon.com/Bronze-Bow-Elizabeth-George-Speare/dp/0395137195/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1304004879&sr=1-1) by Elizabeth George Speare, though I don't remember much about it now except that I had a reaction similar to what the OP describes—I read it in childhood, and there's been a lot of books under the bridge since then. Hmm, maybe I ought to re-read it one of these days.

WhyNot
04-28-2011, 10:43 AM
:: shrugs ::

It hardly matters anyway, but I don't call that instance cheating. Those three by Lackey are like Lord of the Rings; the division between books is arbitrary and more about keeping the published volumes from being unwieldy than anything else.

Exactly! :)

Qadgop the Mercotan
04-28-2011, 11:13 AM
Hop on Pop.

All that yelling by Pop about how it's wrong to hop on him had an impact, very emotional yet overall positive.

lieu
04-28-2011, 11:21 AM
Probably The Thorn Birds. All that angst and the fire and on again - off again romancin' and lust and death and... whew.

AuntiePam
04-28-2011, 11:27 AM
Possibly Mila 18, by Leon Uris.

Oh dear yes. I was a teenager, and until then, I'd had no experience (reading or otherwise) anywhere close to the pain and despair and courage of that book.

Much later, Harriett Arnow's The Dollmaker had almost the same effect. It's my favorite book of all time but man, it's not a happy read.

Peremensoe
04-28-2011, 11:36 AM
Maybe The Book of the Dun Cow, which I started reading (as a fairly young kid) thinking it was a cute animal story. It was more epic and tragic and deep than I could have imagined.

gallows fodder
04-28-2011, 12:11 PM
Michael Ende's The Neverending Story. I read it when I was 12, and it was the first book I ever put off reading so that I wouldn't finish it too soon. Bastian's journey from wimpy little boy to tyrannical monster to penitent, happy little boy was a doozy.

BTW, if you've never read it, it's called the Neverending Story because every so often the narration will take you off on a tangent and then cut short with, "But that is another story that will be told another time." It's a wonderful invitation for kids to exercise their imaginations and dream up the ways those tangents could be carried out to fullness.

carlotta
04-28-2011, 12:35 PM
I don't really know the answer. I'm just posting to say I think I fall a little more in love with Skald every time I open his threads. (which is not every time he posts. I do have a life outside this message board you know). There was a 16 year old boy out there reading A Ring of Endless Light when I was? (I here assume Skald and I are the same age, I think I noticed that once.)

Chefguy
04-28-2011, 12:49 PM
Oh dear yes. I was a teenager, and until then, I'd had no experience (reading or otherwise) anywhere close to the pain and despair and courage of that book.

Much later, Harriett Arnow's The Dollmaker had almost the same effect. It's my favorite book of all time but man, it's not a happy read.

Come to think of it, I can go back much further than that. In about 1956, when I was a child, I read one of my sister's books. She was into animal stories, and this one was called Lad, A Dog, written in 1919 by Albert Terhune, possibly the best writer of dog stories in history. In the end the dog dies, of course. I remember sitting there weeping copious nine-year old tears, and my mother trying to comfort me. It's a powerful memory of my mother, as she was not prone to motherly gestures.

Excuse me, I seem to have some dust in my eye.

Zsofia
04-28-2011, 01:10 PM
I'm also going to cheat and use a trilogy, because it's one story spread over three books, and I read all three in a row because I just couldn't stop. The Last Herald-Mage Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey, aka Magic's Promise, Magic's Pawn and Magic's Price.

I know a lot of people are harsh on the Valdemar books because of the magical white horsey goofiness, but I love them. And, magical white horsies aside, there's some pretty dark stuff in there, and Vanyel (the hero of this trilogy) isn't a Mary Sue, he's actually got real faults. Hell, he starts out an insufferable, spoiled entitled brat, and he never fully shakes his habit of emotionally locking out everyone who loves him.

I think this was the first series I read where the hero really couldn't save the day or himself when faced with someone more powerful than he was, and I was fairly rocked by that. There's an epilogue which kept me from slitting my wrists, but yeah, "emotionally exhausted" is a good description.

It was also the first book I ever read with a gay hero, and I found that pretty awesome as a preteen.
I remember I had an actual pain in my chest at Vanyel's despair after Tylendel dies.

Ian D. Bergkamp
04-28-2011, 01:12 PM
Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco. Long, intricate, and--at times--a chore to get through, but the overall story was gripping and it ended with a furious pace. I read it in my late teens and absolutely had the emotions in the OP when I finished it.

Another one was To Kill a Mockingbird. I was older when I first read it and generally knew the plot, but reading it was a revelation.

Kolga
04-28-2011, 01:36 PM
I remember I had an actual pain in my chest at Vanyel's despair after Tylendel dies.

I cried. Those books are tough to get through.

Angel of the Lord
04-28-2011, 01:45 PM
I'm easy. I had a strong emotional response to the Animorphs series, fer crying out loud. Primarily, though, I'd always viewed reading as being a form of light entertainment. I did it constantly, and with almost everything, though I was always a bit detached about it. I really enjoyed Louise Lawrence's books, but. . .they were sci-fi, so I was still detached. Then I read Elie Wiesel's Dawn during the summer between 9th and 10th grade. That got me, and it exhausted me, which, given its short length, is nothing short of amazing.

Zeldar
04-28-2011, 01:49 PM
Whether it was the very first, the one I can think of that drained me was The Exorcist which scared the shit out of me.

And though not a novel, I had even more of an emotional draining from Helter Skelter.

TriPolar
04-28-2011, 02:08 PM
The Cat in the Hat

I was so anxious that those kids were going to get a whipping when their mom got home that my hands were shaking. The feeling of relief when the Cat cleaned up on the way out just sapped all the rest of my emotional energy.

koeeoaddi
04-28-2011, 02:09 PM
The first one? Charlotte's Web!

SlickRoenick
04-28-2011, 02:35 PM
A Child Called It.

I was in tears. On an airplane.

Ronald C. Semone
04-28-2011, 02:42 PM
The Grapes Of Wrath. I read it when I was sixteen and when I finished it I wanted to run out and join the Communist Party. (I didn't.)

Truman Burbank
04-28-2011, 02:54 PM
Possibly The Robe (even though it didn't turn me into a Christian). I also remember falling in love with Austin family when I was mid-teen.
The most recent example is Walter Mosley's last Easy Rawlins book. Mosley's going to be in town soon for the Festival of Books.
I'm thinking of going, just to see if I can get close enough to puch him in the nose.

Sampiro
04-28-2011, 03:03 PM
Probably I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings which I read when I was in 9th grade (ca. 1980-81). I went to a small town publich high school but surprisingly there was no outcry when our English teacher put it on the list of books for a report (it's been challenged a lot in its history). Coming from YA books in English class it was really odd to read something that contained not just sex but child rape. Anyway, even though I was a white boy and the heroine was a black girl I "knew" a lot of the characters and the terrain (different region but similar landscape) and I remember really getting emotionally invested in it.

Miller
04-28-2011, 03:13 PM
The World According to Garp was the first book I ever read as an adult that made me weep openly. Nowadays, I'm a big sappy mess on a regular basis, but back when I was a jaded, cynical twenty-four year old ( :rolleyes: ) that was a huge and weird deal for me.

Feyrat
04-28-2011, 03:32 PM
I can't remember which I read first, Stranger in a Strange Land, or The Handmaid's Tale, but both of them left me feeling completely wrung-out and as if my brain had been inhabiting someone else's body for a time.

Lynn Bodoni
04-28-2011, 03:48 PM
Probably the first novel that left me drained was one of John Steinbeck's, back when I was in high school. For some reason, English teachers thought that John Steinbeck was an appropriate author to require moody adolescents to read. They didn't leave me feeling happy, though.

The first novel that I can specifically remember is, I believe, Dogsbody by Diana Wynne Jones, although again I didn't feel happy about the ending, just a bit hopeful.

MsWhatsit
04-28-2011, 03:54 PM
The World According to Garp was the first book I ever read as an adult that made me weep openly. Nowadays, I'm a big sappy mess on a regular basis, but back when I was a jaded, cynical twenty-four year old ( :rolleyes: ) that was a huge and weird deal for me.

Me too.

I remember when I got to the part about Walt dying I literally had to put the book down and walk away from it for a while. And by "a while" I mean days. I remember being so bewildered that I was having to process emotions like that because of something I'd read in a freaking made-up story.

The power of prose, I guess.

The Devil's Grandmother
04-28-2011, 04:30 PM
The first one? Charlotte's Web!

Possibly this, but my first thought was Where the Red Fern Grows, which I read all in one Saturday when I was about 7.

Scarlett67
04-28-2011, 04:37 PM
1984. It was required reading for a philosophy class in my freshman year of college -- which was 1984 (well, OK, the class was in January 1985, but why split hairs?)

The class was during the 3-week interim session after Christmas break, when hardly anyone is on campus. I read that book over the course of a day or two in a mostly empty dorm. Blew my little mind.

Between that and Plato's Republic, the other required reading for the class, I barely had any neurons left come February. So much for my brain to chew on . . .

Poysyn
04-28-2011, 05:09 PM
A Dog Called Kitty

I can't remember how old I was, but it was the first story I had ever read that did not end "happily ever after".

Jane Doe
04-28-2011, 06:14 PM
The Yearling Cried for hours after finishing this book at age 10.

Dahnlor
04-28-2011, 06:17 PM
Ender's Game
That's what I came here to say. I was in college at the time, and this book was required reading for a Science Fiction elective class I was taking my freshman year. Even though I didn't need to read the book for a few weeks, I decided to open it up and read the beginning, and I ended up becoming so engrossed in the story I couldn't put it down until I finished it the next day.

I might add that I'm not much of a reader, and if I do read a book, it's usually for a couple pages at a time before my mind wanders. Ender's Game was actually the first time I read an entire novel on my own without being required to do so (at least not at that particular time).

Lasciel
04-28-2011, 06:22 PM
One of the first really positive emotional reads I remember was Watership Down - must have been around 7 or 8? I remember getting totally wrapped up in those bunnies, and the bit at the end was just perfect.

Mahaloth
04-28-2011, 07:26 PM
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, actually:

I guess I should spoiler box a Harry Potter spoiler:

And Harry saw very clearly as he sat there under the hot sun how people who cared about him had stood in front of him one by one, his mother, his father, his godfather, and finally Dumbledore, all determined to protect him; but now that was over. He could not let anybody else stand between him and Voldemort; he must abandon forever the illusion he ought to have lost at the age of one, that the shelter of a parent’s arms meant that nothing could hurt him. There was no waking from this nightmare, no comforting whisper in the dark that he was safe really, that it was all in his imagination; the last and greatest of his protectors had died, and he was more alone than he had ever been.

Really got to me.

salinqmind
04-28-2011, 08:33 PM
Any book about animals affects me, really, but back when I was a horse-loving young girl, I read "Black Beauty" and cried and cried and cried. I can't bear reading anything involving cruelty to animals. I can't bear it...."The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter" by Sharyn McCrumb had a scene in it that, when I was a new mother, so devastated me I cried hysterically non-stop for 10 minutes....On the 'up' side, "Gone With The Wind" was like finishing up a huge meal at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and over the years I've gone back many times for a little bit of this, a bit more of that...

Roderick Femm
04-28-2011, 11:12 PM
My aunt gave me a beautiful illustrated edition of Tale of Two Cities (which I still have) when I was a little too young for it, maybe 12 or so. I struggled to understand the motivations of the characters, especially Madame DeFarge (I couldn't really figure out why she hated Darnay so much, and the explanation came too late to be very meaningful to me) and Sydney Carton. This was a new kind of character for me, noble in spirit but a failure in life, unambitious and over-qualified, and deeply but hopelessly in love. The ending left me in a very strange state, such things had never occurred to me as possible or believable before.

I just pulled it off the shelf; it's the Illustrated Junior Library Edition. It's one of my favorite things. I think this was perhaps the first adult-level book I ever read.


Roddy

zoog
04-28-2011, 11:21 PM
I was probably about 12 years old when I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and I probably didn't sleep well for two weeks after that. I don't think either of my parents had a clue about the contents of that book. Looking back on it, that was probably a pretty big turning point in the way I see life.

Renifer
04-28-2011, 11:27 PM
Flight #116 Is Down by Caroline B. Cooney. It's about a plane crash. I read it in eighth grade and I had never really thought much about plane crashes before and how unlikely I would be to survive one.

More recently, Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. That book really pulled me in. I could almost believe that the apocalyptic events in the book were really happening and it made me nervous if I looked up in the night sky and the moon looked too close to us.

Arrendajo
04-28-2011, 11:52 PM
Possibly this, but my first thought was Where the Red Fern Grows, which I read all in one Saturday when I was about 7.

Wilson Rawls lived in my home town, and I remember one Christmas getting a signed copy of Where the Red Fern Grows and a dalmation puppy; my folks bought both from Wilson Rawls himself.
The first book I read that made a lasting emotional impact on me was Cat's Cradle. Cataclysmic disaster is not only thinkable, but possible.
But the first book that left me emotionally exhausted was Deliverance.

Moe
04-29-2011, 04:05 AM
Both 1984 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest were probably my earliest ones, as far as I can remember, but the one that most stands out is Dosteyevsky's Crime and Punishment. It just kept draining and draining me. So much so that afterwards I went on to read The Brothers Karamazov.

Rala
04-29-2011, 04:17 AM
Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner. I read it when I was ... um ... nine, I guess? I fell in love with the Woolcot family, and the part at the end where Judy died completely rocked me. I stayed up late to finish it, and I remember sitting there in the dark, shaking like a leaf. I'd loved reading for as long as I could remember, but that was the first book that really got to me emotionally. It was my favourite for years because of that, and still holds a special place in my heart.

DivineComedienne
04-29-2011, 09:28 AM
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. I enjoy movies from the 30's and 40's and I will often follow up the movie by reading the book on which the movie was based. I saw the movie with Peggy Ann Garner, which was good; but I was mesmerized by the book. Reading about what the kids went through growing up in poverty just about broke my heart.

I'm not sure if I can explain this right, but, occasionally I will read a book that I enjoy so much, it makes me sad to finish it because I can never read it again for the first time, and I'm sorry it's done when I get to the end. ATGIB was one of them.

Spice Weasel
04-29-2011, 10:01 AM
Uncle Tom's Cabin.

I read it a loooong time ago, as in possibly junior high, but I remember being incredibly moved by the courage of the characters in the books, and devastated when one of them was killed. I was so upset I put the book down and didn't pick it up for weeks.

Rocketeer
04-29-2011, 10:40 AM
Uncle Tom's Cabin.

I read it a loooong time ago, as in possibly junior high, but I remember being incredibly moved by the courage of the characters in the books, and devastated when one of them was killed. I was so upset I put the book down and didn't pick it up for weeks.

UTC is a classic. I started reading it with a slightly smug, superior attitude, and ended up getting sucked in completely. You can see why it was such a hit back in the day.

suranyi
04-29-2011, 11:00 AM
I don't know which I read earlier, but I was really moved by both "Trinity" by Leon Uris and "War and Remembrance" by Herman Wouk.

Skald the Rhymer
04-29-2011, 01:31 PM
The Yearling Cried for hours after finishing this book at age 10.

Even I cried at The Yearling at that age, and I hate everything. if you don't cry at that book at that age, something is wrong with you.

MacCat
04-30-2011, 11:32 PM
Uncle Tom's CabinThat's the one...

maggenpye
05-01-2011, 12:20 AM
Mr God, this is Anna.

I was eleven, an agnostic/atheist (still am) and I was swept up in that book from the sausages to the iron railings.

Felt like there was almost an epiphany per chapter (numbers! light! Electrical currents!) and I wept buckets at the end.

I still believe that the answer is in my middle.

Sevastopol
05-01-2011, 03:57 AM
I am the Cheese (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_the_Cheese) by Robert Cormier.

It just resonated. Boy who cycles a lot with a sense the world is not right. Oh my (but do I ever have the non plus ultra of bicycles now).

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