9 YA Novels in Which the Main Character Tragically Dies from Cancer

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As you can guess from the title of this page there may be **spoilers ahead**. If you’re an avid reader, then you know how often you’ll finish a book with mascara smudged all over your face and surrounded by crumpled up tissues. The number of beloved characters who authors have shamelessly killed off in their books is honestly astronomical and no matter how many times you read the novel over again, their passing is still just as painful as the first time you read it.

While certain fictional characters die from supernatural or magical causes (no matter how long it has been, we will NEVER get over Fred Weasley’s death), a trend emerging in YA fiction is murdering our faves by a killer many of us know too well IRL: Cancer. Keep reading to see nine young-adult fiction books where the main character loses their battle to the merciless disease.


The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

No matter if you read the book before or after seeing the Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort film, no one with a heart could have possibly finished it without ugly crying when Augustus died. His relationship with the also-sick Hazel was pretty doomed from the start, but that didn't make the finale any less heartbreaking.

Photo: Dutton Boooks

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Despite the fact that someone is literally dying in this book, it's actually a hilarious read. Greg is an unreliable narrator but ultimately has a good heart. Like TFiOS, the novel's success also meant the story went to the big screen starring Thomas Mann and Olivia Cooke, whose character is the one who passes away.

Photo: Abrams Books

The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder

Even though the protagonist is dying of cancer, you might think that because of the title of the book, there would be a happier ending than the other sick-lit novels on this list.

Unfortunately, the "miracle" that the main character, Cam, experiences is not remission or recovery. While fans of the book are split on if they love or hate the character, no one can deny that she was dealt a bad hand in life and spending seven years with frequent hospital visits and ineffective cancer treatments can make someone a little bitter about life.

Photo: Penguin Young Readers Group

Bright Side by Kim Holden

Simply being on this list is a HUGE spoiler, because Kim's main character, Kate, keeps her illness a secret (even from readers) until the end of the book. The girl may be slightly older than some of the other cancer-stricken teens in literature (she's a freshman in college) but that doesn't make her terminal prognosis any easier to read.

Photo: Do Epic LLC

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

Jenny's book is centered around a teen named Tessa who has acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Her four years undergoing chemotherapy have been ineffective and at 16-years-old, she knows that death is near. The girl is trying to check things off her bucket list and while a lot of those activities are things any teenager would be curious about, Jenny's description of the activities caused quite the controversy after the book was published.

Advertised as a young-adult novel, some readers (or more accurately, their parents, probz) felt that the subject matter was too mature for that genre — as there is vivid description of drug use and sex scenes.

Photo: Penguin Books AU

Deadline by Chris Crutcher

Kind of like TFiOS meets Friday Night Lights, this is a cancer-read with a twist — football. Ben Wolf, our cancer-afflicted narrator and the reader share an intimate secret — he only has one year to live. While he's blackmailed and threatened his doctor and psychiatrist not to tell anyone about the diagnosis, he's determined to make the football team (even though he's only 123 pounds) and achieve all his goals (including snagging a date with the woman of his his dreams) before secretly dying.

Photo: HarperCollins

Never Eighteen by Megan Bostic

Yet again we see a young man who is probably going to die from cancer, even with treatment, so at 17 years old he decides to live the rest of his short life outside of the hospital and finish off his bucket list. This time, his name is Austin and completing his last wishes means taking a road trip to Washington and stopping at various spots on the way to say all of his goodbyes.

Photo: Houghton Mifflin

The Girl Next Door by Selene Castrovilla

Sam and Jesse are "just friends" — that is, of course, until the latter is diagnosed with terminal lymphoma and the childhood BFFs realize that they are *actually* in love. Ugh, why do all cancer books have to be love stories? This one will break your heart, just like all the others on this list.

Photo: West Side Books

A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry

You probably know Lois Lowry as the writer of The Giver, but her first novel was actually A Summer to Die, which was published in 1977... looooong before books about teens dying of cancer became a literary trend.

Meg and her older sister, Molly, may fight ALL the time, but nothing makes you realize how much you appreciate your family like tragedy does. Unfortunately, Molly's cancer diagnosis is what helps these two sisters grow closer and her family will never be the same after Molly's eventual death.

This book feels like an authentic tale of losing a sister and role-model to cancer...which isn't all that surprising considering that Lois' older sister also died when the pair was quite young.

During a 2002 lecture, she recounted the loss saying, "A Summer to Die wrenched open the excruciating door of loss. My beloved sister had died young. She was the one who had shown me how words work, using her own first-grade books, when I was three; the one who took up Cherry Ames and curlers while I stuck to my classics and unkempt pigtails and we were briefly, childishly, estranged." While nothing can prepare you for experiencing the devastating passing of a loved one, it's books like A Summer to Die and the others on that list that make the reader think about the importance of living life to the fullest and never letting petty arguments keep you from telling people how much you love them.

Photo: Houghton Mifflin

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