A Little Life Hanya Yanagihara Book Review

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life by Hanya YanagiharaA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
on March 10th 2015
Source: Publisher
Pages: 728
Buy from IndieBound


JB, Malcolm, Willem and Jude first meet at a small college in Massachusetts, where Jude begins to stand out from the group due to his mysterious background. Though their careers send them in different directions, the four friends continuously find themselves centered in New York City, where Jude works to establish himself as a powerful attorney. But over the course of several decades, the trauma from Jude’s past works its way into his present and threatens to consume the life and love he desperately hopes to keep.

I wish I had the words for a close examination of characters or a break down of the techniques Hanya Yanagihara uses throughout her new novel, but I read it in a fever dream of four days that I’m both reeling from and wishing I could relive several months later. Though I hope to pick it up with a more critical eye in the future, I can’t imagine there’s a better way to read A Little Life for the first time than fully giving in to the experience when it begins to take hold.

There are many things that make this a difficult book to review, as pieces fall into place delicately throughout the novel’s 700 pages and slowly reveal more about each of Yanagihara’s remarkably real characters. Saying too much in a review risks touching on individual elements that are part of A Little Life‘s brilliant discovery process and soiling the journey readers take with those characters.

Hanya Yanagihara weaves through countless facets of life and death that will touch readers in different ways and make the experience an incredibly personal one. While it’s certainly not an emotionally easy read, none of the novel’s turns feel planted for the sake of manipulation. Instead, Yanagihara uses the shadows of the lows to shine light on the highs, to remind us how vital love and friendship truly are. In doing this, she creates a bond between the reader and the page unlike anything I’ve ever seen and, however difficult it is to be with them, her characters work their way into our little lives, making it nearly impossible for us to let go.


If you’ve read A Little Life and would like to discuss it with spoilers, you can head over to The Socratic Salon.

  • Great review! I agree, this was very hard to get my thoughts typed up.

  • Yep – this will be a hard one to review. In my notes, I have “have no idea how I will write about this one”. Ha! I’m almost finished – 80% there – and words that come to mind to describe it are harrowing, relentless, heartwarming, and hopeful.
    I cannot believe you read this in 4 days – it’s taken me almost 2 weeks! That must have been quite a 4 day stretch for your emotions :)

  • Beautiful review without spoiling the experience for future readers. I have NO IDEA how I’m going to review this book. I go back and forth between short and blunt to long and winded. I’ll have to work on it more this weekend!

    • I’ve been coming back to this since I first read it, toying with it the same way…it’s hard to try to make other people understand what the experience is like.

  • I can’t wait to try it after all the glowing reviews I’m seeing!

  • “Yanagihara uses the shadows of the lows to shine light on the highs…” I love that. It sounds like a lot of people are loving this book. On the list it goes! Wonderful review!

  • Great review! This book totally crushed me, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. But reviewing it was so hard — like you, I didn’t want to give away too much, since the slow peeling back of layers is one of the great things about this novel. My review will be up tomorrow!

    • I haven’t stopped thinking about it either! And whenever I pick it up, I’m tempted to get sucked right in again. Can’t wait to read your review!

  • Susan W

    I’m counting the days till I can read this! Unfortunately no ARC for me. Do you think this book is a good one for a book club? Lots to discuss? Is it as disturbing as People in Trees, I think my group can handle it but maybe a warning ahead of time. Thanks, and I’m so jealous of all of you who read this one already!

    • There’s definitely a ton to discuss! I would give fair warning that it deals with physical, emotional and sexual abuse…but if you think everyone in your group can tackle it, I’d say it would be a really interesting discussion.

  • I wasn’t into The People in the Trees but this one really sounds like it would work for me! (Or maybe I just love the way you talk about books even when I might not enjoy the actual book haha)

    • I would go for it. Yanagihara definitely isn’t afraid to tackle tough subjects, like she did with People in the Trees, but this is quite different.

  • Oh, my gosh! I’m definitely intrigued! I’ve already heard from Sarah (at Sarah’s Book Shelves) that she is reeling from this one; I’m going to have to make time for this one, Shannon! Thanks for the review!

  • I just read Teresa’s review over at Shelf Love and that was the first I’d heard of this book. Now I see it’s everywhere, and I’m just sadly behind!

  • guiltlessreading

    Reading the synopsis, I knew I wanted in. I just got a copy of this and was SHOCKED at how thick it is. Now, reading your review, I’m a little relieved!

  • Finally getting a chance to sit and comment on this. There are very few books of more than 500 pages that can interest me enough to pick them up, but you have just pushed this one over the edge. I don’t know when I’ll get to it, but I will. I’d even considered doing audio, but after reading this I think I have to go tree or ebook. Some things you just have to experience visually and I think this is one. Thanks for this review.

    • It definitely didn’t feel that long to me. And I’m not sure how the audio would be, but I think print is a wise choice at first.

  • Not relevant to this review/book content at all, but am I the only one who sees a squinting Joseph Gordon-Levitt on this cover? It’s distracting!

    As far as the book goes, I may have to check it out when I’m ready to devote serious time to a chunkster. When I read the synopsis on NetGalley, it didn’t sound super appealing to me, but everyone’s speechless reactions have me second-guessing myself.

  • Lindsey Stefan

    Ok, every time I see this book I think “This sounds like a book I’ve read a million times. Why would I want to pick this up?”

    Then I see rave reviews like yours and I think I must change my tune!

    • I think the whole idea of following college friends through life is one we’ve seen a ton, but this is really more about one person and how he’s supported by those friends at different points.

  • There is not much I can say because we have discussed this so much already but wanted to let you know I stopped by and, as always, you distilled the essence. *sigh*

  • Can’t wait to get to it.

  • I’m really looking forward to this one. I liked (but didn’t love) The People In the Trees but I liked it enough to give the author another try. Plus, this one is getting such rave reviews by pretty much everyone who has read it!

  • I purposely put off reading your (and other people’s) review of this until I had finished my own. This was excellent, and my own reading experience mirrored yours quite closely (fever dream of four days –almost my *exact* time). I think yours is the first review I’ve read that didn’t start off saying that this was the story of four college friends that followed their friendship for a few decades. That’s how the book is described time and time again and I think it is a total disservice to do that. People looking for a good buddy book will be disappointed in this one, and readers who would otherwise LOVE this book will never pick it up because they think they’ve read the same story already a dozen times. (That and the bad cover, which is a pretty serious turnoff.)

    • Honestly, I was sold by the college friend through the years thing (which is one of my favorites), with the added bonus of Yanagihara. I’m so ridiculously glad it ended up this way, but I didn’t want to lead anyone else astray.

      • Ahh, so you represent the relatively small part of the Venn diagram who would love both types of books!

  • Ugh, I just so wish that I had had this reading experience. It makes me sad that this is an author whose work and writing I love, yet I hated her book SO MUCH. :(

    • I wish it turned out different, too. And I hope if she writes something else, it will be a return to form for you. I need to head over and read your review.

  • This book does sound enticing but 728 pgs is quite a journey. Maybe it’s a book I would take to prison eh? Not that I’m going there. But I’m keeping this chunkster in mind

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  • Great review! I kept seeing this book everywhere earlier this year but I wasn’t in any rush to check it out or anything. It only really caught my attention recently when it was longlisted for the Man Booker; that plus all of the great things I’ve been hearing about it has prompted me to consider picking it up at some point, we’ll see :)

  • I’m currently writing my own review for this one! I loved it too. I felt so deeply for the characters. I cared about them so much! But I did feel that a certain event in the last 100 pages or so was slightly unnecessary except for emotional manipulation. But nothing else felt like that! But that did kind of make the end of it less good for me. It made my rating go from 5/5 to 4/5 on goodreads.

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  • Finally wrote my review and I’ve linked to yours. I loved this book and really couldn’t put my thoughts and feelings about it into words, so it took me ages and in the end I don’t say much (for fear of spoilers, same as you). I really want to read People in the Trees now.

    • Thank you for sharing! And you should definitely read People in the Trees. Very, very different, but a great read.

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