REVIEW: A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

My face looked exactly like the cover for the 820 pages of this book.

Imagine every single horrific thing that could happen to a person. They happen to Jude. Yes, everything. The entire time you’re itching to reach through the pages and give the poor guy a hug.  Dude has been through the wringer.

And if you’re looking for a “I get by with a little help from my friends” sort of story, you’re only going to be marginally satisfied. This book is brutal. B-R-U-T-A-L.


A LITTLE LIFE follows four friends, Willem, Malcolm, J.B., and Jude, from college (where they meet) into old age.  Each guy has their individual challenges: J.B. is a drug addict, Malcolm is questioning his sexuality, and Willem is an aspiring actor (I think that’s ’nuff said).

Then we have Jude. The mysterious, ever elusive Jude.

Throughout the first section, we learn as much about Jude as his friends know: he’s an extremely quiet person who reveals little to none of his past. His racial background is ambiguous. His sexuality is never defined.  All they know is that they feel an innate desire to protect him from the world, Willem in particular.

Starting with section two, our POV switches to Jude and we get an extremely detailed first hand account of the horrors he experienced as a child, as a grown man, and how they’ve shaped him into the person he is today.

You’re either going to love this book or you’re going to absolutely hate it. I am positive that there is no in-between here.


Ok. Real talk: this is hands down the most depressing and emotionally-wrought book I have ever read. And I live for depressing and dark books. The trigger warnings are up the WAZOO. Self-harm, emotional abuse, pedophilia, rape, suicide…Basically you are even the slightest bit iffy about any of these things, this is NOT the book for you.

Yanagihara writes beautifully, but it’s graphic. No holds barred. By the time you close this book the final time, you will feel like you know Jude on an extremely intimate level. While covering the lives of Willem, J.B., and Malcolm, as well, A LITTLE LIFE is a 800+ page character study of Jude. And it’s brilliant in its simplicity and portrait of a broken man.

SPOILERS BELOW IN THIS FINAL PARAGRAPH!

Over the course of his life, Jude attempts suicide multiple times and the book finishes with him finally succeeding. Throughout A LITTLE LIFE, Jude tries over and over to make the best of his life. He tries to get better and he just doesn’t. By the time he actually does kill himself, it feels like an inevitable conclusion. Yanagihara said in an interview,

“It’s not that I don’t think people can’t overcome great trauma, but I think for some people, there is a line. There’s an amount. And they’re not able to come back from it.” 

Whether you agree with this statement or not, the death of Jude feels like a release. And then you’ll sit with your pool of tears and mangled heart and contemplate the meaning of life.


The bottom line: If you can stomach it, I highly recommend A LITTLE LIFE. You’re going to cry and you’re going get angry and you’re going to feel emotionally spent. But the payoff is so worth it and completely deserving of being a National Book Award finalist. ✰✰✰✰✰

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