A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

littlelifeA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published by Doubleday on March 10, 2015
Genres: [Adult] Literary Fiction, Contemporary
Pages: 720
Format: Audiobook –> Hardcover
Source: Audible –> Purchased

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books a Million

5 Stars, Completed January 13, 2016

– SPOILER free  –

How do I even begin?

If you’ve read other reviews where readers said they enjoyed this book those reviewers are absolutely mad. This book intrigued, consumed, impressed, stunned, humbled, and perhaps even destroyed me, but it’s a stretch to say that I enjoyed it. A Little Life is the most depressingly bleak and disturbing book I have ever read. It’s one that leaves you at a loss for words, makes you sit there for a while thinking about what you’ve just read, and stimulates you to cry upon your awareness that this book, though fiction, has very real, nonfiction themes attached to it.

I just made a t-shirt using this graphic created by @littlelifebook. Source.

I made a shirt using this graphic by @littlelifebook. (I’ll be sharing photos of it on my Instagram soon!) Source.

Edit 7/7/17: I forgot to edit in the picture of my shirt! So here it is. Oh and the official A Little Life Instagram actually reposted my photo on their account. 🙂

Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life is an alternating present and past reflection of the lives of four friends that graduate from a prestigious New England college from their mid-twenties into their fifties. There is handsome Willem, a struggling actor hoping to make it big someday; JB, a confident and sometimes callous painter wanting entry to the distinctive art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a recognized firm; and brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a talented litigator only intimidating in court. Each yearn for their breakthrough into society and discovery of their place in life. It seems that early on, Jude is the only one that has settled into a successful, adult lifestyle. It’s also evident that he’s the centerpiece that anchors their friendship, but as the readers read and our cast ages, readers learn how Jude increasingly becomes a broken man unable to overcome the unspeakable trauma his mind and body has endured. Will love and friendship heal him or will he forever be haunted by these scars and demons of the past?

I could spend days discussing this book and it’s heartbreakingly beautiful qualities, from the quintessential flawed characters, captivating  writing, LGBTQ+ and ethnic diversity mentions, tasteful musical and art influences, to the New York City backdrop, but all of this would be meaningless to go into detail unless you’ve read this yourself. (Please message me if you have and would like to discuss it. I need a friend to vent my fictional woes!) So instead I’d like to focus on the key points that made this book so meaningful to me.

The only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are-not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving-and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad-or good-it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.

A Little Life at its heart is about friendship. It embodies so many powerful but realistically flawed levels of the interactions between people. The quote above in particular illustrates the risk and criticisms that are attached with friendships so perfectly. On my blog, I’ve mentioned before how I often felt that friendships were more temporary entities in my life, in that so many of my friends and I have drifted apart in the past. Because of the idea that people come and go within our lives, I’ve tried to distance myself from having serious friendships. This lack of trust and skepticism towards new relationships have inhibited me from meeting new people and being a possible happier version of myself. Stumbling upon Jude’s advice to young Felix about how the only way you’ll improve yourself and experience the best in life is to take risks and listen to criticisms was a punch in the stomach but something I really needed to read.

The person he loved was sick, and would always be sick, and his responsibility was not to make him better but to make him less sick.

There were also plenty of moments in which I could feel myself tearing up for the utter devastation the characters had to suffer but it wasn’t until I got to this honest revealing did I become a blubbering mess. This was yet another segment of the story that rang so true for me, and one I could understood and relate with so well. For people that have had family or friends that have gone through difficult times, depression, or illness, you would understand what I mean by when I say how it hurts so much when you’re the bystander-sometimes it feels as if your pain is not any less than the victim’s. It breaks your heart irreparably to see the person you care and love in pain, and what’s worse is your realization that their pain may be something you can never alleviate.

But what was happiness but an extravagance, an impossible state to maintain, partly because it was so difficult to articulate?

What makes me distinguish A Little Life apart from other stories I’ve read is how entirely accurate it approaches depicting real life-both the beautiful and the ugly. This story reveals brutal truths that are often omitted in literature and are seldom voiced aloud in conversation. Man’s ugliest and most vulnerable, helpless, and desperate moments were displayed. And it states how true happiness is unattainable and rarely permanent but yet we still accept life for what it is and live.

And lastly, I’d like to talk about an aspect of a book I hardly ever dwell on in my reviews: the cover. Either the cover is stunning (and everyone can judge that themselves) or it’s not. But I must say, I really love this cover and believe that the meaning and thought behind it should be praised. The primary reason why I pushed this so high on my TBR shelf (along with insistent recommendations by fellow book bloggers and readers) is because I recognized “Orgasmic Man” on the cover. Peter Hujar was an influential New York based photographer and artist of the 20th century that died of AIDS. I’ve always admired his unconventional use of monochromatic tones, and minimalistic and bare aesthetics to show human beauty. Though Yanagihara probably didn’t intend the model on the cover to depict any particular character in the story itself, I couldn’t help but think that Jude was him and he was Jude. In the photograph-despite it connoting sexual pleasure from its name-you can’t distinguish if he’s actually in ecstasy or pain. I can’t imagine another fitting image to use for A Little Life.

Despite my infinite praise, I must acknowledge and divulge that this is not a book for everyone. There are mature and difficult themes explored in this. In fact, A Little Life carries every possible trigger warning imaginable; there’s graphic violence, all types of abuse (substance, sexual, physical, emotional), death, depression, self-mutilation and self-harm, suicide, etc. Even so, I still think it’s a priority read for those that don’t mind a massive book and want to be left thoughtful, moved, and inspired at the final page turn.

This will be one that will consume your life and captivate you until the moment you put it down. Without deviation from the promised premise, it will break your heart for its sheer honesty and raw reflection on friendship, humanity, and life-entities usually too complex and difficult to convey in words but Yanagihara still manages to do it effectively and exquisitely. It will also remain a memorable read for it’s charmingly flawed characters and insightful depth. And for those reasons, this brilliantly written book is anything but little. It’ll be one that you won’t be able to let go for a long time.

Summer’s Playlist:
Sweet Talk | Human | Walking Blind | St. Jude | Wolves Without Teeth | Bitter and Sick |  All I Want
*the bold/underlined are must listens!


This book was so bleak it called for some happy self-made bookmarks.

Blog @xingsings | Instagram @readxings | Twitter @xingsings

34 thoughts on “A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

  1. Carolyn says:

    I’m sooooooo happy you loved it as much as you did, Summer 🙂
    Score 1 for Carolyn hehe 😉 (in terms of recommending Summer books I hope she’ll like)
    And I wish my review was as elegant and graceful as yours. Blogger envy to the max

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Nerdybirdy @ Daydreaming Books says:

    I’ve seen this book in the blogosphere for some time now but I didn’t really bother to find more about it until I saw your review. This book really sounds intriguing and so much more, I don’t know if it’s my cup of tea but I would definitely like to read this book one day. Loved your review Summer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      This book has become one of my absolute favorites. It’s so beautiful but heartbreaking at the same time. I highly recommend it but it’s certainly not for the weak hearted. If you do pick it up, I suggest keeping a box of tissues near. Most of the pages in my books are completely ruined and wrinkled from my tears. Thank you, Poulami!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Josephine says:

    Wow, this book sounds incredible and deep and encountering! I love reading books that make huge impacts like this one, yet I tend not to read them very often – for what reason? I don’t know! But this one is definitely going to come out as a priority read.
    Wonderful review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Thank you, Josie! This book is certainly different from anything I’ve ever read but it’ll surely become a classic. It’s an important and thought provoking read that I highly recommend. But it’s extremely heartbreaking and depressing. I’d suggest to have tissues nearby if you do pick it up!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Bhramori says:

    Wow, I’m definitely pushing this book way high on my TBR. Your review has me so intrigued! This is sure to be an impactful read and if it is anything like I’m imagining it to be, I’ll soon be thanking you for this review, Summer.
    (Oh, and I really loved the cover reference that you explored there, it’s very rarely that I come across something like that!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      I cry a little every time I recount the events in this book. Maybe because it’s literary fiction and I don’t read a lot of it but this book read as if it was nonfiction. There’s such a great connection between the readers and the characters. Oh, Jude. T.T

      Liked by 1 person

  5. aentee @ read at midnight says:

    I have a copy of this book but I’m a little nervous about starting it cos i) omg it’s immense and ii) all the reviews confirm me my face will mirror the face of that guy on the cover during the read. It does sound sensational though, so I hope to have it read before June. I’m going on holiday in March so I hope for a chance to read it then. I’m at a point in my life when it is getting harder to keep friendships – what with adulthood and people having their own commitments – I think this book will resonate strongly for me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      I hope you love it as much as everyone else, Aentee! And that you enjoy your trip! I want to recommend this to everyone but I know it’s not one most will like since it explores a lot of difficult topics. Make sure to have a box of tissues next to you as you read!


  6. Danni Mae says:

    Wow, I’ve never read a book that made me feel that way! The most twisted thing I’ve read is Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, and it totally stuck in my mind. This sounds wonderful and horrible and I’ve been looking for a meaningful book! Would you recommend it to me, seeing as I didn’t like The Vegetarian?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Hmm, that’s such a hard question. I would say it’s an unforgettable book for how much truth about life there is in it. The writing and characters are beautiful. But because of the topics it explores it will be a difficult read-not exactly Gone Girl (I haven’t read Sharp Objects) creepy or The Vegetarian nonsensical though. But it’s still disturbing in its own way. However, to answer your question, I do highly recommend it if you think you can handle an extremely depressing story. Because the themes it includes are important, relevant, and impactful. It is also massive and some people have had trouble getting into in the beginning because it is very character driven and reads almost as if it’s nonfiction-but still in a good way for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hyperion says:

    What a great review, Summer. Any book that has such a profound effect on one’s emotions is one that drives deep into the psyche and drills into our most basic fears and empathetic soul. I also agree that lifelong friends are as rare as lifelong loves but it is in those moments of love and deep friendship, we experience our greatest moments in life. I don’t advise seeking friendship and love, I only advise letting it happen. For me, it was the pain of loss that taught me the significance and value of the most fleeting moments of joy. Those fleeting moments become the memories and reflections later in life that light the way through the darkness. And now, I need to go find A Little Life and add it to my library.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Thanks so much, Daniel! You’re absolutely right. I think friendship and love are things that just happen naturally. A Little Life really does encompass this idea so perfectly but in a subtle way. That’s probably why I loved it as much I did. It’s massive, depressing, and will make readers cry, but it’s so important and I think it’ll resonate with many. I’m happy to hear you decided to add it to your TBR (To Be Read pile, a term often used by book bloggers).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hyperion says:

        My TBR library grows every time I read such gripping reviews. I’m looking forward to reading my way to it 😀 I might even skip a few to read it sooner.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Analee! This book moved me to tears the majority of the time but it’s such an important and impactful read. It explores so many deep and disturbing topics but it also manages to remain relatable. I highly recommend!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Caro says:

    Your T-Shirt (JUDE&MALCOM&…) walked through Berlin yesterday!! I was too shy and/or slow to speak to that person, but I love this book so much and recognized the print immediately!! Say… is that Shirt for sale anywhere?


    Liked by 1 person

    • Summer @ Xingsings says:

      Hi Caro! That’s really cool! Unfortunately, the shirt isn’t for sale anywhere. I had to custom make it using Custom Ink (a site that can customize plain t-shirts) and the image you see above in the blog post. Feel free to do the same if you really want a similar t-shirt, Hanya Yanagihara and Doubleday books has expressed it’s okay to do so. 🙂


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