Maxwell's Reviews > A Little Life

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
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it was amazing
bookshelves: owned

I can't, with a clear conscience, give this book anything less than 5 stars. It's a book that kept me reading long into the night, made me turn each page with vigor and curiosity, gave me chills and shivers over the joys and sorrows of each character, and ultimately left me feeling a bit older and tortured and yet at peace with the deeply complicated nature of humanity.

What Hanya Yanagihara does with A Little Life is nothing nearly as pretentious as that paragraph above. Somehow in 720 pages, she manages to adequately--better yet, excellently--show and make the reader experiences the lives of these young men. The novel follows four boys who meet at college: Malcolm, JB, Willem, and the central and mysterious figure, Jude. It's truly Jude's tale, but Yanagihara ends up telling each and every one of the boys' stories with ease and genuineness that makes them real.

Her prose is clean and honest and revealing of the many emotions that humans experience. It's never explicitly beautiful, not flowery or overwrought with adjectives or descriptors. But it has its own beauty that comes from its ability to convey these feelings, making you feel every pain or happiness that Malcolm and JB and Willem and Jude feel. It's some of the best prose I've read in a while (or ever read), and I wanted it to keep going on forever.

There's so much more I could say about this book. About how it hurt me to read at times--because yes, there is very graphic material (i.e. self-harm, physical, sexual and psychological abuse, drug use) that makes the reading cringeworthy in parts--about how I fell in love with so many wonderful people in this story, about how I learned empathy and sorrow and frustration and anger for and with each of them, and how if I were to write a book I would want it to have the essence of this one.

The truth is, though, I can't recommend this book to people, not without knowing them very well. Because it's a difficult journey that I can't suggest everyone take. Don't take this book lightly. But if you do choose to read it, if you choose to flip to that first page, be prepared for something inexplicable and jarring, but resilient and beautiful and ultimately worthwhile.

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Quotes Maxwell Liked

Hanya Yanagihara
“You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: 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.”
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Hanya Yanagihara
“Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?”
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Hanya Yanagihara
“He experienced the singular pleasure of watching people he loved fall in love with other people he loved.”
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Hanya Yanagihara
“Fairness is for happy people, for people who have been lucky enough to have lived a life defined more by certainties than by ambiguities.
Right and wrong, however, are for—well, not unhappy people, maybe, but scarred people; scared people.”
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life


Reading Progress

February 10, 2015 – Shelved
February 10, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
May 13, 2015 – Started Reading
May 13, 2015 – Shelved as: owned
May 13, 2015 –
page 25
3.47% "Excuse the lack of eloquence, but duuuuuuude this is good already."
May 13, 2015 –
page 85
11.81% "I get it. I get the hype."
May 13, 2015 –
page 156
21.67% "I need to give Jude a hug, like right now."
May 15, 2015 –
page 169
23.47% "Wow read a whole 13 pages today =_= it's really amazing, I am just not in a reading mood right now."
May 16, 2015 –
page 225
31.25% ""Friendship was witnessing another's slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person's most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return." :')"
May 16, 2015 –
page 285
39.58% "JB pisses me off so much. But I can't help but like him."
May 16, 2015 –
page 316
43.89% "Go, Jude, go!"
May 16, 2015 –
page 341
47.36% "Oh my god :'(((("
May 17, 2015 –
page 427
59.31% "I've never experienced a book like this before in my life."
May 18, 2015 –
page 574
79.72% "I'm exhausted"
May 19, 2015 –
page 631
87.64% "ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? NO NO NO NO NO."
May 19, 2015 –
page 705
97.92% "I'm not ready"
May 19, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 53 (53 new)


Mónica I hadn't realized this book was so long until now.. Is it beautiful?


Maxwell Yes it's stunning! But incredibly emotional and difficult to read at times.


message 3: by Jenny (new) - added it

Jenny Bunting Eloquent review!


Maxwell Shawn (ThatOneEnglishGradStudent) wrote: "If I could give this review a five-star rating, I would!"

Thanks, Shawn!


Vanessa Oh god, every review I read is making me want to read this more but yours has sealed the deal. Hurry up UK release!


Torok Istvan Vanessa i think you can order it from thebookdepository.com :)


Krystin Impatiently waiting for the day I get my hands on this book. Great review!


Mónica Maxwell wrote: "Yes it's stunning! But incredibly emotional and difficult to read at times."

Sounds like my kind of book. I'll absolutely be reading this in the summer


Vanessa Torok wrote: "Vanessa i think you can order it from thebookdepository.com :)"

Haha I know, but it's horrendously expensive so I'm biding my time until I can get a copy for slightly cheaper :)


Elyssa What did you read after finishing A Little Life. I can't seem to get it out of my thoughts and heart:/. I find myself drawing comparisons to other books I read and am unable to enjoy them.


Torok Istvan Elyssa wrote: "What did you read after finishing A Little Life. I can't seem to get it out of my thoughts and heart:/. I find myself drawing comparisons to other books I read and am unable to enjoy them."

I understand you completely . I was in the same place after A Little Life. I read a few books after but could not connect with them until i started The Goldfinch By Donna Tartt a terrific read . I really think this will get you through this mourning period . Hope it helps. Have a great day.


Elyssa Torok wrote: "I understand you completely. I was in the same place after A Little Life. I read a few books after but could not connect with them until i started The Goldfinch By Donna Tartt a terrific read . I really think this will get you through this mourning period..."


Thank you! Just picked The Goldfinch up today, excited to start on it!


Maxwell Elyssa wrote: "Torok wrote: "I understand you completely. I was in the same place after A Little Life. I read a few books after but could not connect with them until i started The Goldfinch By Donna Tartt a terri..."

Sorry for the late response! I didn't see these comments until just now. I would totally recommend The Goldfinch as well. I hope you're enjoying it!


message 14: by Karan (new)

Karan Bajaj Wow. Thank you for this review - and your warning at the end. I'm going to keep this one on standby.


thomas I friended you just so I could congratulate you on your review. You said everything I wanted to say only much more eloquently. "A Little Life" made my heart ache and my eyes water.


message 16: by Matheus (last edited Feb 24, 2016 11:30AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matheus Rios Maxwell, I think yours is the best review of A Little Life in Goodreads. You wrote down my exactly feelings about this book, and seeing the comments you made as you progressed in your reading - wow, I could actually know which scene you were talking about by just looking at your words and the page you were at. Anyway, I just finished it and I spent 10 whole minutes crying like an infant on my sofa - and I just had to know that I wasn't the only one feeling this way. Thank you for your wonderful review. I'm thinking of writting one of my own, but that will take a least a couple days, I think, because I'm speechless right now.
All the best .x


Anabel (inthebookcorner) Loved this review, Max! I just got the book and can't wait to pick it up!


Heather I can't fully remember, but I'm pretty sure you're the reason why I read this--thank you *underline, underline.*


Bianca This is a perfect review for this book! Couldn't have said it better myself.


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

As Bianca said, this was a perfect review. And I am so glad you added in the last part. I recommended it to a new(ish) friend but then I thought, I should give them at least some small kind of warning about some of the more graphic parts of the book. Having said that, I think this is a really important book for everyone to read. How many of us know or have this kind of background in varying degrees? Thanks again.


Natalie J.l. Such an excellent review. It encapsulates the full gamut of emotions passing through me, as well as others I'm sure, when reading this tome of human empathy. There are moments where I just could not go on because, just like you, I found those words too graphic, too real and too devastating to read in one sitting. Intricately detailed human complexities page upon page is the very reason why this book resonates and why it will become a classic


Mcgrrrr Maxwells review is basically spot on. Brilliant.


message 23: by Kata (new) - added it

Kata Amazing review, I especially agree with the last paragraph!


message 24: by Emma (new) - rated it 4 stars

Emma Completely agree with your review! Especially where you wrote about feeling all the pain and happiness the friends went through. My heart is still aching. And her prose is some of the best I have read for a long time as well.


Cathy Great review. I adored this book, but at times it was a difficult read (I too agree with the last paragraph of the review). There are distressing and painful events recounted, but these are intertwined with a literary portraits of a group of memorable and compassionate men - none of the main characters are female. Don't let the size of the novel deter you - I was so engrossed I read it over a few days.
Thanks Maxwell. (And thanks Hanya Yanagihara).


Lesley Amazing review. It took me longer to read than usual because I found it so harrowing but, even after nearly 800 pages, I wanted it to be longer. I'd have given this 6 stars if I could


Kelly Causey Thank you for writing the review I wanted to write. I had to put the book down occasionally, when tensions leveled off briefly, but had to pick it up soon after. Truly the most compelling book I've read in a long time, but as you say, I couldn't recommend it to everyone.


message 28: by Kay (new) - added it

Kay I am currently reading this book and I feel so attached. I'm almost finished with it and I feel so many different emotions. I'm excited because I want to finish but also sad to leave the characters. Great review


Naomi Yes. Thank you. This is what I felt exactly.


Harriet Dickerson Thank you. Well said.


Megan My reading progress on this book has the same exact comment at 87% as yours. Nooooooooo!


message 32: by Ruby (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ruby your review...just incredible...incredibility convincing! :)


message 33: by D (new) - rated it 5 stars

D I can't believe you read it in 6 days. I am so glad I read it but agree that I wouldn't recommend it to someone I didn't know very well.


message 34: by Paco (new)

Paco Mahone Your first paragraph sold me. Book is bought.


Julie Thank you Maxwell. I love this review. I've never read anything with so many emotions.


message 36: by Jodi (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jodi Goldstein Thank you for expressing my emotional roller coaster in such an eloquent way. Your review clearly expressed my feelings throughout.


Sarah Ginsberg Fantastic review. This sums up so beautifully how I feel about this remarkable book.


message 38: by Alex (new) - rated it 2 stars

Alex I am glad that there are people who loved it so much. I loved it too, until one point when everything crumbled down and made me see all the negative points i chose to ignore during the reading of the first 740 pages. the way she decided the fate of that main character and the 200 pages of mourning didnt do it for me. and dont tell me thats life. Yea, it could be, but it is still a story. There are no historical facts, no what year are we in, what is happening in the world. there is only the small manhattan universum where the drama takes place. Being so "story"-like, she could have done it differently. The book is 95% about Jude. And his fate in the end is decided in 2 sentences.

As I said, i am glad there are people who loved it that much. I wish i did too


Michael Your wonderful review does this book justice. And I know exactly what you mean when you say you need to know a person well before you recommend it. It's a difficult journey to send someone on but in the end, profoundly illuminating. A book about created family, about love, about suffering.


message 40: by Liz (new) - rated it 5 stars

Liz Moffat Couldn't have said it better, great review. I agree I would have to be careful who I recommended it to because it was quite a journey, one that will stay with me.


Joshua Mizell When I finished this book, I needed a few days to process how I felt about it. I knew for sure that I was very glad I had read it, but usually when I finish a book as compelling as this one was, I want to tell everyone I know to go read it. Your review helped me put into words why, though I loved this book, I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone.


Dorry Great review.


Kelly Excellent review. These characters felt like real friends by the time I finished this book. Sadly, The Goldfinch and many other books have not helped me get over it. I also rarely recommend this unless I’m sure the person can appreciate it.


Angie "It's a book that kept me reading long into the night, made me turn each page with vigor and curiosity, gave me chills and shivers over the joys and sorrows of each character, and ultimately left me feeling a bit older and tortured and yet at peace with the deeply complicated nature of humanity." This perfectly epitomizes the experience of reading this remarkable novel.

The characters are so flawed and deeply compelling. Their complexities reflect so much of the ups and downs of being human.


Tammy I agree, Maxwell!


Zhi Yan Jin Your last paragraph was the truest. This is a book which in all honesty and consideration, you cannot recommend without weighing the emotional and mental labour and pain you cause a friend. Because it is such a freak piece that they will not be able to put it down, and you end up with the recognition that you cause both pain and enlightenment.


Désirée I am half way through it and your review speaks to me. Especially th part about recommending it.


message 48: by Cindy (new) - added it

Cindy I’m halfway through the book and just got to the final scene with Caleb. I’m reading some reviews to see if I want to read the rest of this book. It is LONG and depressing. Please advise.


Angie Cindy wrote: "I’m halfway through the book and just got to the final scene with Caleb. I’m reading some reviews to see if I want to read the rest of this book. It is LONG and depressing. Please advise."

It is long and it is depressing, practically up to the last page.

However, as Maxwell wrote, we can't recommend you keep reading if you don't want to: "Don't take this book lightly. But if you do choose to read it, if you choose to flip to that first page, be prepared for something inexplicable and jarring, but resilient and beautiful and ultimately worthwhile."

The reason being there are many heartwarming and very human, raw and real emotions that emerge throughout. It is truly beautiful, but it's not an easy read. You can stop whenever. Just know you'll be touched and will likely shed some tears if you keep going.


Giulia Pasinato Thank you for this review.
I’ve just finished the book and I feel exactly the same things you wrote.
I am speechless.


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