Thomas's Reviews > A Little Life

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
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it was amazing
bookshelves: adult-fiction, five-stars, lgbtq, own-physical, realistic-fiction, favorites

I slept with this book after I read it. I kid you not: I held its bulking, hardcover bound 700 pages in my arms as I fell asleep amid a raging storm. I refused to let A Little Life leave me. Its brilliant writing, its broken characters, and its bleak, unforgiving story dug into my heart, into the very pores of my skin. As a twenty-year-old, I felt both so young and so old upon finishing this novel, as if its sheer humanity aged my soul while making me appreciate all the years I still have left.

A Little Life follows four friends after they graduate from a small, prestigious Massachusetts college: Willem, a kind and talented actor; JB, a sharp and sometimes-caustic artist, Malcolm, an aspiring architect at a well-known firm; and Jude, a mysterious and intelligent litigator. What looks like an average bildungsroman turns into an intense and tragic tale when we learn about enigmatic Jude's backstory. Abandoned at a monastery at birth, he endured a childhood of severe physical and emotional abuse, followed by several years of sexual abuse, forced prostitution, and psychological trauma. The book soon hones in on Jude's struggle to free himself from the demons of his past, the hyenas that howl and drown out the voices of his closest, most beloved friends.

This book is relentlessly sad and exquisitely written. Hanya Yanagihara spares us no mercy when revealing Jude's trauma. She details both his past abuse and his present self-harm with explicit specificity, her diction so precise and piercing it made me shake, and at times, sob. Yanagihara writes both Jude's suffering and his friendships with a keen eye. She captures the nuances of human emotion, physical space, and change over time with eloquence and heart. She writes about some of the most wretched, abominable acts of cruelty I have ever read without sentimentalizing any of the abuse or making any of the characters' feelings mawkish.

Yanagihara offers us temporary respite from the pain within Jude's past by showing us the power of friendship. A Little Life's most affective moments come not from its graphic depictions of violence, but from its quiet, uplifting portrayals of compassion. While the many abusive men in Jude's earlier life show us the depth of human atrocity, Jude's tender, bittersweet relationships with Willem, Harold, Andy, and others offer to us mankind's capacity for kindness. All of these complex characters make mistakes, and through their imperfections shines their humanness.

Please keep in mind: A Little Life is ruthlessly depressing. In the end, Jude really receives no reprieve from his anguish. As someone who has suffered his own abuse - a version less intense than Jude's, yet still real - and as someone who reads a lot about abuse, I appreciated Yanagihara's dedication to showing the darker side of reality. Trauma is trauma is trauma. And while we can all fight for recovery, sometimes that absolvement may never come. Sometimes, we just have to act with whatever kindness we have left and hope that it brings even a moment of light into the dark.

Highly recommended to anyone who wants their heart both filled and destroyed. Set aside some quality time for A Little Life. It will consume you.
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Quotes Thomas Liked

Hanya Yanagihara
“...things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Hanya Yanagihara
“Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.”
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

Hanya Yanagihara
“He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn't a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn't know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It's so sad, and yet we all do it.”
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


Comments Showing 1-50 of 59 (59 new)


kohey Great review,Thomas^ ^


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

I've always met this book on my travels to other bookstores aside from the one we have nearby, and I've always wanted to buy this out of reason but at least I know now WHY I really need to have a copy! Great review!


message 3: by Cassy (new)

Cassy Beautiful review, Thomas. I sense a poet in you!


Summer Lovely review, Thomas! All of my friends that have picked up A Little Life has given it 5 stars, so I know it won't disappoint. And it must be good since it's been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize as well. I actually just received my copy of this in the mail today, so hopefully I'll set time aside to read it soon!


message 5: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason I lugged this around Europe and never got to it. bought it for kindle, and feel it isnt a kindle sorta book. absolutely greatness of a review


Krystin Great review! I've been dying to read this and I just ordered it recently.


message 7: by Antigone (last edited Oct 03, 2015 02:02AM) (new)

Antigone I often think the bravest of writers needs the bravest of readers. Yanagihara clearly found her fortune in you. Beautiful review, Thomas.


Angela M Thomas , I love that you said you refused to let this book go after it ended . I read this several months ago and I can't let it go either . I still think about Jude. Every time I read an eloquent review like yours , I'm reminded how much this book affected me .


Julie Christine Lovely review, Thomas. I, too, was swept away. Bravo.


Natalie Richards Wonderful review.


message 11: by Dawn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dawn The most beautiful review for this book I have read.


message 12: by Chhaya (new) - added it

Chhaya Verma Amazing review! I'm gonna list this book in my reading list.:)


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

I just started the book and your immensely moving review, makes it more an endearing reading.


Thomas Everyone, thank you so much for your kind comments! I appreciate each and every one. A Little Life deserves as much praise and eloquence as I can muster. It has without a doubt inspired my most recent post on my personal blog and will leave me thinking and feeling for a long, long time. Please keep me updated on your thoughts on the book; I cannot wait to read and discuss this book with the Goodreads community.


message 15: by RRC IV (new)

RRC IV You DO deserve love Thomas.


message 16: by Elia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Elia I've already reserved it at my library to read it again. I had to read the last chapter over and over again even though it made me cry. This was a book I DID NOT want to read when I first heard about it because I don't read anything about child sexual abuse. Yet I know that I will be recommending this book and have already given it to a friend as a gift. A must read. A testament to friendship.


Thomas Elia wrote: "I've already reserved it at my library to read it again. I had to read the last chapter over and over again even though it made me cry. This was a book I DID NOT want to read when I first heard abo..."

A testament to friendship indeed. Glad that you challenged yourself to read the book and found it meaningful in the end. I hope the next time you read it brings just as much, if not more insight and fulfillment.

Rick wrote: "You DO deserve love Thomas."

Thank you always for your kind words, Rick, I really appreciate them. :)


Kelli This is the most moving review I have read of this book. You never cease to amaze with your personal insights. Keep lighting up the dark!


message 19: by Councillor (new) - added it

Councillor I have never before heard of this book, but your insightful and interest-arousing review managed to convince me of adding it to my tbr-shelf. :)


Kimberley You are a very talented writer and I enjoyed your review of this book.


Caroline I fell asleep while reading this book too :) I couldn't let go until I finished it, glad I wasn't the only one


Thomas Caroline wrote: "I fell asleep while reading this book too :) I couldn't let go until I finished it, glad I wasn't the only one"

Love the solidarity we share around sleeping with this book, Caroline. Thanks for commenting and I am glad we both loved the book so much to stay with it even while asleep.

Kimberley wrote: "You are a very talented writer and I enjoyed your review of this book."

Thank you for saying that, Kimberley! Glad you also loved it enough to give it five stars.

Councillor wrote: "I have never before heard of this book, but your insightful and interest-arousing review managed to convince me of adding it to my tbr-shelf. :)"

So honored to hear that! I hope you love this book just as much as I did, if not more.

Kelli wrote: "This is the most moving review I have read of this book. You never cease to amaze with your personal insights. Keep lighting up the dark!"

Thank you so much for your continuous kindness, Kelly! I consider you one of my closest e-friends on Goodreads, so please know I appreciate your comments and insights so much. :)


message 23: by Nick (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nick Pageant What a beautiful review!


Thomas Nick wrote: "What a beautiful review!"

Thank you Nick, I loved your review too! Let us hope our words combined can convince many people to read A Little Life. :)


message 25: by Nick (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nick Pageant Thomas wrote: "Nick wrote: "What a beautiful review!"

Thank you Nick, I loved your review too! Let us hope our words combined can convince many people to read A Little Life. :)"


Yes! As long as we are not sued for therapy costs.


Cheng Limin I really enjoyed this book and can relate to your comment on sleeping with it. I feel like I know the characters so well, their lives affected me deeply.

It's been 2 days n it still haunts me.


Christine Perfect review!


Thomas Cheng wrote: "I really enjoyed this book and can relate to your comment on sleeping with it. I feel like I know the characters so well, their lives affected me deeply.

It's been 2 days n it still haunts me."


Glad to hear it affected you so much, Cheng. Curious to see how long these characters stay with you. For me, I feel like they will live on forever.

Christine wrote: "Perfect review!"

Aw, thank you so much, Christine! No review can ever live up to the perfect imperfection of A Little Life. :)


message 29: by Mary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mary Martina I had tears in my eyes while reading both the book and your review. Beautifully written :)


Erika Beautiful review, as usual. Whenever I see this book pop up on my feed, I end up having to revisit it in the form of reviews. It stays with you, does it not?


message 31: by Louisa (new) - added it

Louisa Barrell Very well said.


message 32: by Devina (new) - added it

Devina Were you ever really frustrated with Jude at some point, that you actually got extremely pissed at him because the way he hurt himself and that in turn just rippled off and hurt Willem at the same time? Because I am frustrated and sad.


message 33: by William (new) - added it

William Wow, thank you for recommending this book to me. I am definitely going to be reading this when I get a chance!


Thomas Louisa wrote: "Very well said."

Thank you, Louisa!

Erika wrote: "Beautiful review, as usual. Whenever I see this book pop up on my feed, I end up having to revisit it in the form of reviews. It stays with you, does it not?"

Erika: yes, yes, yes. I still have not gotten these characters out of my mind and I doubt I ever will. Reading Goodreads reviews of A Little Life is a particular type of joyous torture, to revisit a text that inspired such raw emotion, even from a distance.

Mary wrote: "I had tears in my eyes while reading both the book and your review. Beautifully written :)"

Thank you, Mary! Your kind words mean a lot to me, in particular because A Little Life means a lot to me and I can only hope my words do it some justice.


Thomas Devina wrote: "Were you ever really frustrated with Jude at some point, that you actually got extremely pissed at him because the way he hurt himself and that in turn just rippled off and hurt Willem at the same ..."

Oh, Devina, your emotional reaction is so valid. To answer your question quickly: yes. The longer answer (perhaps using spoiler tags would be best so stray readers don't have the plot ruined for them): (view spoiler) I want to hear more of your thoughts as you read the book, and I'd love to read your review when you're done!

William wrote: "Wow, thank you for recommending this book to me. I am definitely going to be reading this when I get a chance!"

You're welcome, William! I saw on your profile that you enjoy fiction but from what I've seen on my feed your selections have been more fantasy/adventure-esque. Still, though, from what we've briefly discussed and from your emphasis on empathy I think you'll get a kick out of this one (aka, a kick to your heart, a kick that you will feel for all of time). :)


message 36: by William (new) - added it

William Thomas wrote: "Devina wrote: "Were you ever really frustrated with Jude at some point, that you actually got extremely pissed at him because the way he hurt himself and that in turn just rippled off and hurt Will..."

My recent feed has definitely been fantasy/adventure-esque because those are the books in my queue right now, but I tend to read very broadly haha. I think I tend to read my books in different genre clusters and waves..


Dominic How did I not like your review of this book already. I know I read it, and it is lovely.


Kathleen I also slept with this book, several times while reading it, and even has to put it down at some points just to hold it against my chest. Spot-on review, my thoughts exactly.


Fatima This is by far one of my favorite reviews on this site. So well said!


Rachel I did the exact same, held the book to my chest, couldn't let go, slept with it beside me, I'm so comforted to read your review


SomeoneNew What you say about Jude in this is pretty spoiler-ish.


Sonja ✧ Badass Wanderer ✧ Fantastic review!


Lesley Great review!


PattyMacDotComma Terrific review! The characters and scenes from the story pop into my mind unexpectedly from time to time, as if I shouldn't forget them (not likely), and I so enjoy running across a worthy review like yours. Thanks for the memories! :)


Ellen I will never forget this book. It’s themes remain with me like no other book has touched my soul. Its sadness was overwhelming at times, but its humanity won through. Your review was spot on. I read it over Christmas two years ago and still think about it. Sensational book.


Thomas Fatima wrote: "This is by far one of my favorite reviews on this site. So well said!"

Honored that you would say that Fatima, given that there are so many splendid reviews of this splendid book on this splendid site. :) Hope you are well!

Kathleen wrote: "I also slept with this book, several times while reading it, and even has to put it down at some points just to hold it against my chest. Spot-on review, my thoughts exactly."

Ugh, love that we had such a similar reaction to this book! So glad it resonated with you, Kathleen.

Dominic wrote: "How did I not like your review of this book already. I know I read it, and it is lovely."

Aw, thank you Dominic! So grateful that I get to read your reviews on Goodreads too. :)


Thomas Ellen wrote: "I will never forget this book. It’s themes remain with me like no other book has touched my soul. Its sadness was overwhelming at times, but its humanity won through. Your review was spot on. I rea..."

Oh Ellen, this review resonates with me so much. I feel similar to you; though I read this book over two years ago, no book has touched me in quite the same way. Its humanity is glorious amidst its suffering. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and I hope you are doing well.

PattyMacDotComma wrote: "Terrific review! The characters and scenes from the story pop into my mind unexpectedly from time to time, as if I shouldn't forget them (not likely), and I so enjoy running across a worthy review ..."

Aw, I'm so glad to hear that these characters and scenes still pop into your mind, even though there are quite a few challenging scenes in this book. Thanks for deeming my review worthy. :)

Lesley wrote: "Great review!"

Thanks, Lesley. :)

Sonja ✧ Badass Wanderer ✧ wrote: "Fantastic review!"

Thank you, Sonja!

SomeoneNew wrote: "What you say about Jude in this is pretty spoiler-ish."

Thanks for letting me know! Given that it is pretty well-established in reviews across the board that he is traumatized, I'm going to keep it as it is - but I appreciate you saying so and I am glad you enjoyed the book enough to give it five stars.

Rachel wrote: "I did the exact same, held the book to my chest, couldn't let go, slept with it beside me, I'm so comforted to read your review"

So glad that my review could bring you comfort! Given the other comments, we're not the only ones who did a similar thing with this book. :)


message 48: by Juan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Juan Im about half way through and agree completely with every word you've written. It's riveting, soul-wrenching and consuming.


Swati Mahapatra I always scroll through reviews after I've finished a book and I just wanted to say that "I felt both so young and so old upon finishing this novel, as if its sheer humanity aged my soul while making me appreciate all the years I still have left" is the best description of how i'm feeling after finishing this book. I think you wrote a really great review!


Thomas Juan wrote: "Im about half way through and agree completely with every word you've written. It's riveting, soul-wrenching and consuming."

Juan, yep, all of those adjectives perfectly describe A Little Life. Glad to see you gave it five stars. :)

Swati wrote: "I always scroll through reviews after I've finished a book and I just wanted to say that "I felt both so young and so old upon finishing this novel, as if its sheer humanity aged my soul while maki..."

Aw thanks so much Swati, I really appreciate that! It's such a glorious book, glad you can relate to the feeling. :)


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