The big impact of ‘A Little Life’


I’m not sure how I discovered “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara, only retaining a vague memory of pinning a tab where I’d searched the title one morning during Mr. Jones’s History of Religions class, as a reminder to read it later. Despite the mounds of unread books waiting on my desk, I asked my sister for a copy of the novel for my birthday, later resorting to ordering a copy myself when I instead received a bag of chips. 

And so, with no knowledge of the journey ahead except the short, deceiving summary on the back, I dived into what would become a story I am sure will stay with me for a very long time.

At first glance, “A Little Life” is just a tale of four hopeful college roommates: the talented artist JB, the aspiring architect Malcolm, the hopeful actor Willem, and the mysterious Jude, who all have potential for success. It’s a story of friendship, relationships, growing up, and becoming adults. After revealing the relatively normal upbringings and struggles of JB, Malcolm, and Willem, it becomes clear that the focus of the novel will be on Jude, a brilliant young man burdened by a past he is determined to keep secret. Along with being a story of college students trying to advance in society as they grow up, “A Little Life” is also a novel focusing on grief and trauma and how it not only affects the victims of it, but also those around them. 

To me, the most impactful characteristic of Yanagihara’s writing in this novel is the way she never failed to give me hope for Jude’s recovery, only to tear it down, bringing the cast back to square one over and over again. I fell for it every time, even with full knowledge that there were still hundreds of pages left. However, instead of feeling dreadful, I found myself feeling hopeful that, eventually, everything might be okay. 

Throughout the novel, the benefits of being rich and famous are shown with fancy houses and vacations. However, despite all that success, fame, and power, Jude is still unable to overcome his trauma, and his friends are still unable to fix him. We come to understand that, in the end, he never needed fixing, only comfort. Jude didn’t need as much money or fame as he had, because materialistic things couldn’t change his past or let him feel clean. Although this aspect of the book focuses more on society and wealth than specific events in characters’ lives, Yanagihara’s inclusion of the theme of wealth and fame not solving problems only further strengthens the storytelling. 

The realistic feeling of many events is another feature of this book that I enjoyed. Yanagihara’s depiction of the suffering and actions of characters becomes exceedingly realistic and painful as the novel progresses. I could feel the ways that Jude’s self-harm affected him and see how powerless Willem and Harold (his father figure) felt toward it. Death itself was never as painful as having to read the reaction of the characters who were still alive. I came to understand why some became a void of hate and denial, while others chose acceptance and remembrance. At times, there felt like there would be no end to the pain, which is when I would have to put the book down for a few moments before proceeding. 

Overall, even though I had no idea what I was getting into, I thoroughly enjoyed reading “A Little Life,” and I would highly recommend the book to any challenger who can handle difficult themes and who has a love for reading.