A Little Life

A Little Life

A Novel

Book - 2015
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Random House, Inc.


Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its readers.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.
In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.

Baker & Taylor
Moving to New York to pursue creative ambitions, four former classmates share decades marked by love, loss, addiction and haunting elements from a brutal childhood. By the author of The People in the Trees.

& Taylor

Moving to New York to pursue creative ambitions, four former classmates share decades marked by love, loss, addiction, and haunting elements from a brutal childhood.

Publisher: New York : Doubleday, [2015]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780385539258
Branch Call Number: FIC YAN
Characteristics: 720 pages ; 24 cm


From the critics

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Oct 13, 2019

This is a book about the healing power of friendship. There are parts that are very difficult to read and their are parts that brought tears to my eyes, but through it all I marvelled at the author's ability to reveal these marvelous characters' lives. This is a book that's difficult to put down and difficult to forget. Not for everyone, but I loved it.

Sep 17, 2019

Wow, this is my new favourite book. It’s made me fall in love with reading again. This is the type of book you don’t want to put down. Some parts are hard to read but the whole book is incredible. Highly recommended.

Jul 08, 2019

An exquisite and heartrending piece of art. I am amazed at Yanagihara's skill in depicting these people so fully and giving the world such a vision of love, in all its versions - uplifting, life-changing, and horribly painful. Truly an unforgettable book.

p. 63-64: He…sat there at his computer, staring without seeing the file before him and wondering yet again why he had joined Ratstar. The worst thing was that the answer was so obvious that he didn’t even need to ask it: he had joined Ratstar to impress his parents. His last year of architecture school, Malcolm had had a choice—he could have chosen to work with two classmates, Jason Kim and Sonal Mars, who were starting their own firm with money from Sonal’s grandparents, or he could have joined Ratstar.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Jason had said when Malcolm had told him of his decision. “You realize what your life is going to be like as an associate at a place like that, don’t you?”

“It’s a great firm,” he’d said, staunchly, sounding like his mother, and Jason had rolled his eyes. “I mean, it’s a great name to have on my résumé.” But even as he said it, he knew (and, worse, feared Jason knew as well) what he really meant: it was a great name for his parents to say at cocktail parties. And, indeed, his parents liked to say it. “Two kids,” Malcolm had overheard his father say to someone at a dinner party celebrating one of Malcolm’s mother’s clients. “My daughter’s an editor at FSG, and my son works for Ratstar Architects.” The woman had made an approving sound, and Malcolm, who had actually been trying to find a way to tell his father he wanted to quit, had felt something in him wilt. At such times, he envied his friends for the exact things he had once pitied them for: the fact that no one had any expectations for them, the ordinariness of their families (or their very lack of them), the way they navigated their lives by only their own ambitions.

And now? Now Jason and Sonal had had two projects appear…while he was still doing the sort of work he had done in his first year of architecture school, working for two pretentious men at a firm they had pretentiously named after a pretentious Anne Sexton poem, and getting paid almost nothing to do it.

He had gone to architecture school for the worst reason of all, it seemed: because he loved buildings. It had been a respectable passion, and when he was a child, his parents had indulged him with tours of houses, of monuments wherever they had traveled. Even as a very young boy, he had always drawn imaginary buildings, built imaginary structures: they were a comfort and they were a repository—everything he was unable to articulate, everything he was unable to decide, he could, it seemed, resolve in a building.

And in an essential way, this was what he was most ashamed of: not his poor understanding of sex, not his traitorous racial tendencies, not his inability to separate himself from his parents or make his own money or behave like an autonomous creature. It was that, when he and his colleagues sat there at night, the group of them burrowed deep into their own ambitious dream-structures, all of them drawing and planning their improbable buildings, he was doing nothing. He had lost the ability to imagine anything. And so every evening, while the others created, he copied: he drew buildings he had seen on his travels, buildings other people had dreamed and constructed, buildings he had lived in or passed through. Again and again, he made what had already been made, not even bothering to improve them, just mimicking them. He was twenty-eight; his imagination had deserted him; he was a copyist.

It frightened him. JB had his series. Jude had his work, Willem had his. But what if Malcolm never again created anything?

Oct 27, 2018

I don't often give up on a book but I'm about to with this one. As njon38 pointed out, the main character who, admittedly was terribly damaged in his young life, and now receives such unconditional love from friends, brings very little to the table himself. He does not take responsibility for his own well being and he expects his friends to turn a blind eye and allow it to continue. In fact, true friends would take action on his behalf rather than allow him to continue to self mutilate and suffer abuse. It is an intolerable contrivance on the part of the author to create such continued suffering in this character in order to sustain the reader's empathy or level of horror and keep them reading. That said, there are passages of genuine insight into the nature of youthful friendships and the way they change over the years as people pursue their careers and become disparate characters.

Oct 20, 2018

This is not a book for the faint-hearted! For a start, it is 720 pages long and the story is, a lot of the time, quite harrowing. On the surface, the story follows the lives of four men, from the beginnings of their friendship in their early 20s through to their late 50s. It documents all their triumphs and tragedies and the fluctuations in their relationships. But the real focus is on one member of the group, Jude. Despite being talented, successful and popular his mental and physical anguish is profound. Gradually, through the course of the book, we learn the reasons for his intractable pain and despair. Although fiction, this book made me acutely aware of how profoundly damaging childhood abuse can be.

Jul 19, 2018

recommended by Michelle 7-19-18

Apr 09, 2018

I finished A Little Life about a week ago, and have been unable to put my thoughts into words. I'm still not sure what I want to say about it, exactly. It is the most devastating, heart breaking, upsetting and disturbing novel I have ever read. I was so distraught when I finished the book that I cried myself to sleep ... I cried so much that my eyes were still swollen a full 48 hours afterwards. I have read others refer to the book as 'Tragedy Porn', and I'm not sure I can disagree. It feels like the author set out to write THE MOST DEPRESSING BOOK OF ALL TIME ... and she succeeded.
And yet... you fall in love with these characters (most especially Jude and Willem), and there are certainly parts of this novel that are so well written you can feel them imprinted on your soul. It is difficult to say much without giving away any spoilers, but suffice it to say, reader beware, the book is full of graphic physical and sexual abuse.
I can't say I liked this book. It is much too upsetting to 'like'. But like with any art, I know it is good because of how intensely it moved me, and by how much I came to care about the characters.

DBRL_Jeremiah Mar 30, 2018

"A Little Life" is an New York ensemble novel. Four men find their way in New York City, and though the story begins with all four, the focus narrows onto Jude, whose past and present Yanagihara describes, drip by drip, in achingly beautiful and scarring detail.

It's a complicated love, but I love this book. It's tragic, traumatic, melodramatic—and long, funny, serious, heartbreaking, artful, intense, joyful, depressing, stressful, despairing, exhausting. Reading this book is an emotional experience: its affective structuring is more apparent than most novels. For some readers, the novel gives too much, asks for too much, but I keep returning to it.

SPPL_Chase Feb 09, 2018

More than a two years after reading this book, I'm still haunted by the beautiful and tragic friendship between its primary protagonists. At more than 800 pages, it's a considerable investment of time (particularly given some of the disturbing elements of one of the character's life). Yanagihara manages the incredible feat of developing a set of characters over an entire lifetime, seamlessly jumping between the past, present, and future, all while rendering a world that is eerily timeless. Yanagihara omits concrete dates or significant current events that would give context to the world she has created. It's disconcerting, paradoxical and a major reason this book is so memorable.

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Add Age Suitability
Oct 29, 2018

willtbruce thinks this title is suitable for between the ages of 14 and 99

Jun 04, 2018

Cheito thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over

Apr 09, 2018

cosettes thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over

Sep 08, 2016

Hshswiss thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over

Jun 01, 2016

booksophie thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and under

Mar 12, 2016

VV12 thinks this title is suitable for 16 years and over


Add Notices
Mar 13, 2017

Frightening or Intense Scenes: graphic descriptions of assault

Mar 13, 2017

Violence: child sexual abuse, domestic abuse

Mar 26, 2016

Other: self-harm

Mar 12, 2016

Sexual Content: rape, child molestation

Mar 12, 2016

Violence: child abuse, domestic violence


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p. 63: Oh, what was wrong with him? Sex; sexuality: these too were things he should have sorted out in college, the last place where such insecurity was not just tolerated but encouraged. In his early twenties, he had tried falling in and out of love with various people…and yet still didn’t know to whom he might be attracted. He often thought that being gay (as much as he also couldn’t stand the thought of it; somehow it, like race, seemed the province of college, an identity to inhabit for a period before maturing to more proper and practical realms) was attractive mostly for its accompanying accessories, its collection of political opinions and causes and its embrace of aesthetics. He was missing, it seemed, the sense of victimization and woundedness and perpetual anger it took to be black, but he was certain he possessed the interests that would be required if he were gay.

Aug 22, 2017

"But what Andy never understood about him was this: he was an optimist. Every month, every week he chose to open his eyes, to live another day in the world. He did it when he was feeling so awful that sometimes the pain seemed to transport him to another state, one in which everything, even the past that he worked so hard to forget, seemed to fade into a gray watercolor wash. He did it when his memories crowded out all other thoughts, when it took real effort, real concentration, to tether himself to his current life, to keep himself from raging with despair and shame. He did it when he was so exhausted of trying, when being awake and alive demanded such energy that he had to lie in bed thinking of reasons to get up and try again, when it would be easier to go to the bathroom and untape the plastic zipped bag containing his cotton pads and loose razors and alcohol wipes and bandages from its hiding place beneath the sink and simply surrender. Those were the very bad days."

Aug 22, 2017

"Wasn't it a miracle to survive the unsurvivable? Wasn't friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely? Wasn't this house, this beauty, this comfort, this life a miracle? And so who could blame him for hoping for one more, for hoping that despite knowing better, that despite biology, and time, and history, that they would be the exception, that what happened to other people with Jude's sort of injury would't happen to him, that even with all that Jude had overcome, he might overcome just one more thing?"


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