[687]: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

22822858 A lifetime of self-inflicted cruelty, and abuse suffered in the hands of others.

A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara

This modern day classic was not the easiest novel to read. In fact, the author seemed determined to give her readers the most horrendous time possible while reading her book. I don’t do well with angst; so most of the time, I was taut with tension. Bracing myself for the horrible account of what made Jude, Jude. 

I read somewhere that while she was writing this book, she had a fight with her editor about just how much she’s willing to put her readers through. And I’m not gonna lie, about halfway through the novel, I didn’t think I was going to make it. Jude St. Francis’ life is far from little, as the title would suggest. He might’ve felt like he was insignificant at times, but he was the centre of his family’s and friends’ universe. You’ll never meet a more broken character than Jude. But I’m not going to enumerate all the ways this man has suffered. I don’t want to scare the pants out of you. Besides, I’ve already given you a tidbit into his life with my intro, so I don’t think you need to know more.

Let me tell you this, though: This book is brilliant, amazing, and horrible all at once. It’s the kind that will force you to take breaks because everything is horrific, yet grotesquely beautiful. It does not offer comfort or joy to anyone brave enough to read it. But what it gives you is a sense of satisfaction. Like finishing a long suffering marathon you did not train for. And even though you wanted to quit in the midst of the race, it’s physically impossible. Because it’s too late. Your body is screaming at you to cross that yellow ribbon. In as much as your heart, your soul – everything about you becomes so inevitably invested in the story that the idea of quitting hurts more than not knowing what happens next.

Jude St. Francis only ever known of unhappiness and heartbreak literally all his life. It started when he was abandoned, half-naked, by a dumpster when he was a baby. And in here, the reader would question whether or not he was better off freezing to death. Because his life of torture and abuse began when he was taken in by the “brothers” of a monastery. He eventually escaped, but he was far from saved. Things got bad to worst; so bad that at some point, he wished he could go back to the monsters in that monastery. He was only 14 when the man he thought was his saviour pimped him out. And here is where I stop. I can’t go on rehashing all the terrible things that was done to him or what he’s done to himself. Like I said, I struggled all throughout this novel. But try as I might, I couldn’t stop. And now, I’m exhausted, beaten-up and all cried out.

Blessedly, it does have its moments of joy but the angst far outweigh it all. In as much as he lacked any healthy relationships growing up, he found himself loved during his adulthood. There were his friends from college that lasted decades: Willem who looked after him all his life; JB with whom he had a difficult friendship but was there with him the longest; Malcolm who made sure he has everything he needed in his own way; Andy who knew everything that had happened to him and have cared for his medical needs till the end. The author explored all the nuances and complexities of Jude’s relationships with the people around him. Not all of them were healthy, but it highlighted the kind of character Jude was.

At times, I felt Jude’s stories of abuse seem excessive. So I would step back and take a breather to compose myself; to think of why it was wholly necessary not to gloss over facts. Yanagihara was far from exploitative. She just has this uncanny talent of flaying her characters until they’re inside out. Jude is not the easiest character to like at times. His self-flagellation was excruciating to read. I wanted to yell at him; shake him until he saw sense. I wanted him to love himself as much as he loved Willem or Andy or Harold and Julia. And yet, I also wanted to take him home and watch over him like I’d watch my own child. I know with full clarity that I share the same feelings about Jude amongst those who cared for him. They loved him whole-heartedly, yes. But nobody really understood his propensity for destruction.



  • Shudders. This one sounds awful yet so amazing too. I’m so glad you loved it so much sweet girl. <3 I am pretty curious about it. I think I shall read it, one day, in the future, hih 🙂 I must admit that I don't love the cover all that much : Oh, well 🙂 And I thought, because of the cover, that the author was male, lol. Happy that she's female 🙂 ANYWAY. SO thrilled that you loved this book so much sweetie 🙂 Despite all the pain.

  • Oh wow… this sounds like it was quite the difficult read. I’m glad you pushed through it Joy!

  • A friend of mine recommended me
    this book, but I wasn’t brave enough to read it. I’m not sure I’ll ever be
    brave enough.

  • I am intrigued by this book. It really hasn’t been on my radar as I book that I would pick up but after reading your review, I might change my mind. Great review!

  • I love polarizing and compelling reads like this. I feel like I did accomplish something when I finish one so I appreciate the marathon analogy

  • the abuse does sound very excessive to me, not sure I would have been able to really read this one. Just from what little you shared, it makes me wonder if there are people that go through that kind of abusive in that amount, or how unrealistic this whole theme is

  • This is on my list, but I can never seem to make myself commit the time and emotion and dive in. I applaud you, Joy, for crossing the finish line on this one.

  • I hadn’t heard of this book before, so it definitely has my interest… but at the same time, I’m kind of scared of it. It sounds super intense, and also like when you start to read it you are fully on board so there is no more turning back… so I have to think more about this one before I decide to really delve into it.

  • oh wow…this seems really intense and I think it would get me so depressed!!! Sometimes if a book is too angsty it can really put me in such a dark mood. Reading something fun and light, that always help me.

  • Oh, yay – Disqus has not been working for me last time I stopped by your blog but now it’s back!
    I agree with Sara – I’m not sure I could handle this. Especially right now. But will look into this author’s other books and see if they are all this tough to read!

  • Sara Walker

    Oh boy, I initially thought this was non-fiction. I didn’t realize it was fiction. I don’t think I could ever read this, Joy, and I commend you for completing it. Read something light and happy now. Something that gives you life.

  • I don’t think I could get through this one!

  • shootingstarsmag

    I’ve seen this one around a lot – but never really read a review, so thanks for sharing. I can actually handle angst pretty well. I’m glad that you really did like the book though. The cover works, but it kind of throws me off too. anyway, I do want to read this!


  • I have this one on my TBR. Terrific review. I love books that are a little dark. I like to feel some sort of emotion when I read, even if it’s a downer.

  • Man, I don’t know if I could get through this one, but I have no doubt that the bright spots would look even brighter with all that darkness in his life. *pats on back* Way to go making it through this one. I’m intrigued, but I’ll have to consider it further.

  • Jasprit

    These sort of books are always the toughest ones to read Joy, I can imagine your struggle that you had with, I know I would at times feel like giving up, especially with everything that Jude had gone through. But despite everything feeling imaginable this book put you through, I’m still willing to give it a try, when I’m strong and ready for it!

  • Awesome tweet btw

  • “the most horrendous time possible while reading?” Okay, I’m in. I love emotional stories that pull at me in every way. Jude’s story sounds intriguing. I want to read more books like this so I’m definitely starting this one soon. Wonderful review. Thanks for bringing it to our attention 🙂

  • Ehhhh the question is, to read or not to read? It kind of scares me to be honest. The fact is that it’s probably based off of real life experiences which is even more terrifying. I’m more of a “light reader” I like romance and… and… fluffy things teehee!

  • ChristinaBookAddict

    Oh wow. I have heard this book is powerful, but I think I would need to be in the right frame of mind to tackle this. Thanks for the honest and moving review!

  • kindlemom1

    I love how you described this Joy, very well done! Beautiful review!

  • This book sounds amazing and devastating and yes, that means I need to read it. I have purchased it, but I think the thought of all that emotion has intimidated me a bit. Great review!

  • bornandread

    Totally agree about this one – it was brilliant but also bloody awful! There were so many points where I just wasn’t sure I could keep going, and whether it was all going to be worth it.

  • RO

    Whew! This sounds dark, deep and demonstrative, and the fact that it’s about a male makes it seem that much more interesting. Not every author has the guts or the writing skill to pull a story like this off, so this sounds phenomenal. Your review really gives much insight. Hugs…

  • Fuccckkkk I can’t deal with novels that beat on their protagonists so much that as a reader there’s barely a glimmer of hope. Lovely review Joy!

  • I know that I wouldn’t make it through this one. It sounds very sad
    and horrifying. A book you will never forget. Wonderful review Joy.