Hi guys! I’m sorry I haven’t been as active with posting on my blog this week, it’s because of this god forsaken book. Spoiler alert: A Little life by Hanya Yanagihara RUINED me. Before we get into the book review, I want to make it clear that this book has multiple trigger warnings and there are a lot of sensitive, triggering topics discussed in depth. Please do not read this book if you are vulnerable in any way! However, we’ll talk more about that over the course of this post.
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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara* trigger warnings:
- Child sexual abuse
- Child physical abuse
- Child Mental Abuse
- Physical, sexual and mental abuse perpetuated against a disabled person
- Self harm
- Eating disorders
Remember that these topics are discussed at extreme length and in graphic detail, so please don’t read this book if you don’t feel you are in ready or in a stable enough mental place. I thought I would be fine reading it and it affected me way more than I thought it did, so please don’t take these trigger warnings lightly. If I have forgotten to list any trigger warnings that you are aware of in this book, please let me know down in the comments and I will make sure to add them. Without further ado, here is my book review of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara:
Plot summary of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
A Little Life follows 4 best friends in New York City. It begins showing readers their life in college all the way through to when they are middle aged. The main character we hear the most from is Jude, a lawyer who lives with a disability that we don’t find out much about until around half way through the book. The novel also follows Willem (Jude’s number 1 best friend), JB and Malcolm (their other friends).
Pros of A Little Life
A Little Life* does an undeniably incredible job of exploring the true realities of severe mental illness and how it feels to live with this day in day out. It shows the good days and bad, and how the complexities of past trauma neve really leaves us alone. It conveys how trauma replays over and over in someone’s head and they have to find ways to battle this every single day, whether that be through finding good friends, a good job or other ways to cope. It also does a fantastic job at portraying how difficult it can be for someone’s family and friends to cope with a loved ones mental illness, and how they find ways to cope and help this person. I particularly enjoyed this portrayal of mental health issues as it doesn’t just focus on how it effect the individual suffering, but also how damaging it is to the people around them (however, it doesn’t do this in a way that guilts the individual who is suffering.)
I also adored the was in which the novel portrays how an individual can hate parts of themselves that those around them love. This is particularly evident when JB is shown to wish he was as interesting as Jude, whereas Jude strives to be as normal and ‘uninteresting’ as JB. This is interesting to me as I often wonder how many people like things about me that I dislike about myself and vice versa. Moreover, the novel portrays how individual’s grow up differently, despite growing up together, and how everyone views life and adulthood in various different ways. The novel shows the 4 characters winging adulthood and not really knowing what the hell they’re doing, despite having successful careers.
I also feel that Hany Yanagihara does an incredible job of teaching the characters the ins and outs of the characters lives, particularly Jude’s and Willem’s, and helping us grow attached to these characters. The first 200 pages are spent teaching us all about the 4 best friends and the troubles they faced when growing up together through college, as well as the fun and loving times they spent in each others company. It truly teaches us the importance of friendship and finding people who understand and love you completely, despite what you personally feel is bad about yourself. By the end of the book, I was completely and utterly in love with the characters and I didn’t want the book to end (despite it being a long ass book).
Cons of A Little Life
Despite all the things I loved about A Little Life, it definitely had it’s downfalls. First of all, the book was way too long for my liking. I don’t mind a long book if I feel all the content is appropriate and essential, however I found some of the writing to be tedious. At some points, especially the first 200 pages, I found myself forcing myself through the book and becoming quite bored with the needless information Yanagihara included in the book. However, some of the writing was truly beautiful, especially towards the end when we learn more about Jude’s mental illness and his background. However, it is worth mentioning that I did find myself bored at times and really do feel this book could have been shortened by a good 150 pages. On the other hand, I feel the length did help me become more attached to the characters which had huge effect on my reaction at the end of the book.
Another huge complaint I have about this book is that it really is torture porn, which a lot of other reviews I have read also agree with. I am a sucker for a depressing, dreary book that really tugs on the heartstrings and brings out pure emotion as you read. I liked the fact that this book showed the harsh reality of mental illness, however Jude went through SO much trauma and torture for one person that I do feel a lot of it is purely in there for shock value. I understand that it is not abnormal for an individual to just suffer one trauma and instead it is often multiple, and it is easy for a victim to get themselves stuck in a cycle of abuse, but I did find the amount of severe trauma Jude went through to be almost unrealistic.
The biggest aspect of the book that rubbed me the wrong way is how graphic the self harm/suicide/sexual abuse/domestic abuse scenes were. I completely understand that there is no need to sugar-coat the severity and horrendous nature of these topics, however I don’t feel there is any acceptable reason to be as truly graphic as Hanya Yanagihara was throughout the book. I frankly found it extremely triggering and I had to put the book down a few times, especially in the self harm scenes. This, again, I feel was used for shock value. Shock value isn’t always a bad thing, but sometimes I personally feel it is quite insensitive to actual victims as it’s being used in a way not to raise awareness, but purely to get a severe emotional response out of the reader. This is completely personal opinion though.
Overall opinions on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara*
I rated A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara 4 out of 5 stars. I loved this book and am glad I reads it as it taught me a lot about the different perspectives of people and how each individual sees the world differently I read this book because I wanted a good cry, so it definitely succeeded in that aspect. I actually threw up towards the end of the book and felt complete numb, just turning the pages and hoping for it to be over with soon.
I love a sad book, as I said, but I feel that A Little Life crosses the line from sad to soul destroying and emotionally scarring. As much as I love the book, I honestly wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless they feel they are completely stable enough. I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending such a triggering ang graphic book to someone, as it could be extremely damaging.
Have you read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara? Let me know your opinions down in the comments! If you’d like more book reviews, I have a few over on my Instagram and Twitter and I always follow back over there too. I also have a whole section on my blog containing book reviews, book wrap-ups and book hauls if you’d like to give them a read!