veritas exquirere

Talon

veritas exquirere

Talon

veritas exquirere

Talon

A Little Life Book Review

Hanya Yanagihara’s alluring story–a review almost as long as the book
A Little Life cover
A Little Life cover

Winter break was starting and I had all the time in the world to read one of my most anticipated reads of 2023: “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara, published in 2015. With the resurgence of the book everywhere on social media, I put myself to the challenge to finish the 832-page book by New Years. Was this accomplished? Close enough.

“A Little Life” is about how four college friends persevere through life’s hardest moments while still making the most out of their struggle. The friends in question– Malcolm, JB, Willem, and Jude–are each more different than the other, but all unconditionally love each other.

The book isn’t a linear timeline. The storyline and pace are more accurately compared to a fast roller coaster, with the loops of the ride taking the reader back further every time to slowly reveal the secrets of each person. The pace felt like the flow of a calm ocean, and when the drama was set in motion it turned into a raging sea, fierce with thunderstorms. The only way to stay afloat was by gripping the sides of the ship to continue its unexpected waves and constant punches of hail and rain.

The book centers mostly around Jude–a quiet, kind boy with a secretive childhood– yet it still acts as a microphone for multiple voices to share their most intimate and hidden thoughts. This perspective switch could not have been done better. Yanagihara intentionally avoids saying who the speaker is in every paragraph, only giving enough context clues for the reader to form a mosaic of tiny clues together; to create a diverse, detailed chapter of many perspectives.

The dialogue and character development were phenomenal. It was as if Yanagihara stalked real people experiencing her real-life scenarios, and stole their dialogue and reflections on the subject. The flow of the sentences and articulate, brilliant style of Yanagihara have won her a Man Booker Finalist Award, Kirkus Prize, and a National Book Award Finalist for this book.

Yanagihara makes it easy for the reader to become immediately attached to all her unique characters. The book constructs wonderful figures, who have depth, personality and a unique voice; each person is created intentionally to add more to the plot. 

The book, to my surprise, was an easy read. The first time I forgot I was reading; it felt like binging a show, but better. Its addictive chapters gave me withdrawals whenever I put the pages down. Its appearance was a little intimidating at first, but with devotion and the smoothest of sentences I finished it–raising my standard for future reads.

Before starting the book, I remembered seeing all the suspiciously good reactions on social media from finishing this book. Warning others to not walk in blindfolded on this story because of all the trigger warnings that came with it: psychological and sexual abuse, self-harm, and drug use.

These warnings shouldn’t sway you from reading this high-quality book–it should increase your curiosity because of it. Yanagihara writes about these important topics to show how these problems affect human behavior, thought and self-worth. She doesn’t use these issues to differentiate herself from other sad books, she uses them to make the reader emotionally connected with each voice in the text and devastatingly get her desired reaction in the end.

Harold, my favorite character in the story, consols Jude, in a very hard moment in his life: “‘there’s not an expiration date on needing help, or needing people. You don’t get to a certain age and it stops.’” The topics discussed in the book not only bring awareness to the problems but show that friendship is one of the strongest bonds in life; undeterred through the course winds. 

With as much fervor as I love this book, there are two particular things that I love and hate: the cover and the main character.

When I finished the book and looked at the cover I thought two things. One, the guy on the cover looks constipated. Two, this disgust felt from the previous thought may have been intentional by Yanagihara to represent how the themes of the book are not easy to the eye. Seeing Yanagihara’s talent, being able to control what the reader thinks and feels throughout the book with such cleverness and adroitness, I am sure she would have been able to do the same if she had tunneled her skill to find a different, more compelling cover. 

Jude, the main protagonist in the story, has had the worst imaginable things happen to him over and over. His character growth is beyond compare and is greatly noted progressing through the book. Yet at many times, his growth is stunted, either because of others or his own self-loath from past trauma. At first, I understood where he was coming from, a man from a horrible childhood brought into a busy city is not going to reason like the majority–this made me see him as more human. I loved the character for all the hardships he dealt and for all that he accomplished.

Yet there were times when it felt annoying. I would be mad at Jude for going back, for falling down so easily. I would consider if I even liked the main character. However, Yanagihara can completely shift how you view a character in a matter of words. 

Yanagihara intentionally places dialogue in the perfect places to reveal even more of his childhood, to make the reader understand his voice:  “And he cries and cries…cries for the shame and joy finally getting to be a child, with all of a child’s whims and wants and insecurities, for the privilege of behaving badly and being forgiven, for the luxury of tendernesses, of fondness, of being served a meal and being made to eat it, for the ability at last, at last, of believing a parent’s reassurances, of believing that to someone he is special despite all his mistakes and hatefulness, because of all his mistakes and hatefulness.”

I would recommend “A Little Life” to readers ready to expand their number of pages, challenge the expected, and have the best heart-breakingly good reads of 2024.

If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm contact these numbers for help:

Crisis Text Line

Lines for Lines

1
View Comments (1)
Donate to Talon
$238
$1500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of Oak Park High School - CA. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
About the Contributor
Justine Picard, Senior Staff Writer

Class of 2026

Justine has been part of the Talon staff for 2 years. She has previously served as a Senior Staff Writer and enjoys writing news and graphic design pieces.

Donate to Talon
$238
$1500
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (1)

All Talon Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Barbara OldsFeb 10, 2024 at 1:14 pm

    Your review is perfect. I started this book on a recommendation from a friend and was shocked at how addictive the book was for me. Despite the length. I am astounded at the author’s skill to pull us into such a difficult story. It’s definately worth a read.

    Reply
Skip to toolbar