A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

25334922  ★★★★★

Pages: 720 Pages
Publication: August 13th, 2015
Publisher: Picador
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cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.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.

My thoughts:

I am going to expand slightly on my first review, just because I feel the need to address things a bit clearer.

This book means everything to me. I have never had a book blur the lines between reality and fiction this much. I was engrossed in every word, every moment. At times I could sit there and remind myself none of this was real, but more often than not I would sit here and want so badly to fly to New York so I could go meet Jude. Meet Willem. And even then, most of the time I felt like I was one of them. Hanya Yanagihara made me feel like I was in this. I felt like I was a ghost, a friend that followed them around and watched their life. It was surreal and it honestly put me in a weird funk. I was distant this week, quieter than normal. All I wanted to talk about was this book. I didn’t have the emotional capacity to talk to people about anything else.

The thing about this book that impacted me so hard is that I grew to love these characters. I grew to regard them as “mine.” As something special to me. While JB was someone I had obvious problems with (I, like Jude, have never been able to get over Jackson’s little dance), I loved his love for the rest of them. And Malcolm, while I can’t say he was my favourite or that I loved him the same, I still grew to love him. Willem is obviously special to me. Almost more so than Jude. I love Jude with all that I am and because of that I just love Willem even more for everything he ever did for Jude.
And Jude. Jude Jude Jude. St. Jude was the patron Saint of desperate and lost causes. If that doesn’t explain him, then I don’t know what else can. Can I really say anything else about him? Hanya has already said so much about him, has written an entire novel that leaves absolutely nothing out about his personality. I, as the reader, felt like I was part of Jude. Jude was rarely so open with anyone as he was with me. I think this is what impacted me the most, that Jude trusted no one else as much as he trusts the reader. He doesn’t see that literally everyone who meets him loves him. No one in his “post” life has ever hated him, simply because he is the best sort of person. It saddens me deeply that he doesn’t really exist, that I can’t call Jude and ask him for help when I need it. But again, it makes me incredibly happy he doesn’t exist, because I can’t imagine anyone living with everything he lives with.

This book made me FEEL. Feel everything. It made me cry at several points. This is a rare occurrence for me, and shows just how much I loved this. But the moment in the book I felt my heart break was truly the moment I realized what the title means. Page 483. When Jude tells us that Brother Luke asked him to “show a little life, a little enthusiasm” was really the moment that I just couldn’t do it anymore, when the reality fiction line blurred too hard for me.
But the book also made me happy. While there was a lot of unhappy moments in The Happy Years section, most of it made me happy. Willem and Jude together was the best thing I could have ever imagined. And honestly, I knew that everyone cried at the 88% mark, and by the time Jude and Willem ended up together I knew either Jude died or Willem died. But I wished it was Jude that died. Not that I wanted Jude dead, I wanted him to live more than anything, but I knew that out of everything that had ever happened to him, losing Willem was not one he could survive. And to live 3 years after was more than I thought he would managed. June 12th will always mean something significant to me, even if Jude isn’t “real.”

This book was truly something special. Something that I will cherish for the rest of my life. These characters will never leave me, they will stay with me for all my life. I will revisit the book and I know I will think about them again like they are old friends who I haven’t seen in a while. This book was truly something else.


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