"A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara Book Review

***Trigger Warnings***

: self-harm, suicidal, eating disorder, physical abuse, domestic abuse, loss of a child, drug abuse/addiction, sexual assault/rape, pedophilia, PTSD.

This book isn't for everyone, and that's perfectly fine. Please protect yourself and stay safe. I read this book in November 2021, and it took some time for me to feel comfortable enough to write this review. Also, I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or any of that stuff, so if you are having suicidal or self-harm thoughts, I really hope you reach out to someone you love and trust, or if there is no one in your life you feel comfortable reaching out to, that you look to a helpline or get some therapy and counselling.

To say that Hanya Yanagihara's "A Little Life" is one of the most controversial books of the last decade is an understatement. It is about four college students, JB, William, Malcolm, and Jude, who are best friends. The novel is 800 pages lengthy, but it basically follows these four guys, these four men, through their lives from the time they meet until the end. The novel also has a beautiful love tale involving four men. Their ties range from parental to romantic to friendship, and each of their voices is important to hear.

Looking back on the conversations I had with the people around me during my reading experience, there are two main questions that I want to discuss and kind of focus on moving forward in this review: number one, how important is the creator's intent to you, and number two, is there value to be derived from a book that focuses on describing violence and sadness so vigorously, can we still gain something positive from our reading experience like this?

Writer's intent: I don't believe it when I see and hear the author talking about her characters, and yes, these interviews are old, and yes, she did say some things that were a little bit controversial as well surrounding the subject matter, and I don't think she had this scumbag of the intent of just like I'm going to take this subject matter of suicide and assault and want to bastardize it and sell some books, and it'll be so edgy and cool and popular that people will talk about it forever.

Just by the way she speaks about her characters in such a delicate way, I get the impression that there is some love there. After all, she had to live with these characters for a long time. I don't think anyone would be able to write about these things if they weren't thinking about them on a deeper level, and I guess dialling that a little bit more does it matter why artists created something? If you enjoy it Is it a poor song if a musician creates a song that is designed to make you feel emotionally unhappy and heartbroken and it does a wonderful job at it? If art makes me feel anything, even if I'm upset, furious, or troubled by it, 99 percent of the time I feel it's a good piece of art.

Obviously, there are a lot of trolls out there just making insult memes and **** like that to me is not art and that kind of intent can just go away. But beating into question number two so why do we value things that only have happy endings or positive kinds of meanings to us or these big haha shining light shining through the cloud moments? 

Why do we favour stories like The Perks of Being a Wallflower or 13 Reasons Why over the Tylers versus the Judes? So what A Little Life does is, as I said, take a deep dive into the extremely long term repercussions of trauma and how it impacts everyone around them, so why bother reading something like this if you know it's not going to end well what's the point what do you have to learn from something like that?

Well, I feel that you can only learn so much from life, but reading can teach you how to empathize, to realize how fortunate we are, and how we sometimes take things for granted. When I was a kid, my father used to tell me that there are two ways to learn about the world: one is to travel, and the other is to read. While most people cannot afford to explore the entire globe, they can still learn about it by reading. Because the book puts us inside the character's skin, reading allows us to feel empathy for people we've never met who are experiencing lives we couldn't possibly experience for ourselves. 

There is a video by Ali Abdaal who takes about "Is Reading Fiction Books Good for You?"  He discusses how, when comparing nonfiction to fiction reading, there is a statistically significant improvement in social cognitive performance. He also provides research-based answers. There's even some evidence that reading fiction helps lessen prejudice and bigotry, which is very essential in these times. According to a 2014 study, reading narrative literature, for example, helps to improve biassed categorical and emotional perceptions of mixed-race persons. 

This book is undeniably an experience; even those who hate it can't deny that it made them react and feel a certain way, so I consider it a success in that aspect.

Some people don't like this writing style, and that's fine; I was absolutely salivating over it. I felt so incredibly present in just the textures of the worlds, the different spaces that were created, how those were described, and the descriptions of light were so good. Also, whenever I get to read about artists, of which there are many in various media, such as sculptors and painters, lots of found art objects, and so on, reading about that was so enjoyable for me. Some others felt the writing was pretentious or bland, but I thought it was fantastic since it made me feel all of the emotions.

I've read and seen many reviews where people say this book isn't realistic because the degree of abuse that Jude experiences isn't realistic, and this is something that drives the storey for them. I don't believe this book is intended to be a realistic depiction of the amount of abuse that may happen to a person, even though it can happen in this bigger amount. I believe it is intended to show how abuse, no matter how much or how little the extent, the years, or the time span, once it occurs to you, is carried with you throughout your life.

I want to quote that many readers have expressed that they only felt emotionally connected with the characters because they felt pity for them. I didn't connect with these characters personally because I felt bad for them. I love them because I've met people like them and they still manage to persevere and find beautiful things and connections and seek help and talk about hope, and seeing that bravery in people is so powerful, and yes, these are fictional characters including  Jude who kept trying.

But this book, in particular, gives such emotional breadth to male voices, which is a very important factor because so many men have been trained to be emotionally silenced and not speak about their feelings. This book has male voices that are very strong and detailed, and the things they're saying are very universal. I believe it's important if you're a young man who is experiencing many of the same emotions as the characters but isn't hearing anyone talk about it. Finding a book like this might be quite helpful to you.

Lastly, I don't want you to feel as if I or anyone else thinks you're a lesser reader if you didn't like this book or if you don't plan on reading it again. It's not a fun read, it's difficult to get through, and it's not for everyone, and I believe that even as adults, and especially as adults, we need to protect ourselves from the media that we're consuming and not just go frantically into things. And maybe we shouldn't be, because every individual is different, and they'll have their own line of how much they're comfortable with, and if you're not comfortable with this, that's fine, it's just a book.