3 Books Like A Little Life (By Hanya Yanagihara)

A Little Life is a book by American novelist, travel writer, and journalist Hanya Yanagihara that was first published in 2015.

It is a story of four friends who meet in college and follow each other through their adult lives.

Books Like A Little Life (By Hanya Yanagihara- Three Harrowing Recommendations)

The book follows the lives of Willem, JB, Malcolm, and Jude, who are all struggling with their own personal demons and traumatic pasts.

The novel is known for its intense and emotional portrayal of the characters and their relationships with each other, as well as its depiction of hard-hitting themes such as love, friendship, and trauma.

A Little Life received widespread critical acclaim upon its release, being long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2015 and going on to make the shortlist alongside five other books.

As well as that, A Little Life was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award for Fiction and won the Kirkus Prize for fiction in 2015.

In 2016, it was shortlisted for both the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, whilst in 2017 it was shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award.

The book also ranked 96th in the 2019 list of the 100 best books of the 21st century by The Guardian.

If you found yourself thoroughly gripped by the harrowing story of A Little Life, then you are sure to enjoy the likes of A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham, The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Themes In A Little Life

A Little Life

There are various themes to be found in A Little Life, with the most prominent revolving around trauma and the past, relationships, love, loyalty, and friendship.

Trauma And Its Long-Lasting Effects

Many of the characters in the novel have experienced significant trauma in their lives, and the book explores the ways in which trauma can shape and define a person’s life.

The theme is explored most prominently through the experiences of the main character, Jude, who has gone through physical and emotional abuse throughout his life.

The novel follows Jude as he navigates the aftermath of these traumatic events and tries to heal and find happiness.

The other characters in the novel also have their own traumas and struggles, and the novel explores how they cope with and try to overcome their pasts.

The theme of trauma is prominent throughout the novel, and it serves as a driving force for many of the actions and decisions that the characters make.

Friendship And Loyalty

The novel focuses on the relationships between the four main characters and the ways in which they support and rely on each other.

Jude, in particular, is the recipient of much love and loyalty from his friends.

He has struggled with a great deal of trauma in his life, and his friends go to great lengths to care for him and help him heal.

Willem, in particular, is a constant source of support and love for Jude, and their relationship is a key element of the novel.

Love And Relationships

The book explores the different kinds of love that exist among us as human beings, including romantic love, platonic love, and familial love.

Jude has a difficult time forming close relationships due to the trauma he has experienced in his past, but he eventually finds love and connection with Willem, his best friend.

Their relationship is a central part of the novel and serves as an example of the transformative power of love and social bonds.

The other characters in the novel also experience love and relationships in different ways, such as JB and Malcolm, who are shown to have tumultuous relationships with their partners.

The novel explores the ups and downs of these relationships as well.

Books Like A Little Life

A Home At The End Of The World- Michael Cunningham

A Home at the End of the World: A Novel

Much like A Little Life, A Home at the End of the World explores the theme of relationships and the search for belonging.

In the novel, childhood friends Bobby and Jonathan along with Jonathan’s roommate Clare- whom Bobby falls in love with- struggle to find their place in the world and to create a sense of home for themselves.

The novel follows the evolution of their relationships with each other over several decades and examines the different meanings of home and family for each of them.

The theme of finding a home in an unconventional and unexpected place after dealing with the various pitfalls of life is explored thoroughly in A Home at the End of the World.

Similarly, in A Little Life, the theme of relationships, belonging, navigating the loneliness of life, and accepting yourself for who you are is explored through the experiences of the main character, Jude, and his friends.


  • A beautifully written and resonant story that explores complex themes
  • Well-developed and relatable characters
  • A rich and engaging narrative


  • The novel deals with heavy themes which may be distressing for some readers

Themes: Home and belonging, friendship, loss, love, grief, identity, the passage of time

The Heart’s Invisible Furies- John Boyne

The Heart's Invisible Furies: A Novel

Identity, the human experience, and relationships are core themes within John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, similar to A Little Life.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a novel that follows the life of protagonist Cyril Avery over several decades, as he struggles to find his place in the world and to come to terms with his own identity.

The novel explores the ways in which societal expectations and prejudices can shape an individual’s sense of self, with Cyril’s past- being adopted when he was born out of wedlock to a teenage girl in rural Ireland- being a major theme that causes his struggle with his identity.

Much like Jude’s difficulties overcoming his past trauma in “A Little Life”, Cyril struggles to overcome his roots, particularly as his adoptive parents constantly remind him that he isn’t a “real” Avery.

The connections between discovering who we are as people and our upbringing and history are thoroughly explored in both novels in an emotional and eye-opening manner.


  • An insightful and poignant look at the social and cultural changes that took place in Ireland over several decades
  • Thought-provoking
  • Covers various time periods


  • Some readers may find Boyne’s writing style to be too flowery or overly poetic

Themes: Loss, love, finding your identity, trauma, abuse and the aftermath of abuse, adoption, teenage pregnancy

The Book Thief By Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

Set in Germany during World War II, The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl who is sent to live in the small town of Molching with a foster family.

Liesel’s life is transformed when she begins to steal books and learns to read, and she becomes drawn into the lives of her foster family, their neighbors, and the Jewish man they are hiding in their basement.

Like A Little Life, The Book Thief explores complex themes of identity, relationships, and the human experience, with both being heavy reads that can be quite difficult to manage from an emotional perspective.


  • Offers a unique perspective on World War II seeing as the story is narrated by Death itself
  • Vivid and descriptive
  • Emotionally resonant


  • The subject matter can be disturbing due to tackling the Holocaust and World War I, which might be too much for some readers.

Themes: Human connection, the power of relationships, identity, loss, love, the effects of the Holocaust, the effects of war

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that Hanya Yanagihara crafted an incredibly touching and harrowing story with A Little Life, featuring complex, human characters and sensitive yet deep and necessary topics that make the reader emphasize, sympathize, and simply feel as she draws you further and further into the story.

For those who are looking to expand their reading collection with novels that possess the same kind of depth as A Little Life- and that can be just as difficult to read at times due to the intensity and severity of the themes-, then The Book Thief, A Home at the End of the World, and The Heart’s Invisible Furies are definitely some of the best novels for you to add to your bookshelf.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Is A Little Life?

A Little Life is a long novel that will take a considerable amount of time and effort to finish, with a total of 720 pages.

Is A Little Life Part Of A Series?

A Little Life is a standalone novel and not part of a larger series.

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Noah Burton