A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara

RATING: ★★★★

Though I mostly review YA and classic novels on my blog, already an odd combination at best, I want to throw something new into the mix - a book I think can appeal to readers of both Young Adult books and the more classic novels: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

Even if you know nothing about this book, you probably know that it was expected to win the Man Booker Prize this year, and then didn't. But book prizes, nominations or wins, don't always reflect on the quality of a book; sometimes books win because they're so experimental or special, but does that mean it's a good book? A Little Life truly is a good book with an amazingly strong plot and characters that you can't let go, even after reading over 700 pages about them.

A Little Life is the story of four recent college graduates: Willem, Jude, JB and Malcolm. They roomed together while attending a small New England college and have recently moved to New York at the beginning of the story. The first hundred pages of the book are devoted to explaining who each guy is and how they have become the way they are: Willem comes from Midwest America and doesn't understand his parents at all. He moves to NYC to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. Malcolm comes from a rich family and wants to be an architect while JB is struggling to find ways to express his artistic creativity. And then there is Jude. Jude doesn't talk about his childhood and seems to have come out of nowhere with absolutely no one. He's a lawyer, but also a prodigy at maths. Very early on, the reader realises Jude is the wildcard of the bunch - you just don't realise how much until you're already deep into the story.

And that's the biggest strength of Hanya Yanagihara; she unveils layers of plot seamlessly and unexpectedly throughout the book. One of the characters mentions or sees something that appears trivial, but suddenly there is a whole new world opened within the book. Jude's secrets aren't thrown out there for the readers, they are carefully distributed throughout the book and slowly makes the reader understand more and more why Jude is the way he is.

From here on, the review will include some spoilers, so if you don't want to read them, I suggest you stop reading here.

What I loved about this book is that it beautifully combine horrendous actions with a hopeless sort of hope. I didn't know hopeless hope existed, but Hanya Yanagihara introduced it to my life with this book. Jude has gone through the worst of things; he was kidnapped and sexually, physically and mentally abused as a child. He has no parents and every single person he ever trusted has betrayed him. He has an intense self-hatred that seems to be unescapable. At some point in the book, you think Jude will get better and actually find his happy ending, only to be reminded that this is not a fairytale and the worst possible thing happens to Jude, just like it has his whole life.

And though Jude doesn't fight in a typical sense, he does hold on to life for as long as he can and I thought that was beautiful. Jude can't be a super strong character, because strength is build and he never got that chance, but he is strong in his own way and even the ending, which no one would call a happy ending, is somewhat beautiful. Jude finds his own way and his own hope and as a reader, you feel at peace with the story. Jude finds his resolution, the only one possible in his mind, and though it is not hopeful, as a reader you do feel kind of happy that he is finally at peace.

The other three characters, Willem, JB and Malcolm, are less focused on, but still well-rounded in their own right. They interact with Jude, who really claims the story early on in the book, but are never there just to push Jude's story arc forward. The book naturally develops from a focus on all four characters, to a focus on Jude, to a focus on Jude and Willem. You don't even realise it's happening until you're deep in the story.

So no surprise, I adored this book. The writing was beautiful, subtle in its plot developments and extremely raw in emotional scenes. This is not a book for the faint of heart and it might make you question what happiness is and if anyone can ever help you achieve it, but that's the beauty of this story. I've read it in small bits over the course of two weeks and even now, almost two weeks after I finished, I still want to pick it up and return to this world.