A Little Life Book Summary - A Little Life Book explained in key points
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A Little Life summary

Hanya Yanagihara

An Epic Novel About Queer Life, Friendship & Human Endurance

4.8 (28 ratings)
22 mins

Brief summary

"A Little Life" by Hanya Yanagihara is a heart-wrenching novel that follows four friends from college to adulthood, delving deep into themes of trauma, friendship, love, and resilience.

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    A Little Life
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    Lispenard Street: The beginning of adulthood

    The story opens in New York City. Best friends Jude and Willem are fresh out of college, and they’re looking for a place to move into together. But while viewing one of the listings, they’re told that without guarantors, they’ll have slim chances. The guarantor issue proves tricky: Willem’s parents are dead, and Jude’s parents … well, they’re a mystery. 

    Jude and Willem are one half of the college friend group that is now trying to make it in the big city. There’s also Malcolm – a quiet, serious guy who’s on a solid path to becoming a respected architect. 

    And there’s Jean-Baptiste – JB to his friends – who’s an aspiring artist. For his latest series, he’s begun painting his best friends in everyday scenarios. He’s clearly talented, but he can be a little obnoxious. For instance, he teases Malcolm about his issues with his Blackness. Malcolm is African-American, while JB has proud Haitian roots.

    Willem is the most kind and handsome of them all. He’s trying to make it as an actor, but like so many hopefuls, he makes ends meet by waiting tables. He hasn’t had the easiest life – his disabled younger brother Hemming died while he was in college, and his estranged parents passed shortly after.

    But Jude is the real enigma of the four. We learn that he’s mixed-race, but his heritage is a mystery even to his friends. Jude is kind, caring, and multitalented, but his body is covered in brutal scars and he has a bad limp. 

    Willem and Jude eventually find a place to live: a small apartment on Lispenard Street in Soho. And although it’s quite run-down, they’re incredibly proud of it. On the day of their inaugural New Year’s Eve party, the four friends lock themselves out on the roof of the building. They have to jump down the fire escape to get back into the apartment. 


    The first part of the novel introduces us to the four friends at the center of the story: Jude, Willem, Malcolm, and JB. They have just moved to New York after finishing college, and are about to transition into adult life in the city.We experience their day-to-day lives through each of their perspectives, which reveal what they think of themselves and also of each other. They’re going through the typical struggles associated with this phase of life: grappling with questions of identity, sexuality, and earning recognition for their work. 

    Although there are some unspoken truths and unasked questions between them – about Jude’s past, for instance – it’s clear that they have a lot of love for one another. 

    But it also becomes apparent that Jude and Willem have a special, deeper bond that may have to do with their difficult childhoods. We don’t know what happened to Jude yet, but there are plenty of clues that he has gone through something traumatic – his scars, his limp, and his obsessions with locking doors and cleaning.

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    What is A Little Life about?

    A Little Life (2015) follows the lives of four friends in New York City: aspiring actor Willem, moody painter JB, quiet architect Malcolm, and the brilliant, mysterious litigator Jude. Over the years, the four friends grow together, drift apart, find love and success, and struggle with loss and addiction. As enigmatic Jude gradually moves into the center of the narrative, the full extent of his unbearable burden begins to reveal itself. 

    A Little Life Review

    A Little Life (2015) is an emotionally powerful novel that delves into the complex lives of four friends living in New York City. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • With its profound exploration of human relationships and the lasting impact of trauma, the book engages readers in a deeply emotional journey.
    • It tackles sensitive topics such as friendship, love, and the struggle for identity and acceptance, creating a thought-provoking narrative that lingers long after the last page.
    • Through its skilful portrayal of authentic characters and their interwoven stories, the book offers a raw and honest examination of the human condition, leaving no room for boredom.

    Who should read A Little Life?

    • People who enjoy character-driven literature
    • Fans of stories about complex relationships 
    • Anyone in need of a good cry

    About the Author

    Hanya Yanagihara is a US-American journalist and author with Japanese, Korean, and Hawaiian roots. Her first novel, The People in the Trees, is a fictional autobiographical account of the controversial life of anthropologist Daniel Carleton Gajdusek. Her latest novel, To Paradise, deals with questions of family, disease, and nationhood and became a #1 New York Times best seller.

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    A Little Life FAQs 

    What is the main message of A Little Life?

    A profound exploration of friendship, trauma, and the limits of human endurance.

    How long does it take to read A Little Life?

    Reading time varies. Blinkist summary can be read in 15 minutes.

    Is A Little Life a good book? Is it worth reading?

    A disturbing yet powerful book that tackles complex themes and leaves a lasting impact.

    Who is the author of A Little Life?

    Hanya Yanagihara is the author of A Little Life.

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