11 Devastating Books Like A Little Life

This post may include affiliate links. That means if you click and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Please see Disclosures for more information.

Share:

Fans know there are few books like A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

The immersive, sweeping, devastating novel about four friends living in New York–after college and in the decades following–stands alone for so many readers. 

But for those looking for A Little Life read-alikes, there are options! 

While Yanagihara’s style may be singular–and you can read more about her unique approach and inspiration for the book in The Story of the Story: 15 Things You Didn’t Know About A Little Life–so many of the themes she explores are common.

You can find themes of friendship, trauma, ambition, and LGBTQ relationships throughout modern literary fiction. They are endlessly fascinating story fodder and aspects of life that readers are eager to explore.

About A Little Life

A Liittle Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life

Author: Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life tells the story of JB, Malcolm, Willem, and Jude, four friends just out of college and making their way in New York.

As the story shifts through the perspectives of each friend, finally landing on Jude, you realize that Jude is struggling with more than quarter-life angst. He bears the physical and emotional wounds of a deeply traumatic childhood. As years and decades pass, the friends struggle to understand his trauma and help him move toward healing.

If you loved Yanagihara’s novel, you may like these books that are similar to A Little Life.

Books Like A Little Life

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, an A Little Life read-alike

The Great Believers

Author: Rebecca Makkai

The Great Believers follows a group of friends in Chicago through the devastation of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, and looks 30 years ahead to those left behind in 2015. Filled with wonderful characters and relationships, this is a deep-dive into the personal tragedies of the AIDS pandemic–different from our current one, in that the victims were shunned, shamed, and left to die. Heartbreaking, beautiful, and unforgettable–my favorite book of 2018.

Learn more about this book in my Story of the Story post: 11 Things to Know About The Great Believers.

Elements in common with A Little Life:

  • Male, urban friendships
  • LGBTQ issues
  • Trauma, loss, grief

A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham, a book similar to A Little Life

A Home at the End of the World

Author: Michael Cunningham

The story of three friends–Jonathan, Bobby, and Clare–who are devoted to one another, in different ways. Jonathan, who is gay, plans to father Clare’s child, until Clare and Bobby fall in love. The three leave New York City and move to a small house upstate to raise Clare and Bobby’s child, creating their own kind of family.

Elements in common with A Little Life:

  • Friends creating family
  • LGBTQ relationships
  • The isolated, out-of-time feeling

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, a book to read if you loved  A Little Life

My Dark Vanessa

Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell

This story about the relationship between a manipulative teacher and his teen student is reminiscent of Lolita, if told from the girl’s perspective. Well-written, difficult to read, and an interesting take on Vanessa’s determination to remain an actor in her own life, rather than just a victim.

Elements in common with A Little Life:

  • Dark, heavy topics
  • Dealing with childhood trauma as an adult
  • The effects of sexual abuse

The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne, a book similar to A Little Life

The Heart’s Invisible Furies

Author: John Boyne

Born to an unwed mother in Ireland in the 1940s, Cyril is adopted by Charles and Maude Avery. From an early age, Cyril knows he’s different: not a “real Avery,” and not attracted to girls like his friends.

The book follows Cyril through his life, from his youth and twenties spent in hiding in a repressive Dublin to a more open life in middle age in Amsterdam and New York. Cyril’s search for identity, belonging, acceptance, and family is by turns funny, frustrating, and sad.

Elements in common with A Little Life:

  • Childhood trauma
  • Struggles with identity
  • LGBTQ relationships

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi, a book for fans of A Little Life

The Death of Vivek Oji

Author: Akwaeke Emezi

In a Nigerian town, a mother opens the door and finds the body of her son. As she grieves his death, she tries to understand the person Vivek was and find out how he was killed. A gentle soul, Vivek struggled with identity and finding a place in the world.

Told from multiple perspectives, the story reconstructs the events leading to Vivek’s death and the heartbreaking struggle for self-acceptance in a world that is determined to deny it.

Elements in common with A Little Life:

  • Struggles with identity
  • LGBTQ issues and relationships

The Kindness of Strangers by Katrina Kittle, a book similar to A Little Life

The Kindness of Strangers

Author: Katrina Kittle

Sarah Laden, a young mother and widow, finds herself caring for her best friend’s son after a shocking revelation rocks the town. Sarah must come to grips with what she thought she knew about her friend, as well as what this boy and her own family need from her and how they might be able to recover–together.

Elements in common with A Little Life:

  • The trauma of childhood sexual abuse
  • Difficult, heartbreaking reading

*This, along with A Little Life, is one of the few books I give trigger warnings for. It’s well done but can be quite upsetting, so read with caution.


The Other's Gold by Elizabeth Ames, a book about friends like A Little Life

The Other’s Gold

Author: Elizabeth Ames

Lainey, Ji Sun, Alice, and Margaret are roommates and best friends in college, and the independence and intensity of campus life bonds them forever. Over the years, as the women graduate and move into adulthood, each makes a terrible mistake. The book walks through each–the Accident, the Accusation, the Kiss, and the Bite–examining the shifts and evolution in the women and their friendships.

Elements in common with A Little Life:

  • Urban, complex friendships after college
  • How friendships change in adulthood

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Author: Ocean Vuong

“Gorgeous” is the perfect word to attach to this novel–the prose is simply breathtaking. Poet Ocean Vuong’s first novel is framed as a letter from a son, Little Dog, to his Vietnamese mother, who cannot read. She is work-worn and sometimes abusive, exhausted by her lack of a homeland, her inability to read or speak English fluently, and her mentally ill mother who was traumatized by the war.

In the letter, Little Dog grapples with his identity as a son, an Asian American, and a gay man experiencing his first romance with a troubled farm worker.

Elements in common with A Little Life:

  • Immersive, reflective writing
  • Struggles with identity, abuse
  • LGBTQ relationships

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton,

Boy Swallows Universe

Author: Trent Dalton

Twelve-year old Eli Bell loves his messed-up family: his older brother, August, who stopped talking after a childhood trauma, and his mother and stepfather who are heroin dealers and former addicts. Things go south when the violence of his parents’ business comes to their home. His stepfather disappears and his mother ends up in jail.

Eli embarks on several missions: to save his mother, to find out what happened to his stepfather, to become a crime journalist, and to become a good man–all while taking down the man running the drug show in his seedy Australian suburb.

Elements in common with A Little Life:

  • The sweeping feel of a “big story”
  • Childhood trauma
  • Gritty and sometimes brutal

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Tin Man

Author: Sarah Winman

At 12 years old, Ellis and Michael begin an intense companionship that evolves into more, until the two boys find themselves at a decision point.

Jumping ahead: Ellis is a 45-year-old autoworker, living alone and nursing his flashes of memory. Annie. Michael. The friendship that expanded to enfold the third member, and then closed again, never to allow in a fourth. The story slowly unfolds to reveal the cycles of bonding and breaking that defined their relationships, and how Ellis came to be alone.

Elements in common with A Little Life:

  • Intense, insular friendships that evolve into more
  • LGBTQ relationships
  • The emotional push-and-pull of lifelong friendships

The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman

The Gunners

Author: Rebecca Kauffman

Mikey Callahan is the only one of six childhood friends to remain in their hometown, aside from the long-estranged Sally, who has taken her life in adulthood. The remaining friends trickle into town for the funeral, reconnect, and confess old and new secrets.

As long-held misunderstandings are remedied, the friends realize that they may not have known each other as well as they thought–but also that this unknowing is a constant in relationships, and they can endure anyway.

Elements in common with A Little Life:

  • Groups of friends learning of the trauma of one of their own
  • Lifelong friendships

What other books remind you of A Little Life?


Support Local Bookstores

Now, more than ever, local bookstores need our support. If you are purchasing books, consider buying local or from Bookshop.org, which supports local, independent bookstores.

Shop my book lists or search Bookshop.org for your next great read:

Shop this list on Bookshop.


More read-alikes:

You might also like:


11 Devastating Books Like A Little Life

Share:

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.