24 Books Like A Little Life

Books Like A Little Life

Hanya Yanagihara’s “A Little Life” has left an indelible mark on readers with its exploration of friendship, trauma, and the complexities of human experience. 

If you found yourself deeply moved by the emotional depth and intricate storytelling of this masterpiece, you’re likely craving more books that offer a similar blend of heart-wrenching narratives and profound character development. 

In this blog post, we’ve curated a list of some books similar to “A Little Life” while offering unique perspectives and unforgettable journeys of their own. From intimate portrayals of friendship to raw examinations of the human condition, these books are bound to resonate with fans of Yanagihara’s unforgettable work. 

Let’s begin. 

Books like A Little Life

1. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel centers on Theo Decker, who survives an accident that kills his mother. As he grows up, he clings to a painting that reminds him of her, leading him into the art underworld. The book delves deeply into themes of grief, guilt, redemption, and the impact of trauma over a lifetime.

Major Similarities: Both novels explore the long-lasting effects of trauma and the search for beauty in a broken world. The detailed character development and the journey through the characters’ lives offer a similarly immersive reading experience.

2. “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” by John Boyne

This novel follows Cyril Avery, who is not a real Avery, or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. From his birth in post-war Ireland to his quest for identity and belonging, the story spans several decades, exploring themes of love, friendship, and societal change.

Major Similarities: The epic scope of personal and emotional journey, societal pressures, and the quest for identity and love echo the depth of character exploration found in “A Little Life.”

3. “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong

Written as a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read, this novel is a raw exploration of family history, trauma, and the enduring impact of the Vietnam War across generations. It’s a deeply personal and poetic examination of identity, love, and understanding.

Major Similarities: The lyrical prose and the intense, intimate exploration of trauma, identity, and familial relationships mirror the emotional depth and complexity seen in Yanagihara’s work.

4. “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro

This dystopian novel unfolds the lives of Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth, who attend an exclusive boarding school in the English countryside. As they grow into adults, they must come to terms with the haunting reality of their existence and the society they belong to.

Major Similarities: Themes of friendship, loss, and the haunting search for meaning and love amidst a predetermined fate resonate with the emotional and thematic layers in “A Little Life.”

5. “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

Set in a magical Victorian era, this novel tells the story of two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who are trained from childhood to compete in a mysterious, magical competition that takes place within the confines of an enchanted circus.

Major Similarities: While thematically different, both novels immerse the reader in beautifully detailed worlds filled with complex relationships and the exploration of the characters’ emotional depths.

6. “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a multigenerational saga that tells the story of Calliope Stephanides and the genetic secret that influences her gender identity. It explores themes of identity, the immigrant experience, and the fluidity of gender against the backdrop of 20th-century American history.

Major Similarities: The exploration of identity, trauma, and the protagonist’s journey through life’s complexities mirror the thematic richness and emotional depth of “A Little Life.”

7. “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

This novel revolves around a group of classics students at an elite college in Vermont who explore morality beyond the boundaries of the law, leading to tragic consequences. The story delves into themes of beauty, evil, and the nature of corruption.

Major Similarities: The intense relationships among a close-knit group of friends, the exploration of dark themes, and the psychological depth are reminiscent of “A Little Life’s” exploration of friendship and human complexity.

8. “Atonement” by Ian McEwan

This novel begins in 1935 England and follows the lives of young lovers Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner, whose lives are derailed by a lie told by Cecilia’s sister, Briony. Spanning several decades, the novel explores themes of love, guilt, and the quest for redemption.

Major Similarities: The profound exploration of guilt, redemption, and the devastating impact of a single action on multiple lives echoes the emotional intensity and narrative depth of “A Little Life.”

9. “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck

Set in the Salinas Valley of California, this epic novel tells the intertwined stories of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, exploring themes of good versus evil, the nature of choice, and the possibility of redemption.

Major Similarities: The epic scope, the exploration of human nature, and the deep, emotional character studies provide a reading experience that fans of “A Little Life” might appreciate for its depth and complexity.

10. “Beloved” by Toni Morrison

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is set after the American Civil War and tells the story of Sethe, an escaped slave haunted by the past and a mysterious spirit. It explores themes of freedom, the scars of slavery, and the impact of trauma across generations.

Major Similarities: The intense examination of trauma, the haunting presence of the past, and the profound exploration of human emotions and relationships mirror the thematic and emotional depth of “A Little Life.”

11. “The Interestings” by Meg Wolitzer

This novel follows a group of friends who meet at a summer camp for the arts in the 1970s and traces their friendships, successes, and failures into adulthood. It explores themes of envy, success, and the complexity of human relationships.

Major Similarities: The lifelong friendships, the exploration of ambition and success, and the emotional depth of character development echo the narrative and thematic richness of “A Little Life.”

12. “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini

Set in Afghanistan, this novel tells the story of Amir, who is haunted by his childhood betrayal of his best friend Hassan. It explores themes of friendship, guilt, redemption, and the complex nature of father-son relationships.

Major Similarities: The intense focus on friendship, betrayal, and the quest for redemption, along with the emotional depth of the characters’ journeys, resonate with the thematic exploration in “A Little Life.”

13. “We Are Not Ourselves” by Matthew Thomas

This novel chronicles the life of Eileen Tumulty, the daughter of Irish immigrants in post-war America, as she aspires to a better life, only to face unexpected challenges within her family. It’s a sweeping narrative about ambition, love, and the American Dream.

Major Similarities: The depth of character exploration, the impact of personal and familial trauma, and the pursuit of identity and belonging echo the narrative depth and emotional resonance found in “A Little Life.”

14. “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr

Set during World War II, this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel tells the parallel stories of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths eventually cross. It explores themes of fate, resilience, and the human capacity for both beauty and brutality.

Major Similarities: The intricate character development, the exploration of the impacts of war on individuals, and the beautiful, evocative prose offer a similarly compelling and emotionally rich reading experience.

15. “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” by Michael Chabon

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel follows two Jewish cousins before, during, and after World War II as they create a popular series of comic books. It explores themes of escape, the impact of war, and the search for identity and meaning.

Major Similarities: The exploration of artistic expression as a means of coping with trauma, the deep dive into the characters’ lives and relationships, and the backdrop of historical events provide a narrative depth similar to “A Little Life.”

16. “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Díaz

This novel tells the story of Oscar, an overweight Dominican boy growing up in New Jersey, who dreams of becoming a writer and finding love. Through his story, the novel explores themes of identity, love, and the curse that haunts his family.

Major Similarities: The rich storytelling, the exploration of familial legacies, and the deep emotional engagement with the characters’ lives and struggles mirror the narrative complexity and emotional intensity of “A Little Life.”

17. “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann

Set in 1970s New York, this novel weaves together the stories of a diverse cast of characters, including a tightrope walker who performs between the Twin Towers. It explores themes of chance, loss, and the interconnectedness of lives.

Major Similarities: The multifaceted exploration of characters’ lives against the backdrop of a changing New York, combined with the emotional depth and human resilience, resonates with the themes of “A Little Life.”

18. “Fates and Furies” by Lauren Groff

This novel tells the story of a marriage over twenty-four years, from both the husband’s and wife’s perspectives. It explores themes of love, secrets, and the artifice of storytelling within the context of a relationship.

Major Similarities: The deep dive into the complexities of relationships, the exploration of character depth and secrets, and the emotional intensity of the narrative offer a reading experience akin to “A Little Life.”

19. “City of Thieves” by David Benioff

During the siege of Leningrad in WWII, two young men are tasked with finding a dozen eggs for a Soviet colonel’s daughter’s wedding cake, leading them on a dangerous adventure. This novel explores themes of friendship, survival, and the absurdity of war.

Major Similarities: The focus on the bonds formed under extreme circumstances, the exploration of human resilience, and the blend of humor and tragedy reflect the emotional range found in “A Little Life.”

20. “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward

This novel follows a struggling family in Mississippi as they embark on a road trip to the state penitentiary. It weaves together the past and present to explore themes of family, racism, and the ghosts of history.

Major Similarities: The exploration of familial bonds, the impact of history and trauma on individuals and their relationships, and the lyrical prose offer a resonant and powerful reading experience similar to “A Little Life.”

21. “Normal People” by Sally Rooney

This novel explores the complex relationship between Marianne and Connell as they navigate adulthood from their high school days in a small town in Ireland to their years at university in Dublin, examining themes of love, power dynamics, and social class.

Major Similarities: The intimate exploration of relationships, the nuanced character development, and the emotional depth and complexity of the narrative echo the profound exploration of human connections found in “A Little Life.”

22. “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Set in post-World War II Barcelona, this novel follows a young boy who discovers a book that leads him into a mystery involving the author’s fate, a love story, and the dark secrets of the city.

Major Similarities: The atmospheric setting, the deep emotional engagement with the characters, and the intertwining of personal and historical narratives provide a reading experience with a depth of character and narrative similar to “A Little Life.”

23. “Life After Life” by Kate Atkinson

This novel explores the life (or lives) of Ursula Todd, who dies and is reborn multiple times in early 20th-century England. Through its exploration of how the smallest changes can impact the course of history, it delves into themes of fate, history, and family.

Major Similarities: The novel’s exploration of the impact of time and the emotional depth of its characters’ lives and choices resonate with the thematic exploration and character depth found in “A Little Life.”

24. “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson

This novel is presented as a letter from an elderly preacher, John Ames, to his young son, reflecting on his life, his ancestors, and the beauty of existence amidst the challenges of the American Midwest.

Major Similarities: The contemplative tone, the exploration of deep emotional and spiritual themes, and the focus on the beauty of everyday life echo the emotional and thematic depth of “A Little Life.”

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