8 Crushing Books Like A Little Life

“What he knew, he knew from books, and books lied, they made things prettier.”—Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

a little life book cover hanya yanagihara

Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life is an unexpected cultural phenomenon. The 700+ page doorstopper of a read has enthralled millions of readers and inspired intense devotion from fans across the globe. It’s become a TikTok challenge for people to read the book and see how long it takes them to cry! 

While it’s certainly a love-hate novel, a book that’s inspired as much revulsion as adoration, it’s tough to deny that A Little Life is something unique.

What genre is A Little Life?

At its heart, A Little Life is a drama, although that cannot help but feel like a simplification of what the novel deals with. The story follows the lives of four friends living in New York City as they work on achieving their dreams: Willem is an actor, Malcolm an architect, JB a painter, and Jude a lawyer. Soon, it is Jude who becomes the overwhelming focus of the story, as A Little Life offers an agonizingly detailed portrait of his dark past. Jude's life has been hell since birth, a cycle of trauma, abuse, and violence that has left him, he believes, beyond saving. 

In describing her work, Yanagihara said to New York Magazine that "one of the things [she] wanted to do with this book was create a protagonist who never got better… [for him] to begin healthy (or appear so) and end sick – both the main character and the plot itself." She certainly achieved that, as A Little Life is one of the most all-consuming portraits of human suffering ever committed to the page.

Below, discover eight more novels like Yanagihara's masterpiece.

summer cannibals, a book like a little life

Summer Cannibals

By Melanie Hobson

Summoned to their magnificent family mansion on the shores of Lake Ontario, three adult sisters are forced together for the first time in years. Pippa is pregnant and unwell, having left her husband and four kids behind in New Zealand. Jax is the fun-loving, care-free sister, while George is a history professor with a love for danger. And then there are their parents, David and Margaret Blackford, the former of whom has become obsessed with a young couple he caught making out in their garden. 

When long-buried truths finally come to light, the sisters and their parents become embroiled in a dangerous mixture of desire and revenge.

Touring The Land of the Dead

Touring The Land of the Dead

By Maki Kashimada

It's been a decade since Taichi was able to work, and since then, he and his wife Natsuko have been getting by on her meager part-time wages. Natsuko grew up in poverty so is used to the grind, but she refuses to give up on her husband who has been deemed obsolete by society. 

One day, Natsuko sees an ad for a spa and recognizes the place as the former luxury hotel that her grandfather took her mother to when she was a child. Despite the costs, she decides to take Taichi there in the hopes that he can be healed from his crushing ailment. But their time there brings back some difficult memories regarding Natsuko's past and what it means for her marriage to the man she loves.

A Dangerous Woman

A Dangerous Woman

By Mary McGarry Morris

Martha Horgan is an emotionally unstable woman who has been shunned by those in her tight-knit hometown. She has never truly recovered from a violent incident from her youth where a group of teenage boys sexually humiliated her. 

Having lost her only job and source of support, Martha is forced to return to the home of her aunt, a wealthy widow who has no real interest in taking on the responsibility of caring for her niece. The arrival of a seductive manipulator named Colin Mackey only further complicates matters, as Martha's unbridled desire crashes against her attempts to take control of her life for the first time.

blame by paul read, a book like a little life


By Paul Read

In the summer of 1989, Lucas witnesses something shocking. The fallout tears his family apart, never to recover. A decade later, Lucas' estranged father succumbs to a suspected heart attack. Desperate to avoid his grief, he flees to New York City with his colleague Mariana. But the past will not let him be. 

When his father's girlfriend fails to reappear after reporting his death, the true cause of his demise comes to light. Revealing the past for both his father and himself will force Lucas to confront the ghosts he's been avoiding for many years. It will also expose the troubling bonds that tie together father and son.

shuggie bain, a book like a little life

Shuggie Bain

By Douglas Stuart

Hugh "Shuggie" Bain is a young Glaswegian boy growing up in a crumbling council estate in Scotland. His mother is Agnes, a women married to a philandering taxi-driver husband. Agnes tries to maintain an image of glamor and dignity, but soon finds herself increasingly turning to alcohol. 

Agnes's older children find their own ways to get a safe distance from their mother, abandoning Shuggie to care for her as she struggles with alcoholism. All the while, Shuggie is coming to terms with his own sexuality, and he and Agnes become one another's life rafts as their pain and her addictions send them further adrift.


My Dark Vanessa

By Kate Elizabeth Russell

As a teenager, Vanessa Wye fell into a strange relationship with Jacob Strane, her magnetic middle-aged English teacher. Seventeen years later, amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, Strane is accused of sexual abuse by one of his former students. 

That student reaches out to Vanessa, hoping to find support with another apparent victim. She's conflicted. To her younger self, her affair with Strane was consensual, a fling with her first love. But her memory isn't clear, and now she must confront the painful reality that the man who she thought worshipped her as a teenager wanted to control her.

The Great Believers

The Great Believers

By Rebecca Makkai

In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off the biggest acquisition of his career. But the scourge of the AIDS epidemic has become to ravage his community, and one by one, his friends die. After his friend Nico's funeral, Yale finds himself drawn to his late friend's younger sister, Fiona. 

Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways AIDS affected her life. Over the course of three decades, both Yale and Fiona struggle to find a reason to go on in the midst of inescapable disaster.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

By Ocean Vuong

Little Dog is a young queer Vietnamese-American man who was raised by a loving but troubled single mother named Hong. In an attempt to reconcile his emotions with his family's tumultuous past, Little Dog writes a letter to his illiterate mother. Thus follows a nonlinear exploration of both Little Dog's upbringing and romance with a white man named Trevor, and the life of his grandmother Lan, who escaped an arranged marriage during the Vietnam War and married a white American soldier. 

Partly inspired by author and poet Ocean Vuong's own life, the book is merciless in its candor and visceral in its descriptions of the racism that permeated three generations of an Asian-American family.