Books Like A Little Life

14 Disheartening Books Like A Little Life


A Little Life’s popularity has surged significantly over the past few years for a very good reason.

In this novel, Hanya Yanagihara talks about sensitive subjects, identity, and belonging. Her characters are entirely human and complex, possessing a depth that most novels lack.

For those looking for more books like A Little Life, I’ve gathered 14 books that will make you think, feel, and empathize — sometimes all at once, below.

Books Like A Little Life

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is similar to A Little Life, with some more humour thrown in. Still, both books evoke the same emotions, so don’t forget to bring plenty of tissues!

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a novel about Cyril, a man born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community, adopted by an eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun.

He spends his life coming to know himself, where he came from — and over the years, he struggles to discover an identity, a home, and much more.

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

Ghana Must Go is a slow burn with a powerful emotional payoff. As with Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, you will want to pull over and sit for a while once you’ve finished reading it.

Kweku Sai, a highly regarded surgeon who had abandoned his family years ago, died suddenly outside his home in suburban Accra, Ghana.

The news of his death sent shockwaves around the world, reuniting his children for the first time in years.

The story of how they came apart is revealed in their coming together: hearts broken, lies told, and crimes committed in the name of love. Splintered and alone, each navigates his pain until a new way forward begins to emerge.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay is a must-read book that will change your perspective on love, life, and family. But like all of the books like A Little Life here, I suggest you do not read this in public.

An accident has left Mia with no memory of what happened.

The only things she can remember are watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck and all the complications that follow.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Books Like A Little Life - Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favorite authors. Apart from Never Let Me Go, all of his books evoke similar feelings and thoughts as A Little Life. The book also appears in my other list of books like No Longer Human.

In Never Let Me Go, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy are students at Hailsham.

They’re taught art and literature, as well as being supported and cared for. But they know nothing of the outside world and are only allowed little contact with it.

It’s not until they leave the safe confines of their school that they realize what Hailsham really was.

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

The Memory Book by Lara Avery

If you found A Little Life emotionally wrenching, The Memory Book will have the same effect on you.

Sammie always had a plan: graduate at the top of her class, get out of town as soon as possible, and never look back.

But when she gets sick with a rare genetic disorder the doctors say will slowly steal her memories and then her health, she needs to make a new plan, so she makes The Memory Book.

Inside the book are Sammie’s notes about everything she wants to remember — from every perfect detail of her first date with longtime crush Stuart to how much she’s missed her childhood best friend Cooper.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Look no further if you want a book that makes you sob like A Little Life — read The Book Thief.

But if you want to read something that gives you a sense of introspection, check out my post about books like Norwegian Wood.

Markus Zusak’s bestselling novel The Book Thief is about the power of words to sustain us in our darkest moments.

The story occurs during World War II and centers on Liesel Meminger, who begins stealing books from Nazi book burnings and the mayor’s wife’s library.

But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up and closed down.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is one of the books like A Little Life because it’s a beautiful, lyrical book that will leave you feeling devastated.

In On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, a son writes a letter to his mother.

The writer, Little Dog, begins this letter when he’s in his late twenties. This letter helps the mother learn about her son’s life, which she had never known about before.

The book also explores themes like addiction, violence, and trauma. But underneath all of those themes is compassion and tenderness.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

The themes of In The Dream House and A Little Life are similar in some ways, although the former is nonfiction.

In the Dream House is a stunning memoir in which Carmen Maria Machado recounts her experiences in an abusive same-sex relationship.

Using classic horror themes and narrative tropes, she has created an innovative piece of work that is certain to become an instant classic.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Books Like A Little Life - Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies is one of the books like A Little Life in terms of the way the prose is written.

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill, we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they seemed.

In a story about a marriage, Lauren Groff introduces us to two people who are as dazzling as they are complicated. They’re destined for greatness — and ten years later, we can see how true that is.

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

Not only do they share similar writing styles, but White Oleander also has many of the same themes as A Little Life, including friendship, love, and loss.

The story of Ingrid, a brilliant poet imprisoned for murder, and her daughter, Astrid, who finds herself in a series of Los Angeles foster homes, is a heart-wrenching novel of self-discovery.

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

Similar to A Little Life, The Great Believers is a powerful novel that offers insight into the lasting effects of trauma and the ways the characters cope with them.

In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup: bringing in an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery.

However, as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDS epidemic grows around him. Yet while Yale himself remains safe from the virus, his friends are dying all around him—one by one.

Thirty years after the Chicago crisis, Fiona stays in Paris with an old friend — the famed photographer who documented the crisis. And the two have a chance to reflect on that time together.

Their stories intertwine as they try to make sense of the world they live in today, one ravaged by disease and disaster.

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint is truly a great book. It has many themes in common with A Little Life, but it’s different in that Edgar, like Jude, leaves to face the abusive world, albeit for different reasons.

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint tells the story of Edgar Mint, a half-Apache orphan.

He survives not just one but several tragedies in his life: a bizarre accident and a hellish boarding school for Native American orphans (a well-meaning but wildly dysfunctional Mormon foster family).

But when he loses most of the illusions that are supposed to make life bearable, his innate goodness and belief in the redeeming power of language persist.

Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neil

Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neil

Lonely Hearts Hotel is not as well known as other books like A Little Life on the list. However, both books have some of the same thematic struggles.

In 1910, two babies were abandoned in an orphanage in Montreal.

Pierrot becomes a piano prodigy, and Rose becomes a talented dancer. Together they fall in love and dream up a plan for the world’s most extraordinary circus show.

But they are separated as teenagers and sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression. Both descend into the city’s underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs, and theft to survive.

After years of searching and poverty, Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath snowflakes that renew their childhood dreams.

Soon they have hit New York City as well as the alleys of both the theatre and underworld with their troupe of clowns and chorus girls — and both will never look the same again.

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore

Books Like A Little Life - Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore

Valentine is a haunting exploration of life struggles. Unlike A Little Life, though, this book features strong female characters.

It’s February 1976, and the tiny town of Odessa, Texas, is about to experience another oil boom.

The men think it will be a good time, but the women know that when oil booms come to small towns, so does violence. They have seen it happen before.

In the early hours of Valentine’s Day, fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramírez appears at the doorstep of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, badly injured and close to death.

The teenager had been attacked in an oil field — an act of brutality that shocked many people. When justice proves elusive, tempers flare, and dangerous consequences threaten everyone involved.

Wrapping Up

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is so moving that you almost have to stop reading the book once in a while. But nevertheless, we ended up loving the book so much that we are looking for more similar books to it.

Hopefully, you found at least one book on the list that captured your attention and will make you sob uncontrollably just as much as A Little Life did.

If you want something adventurous and make you feel good, however, check out my previous post about books like Project Hail Mary and books like The House in the Cerulean Sea.

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