10 Emotional Books Like A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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by Charlotte Hopkins

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Have you just finished Hanya Yanagihara’s epic novel and are looking for more books like A Little Life?

This bestselling book tells the story of four friends and spans across decades has enraptured readers across the globe. A somewhat bleak yet enthralling read, A Little Life is considered a masterpiece by many.

In the novel, we meet four boys: Willem, JB, Malcolm and Jude. We follow their lives as they move across the states to New York to pursue a better life, despite all the obstacles that stand in their way.

As the years pass, we see the boys grow into men and watch as they realise their biggest obstacle would be Jude himself, whose traumatic childhood leaves him a broken shell of a man.

Unable to face his past and equally petrified of what the future holds, this is a story of the darkness life can hold and how one deals with it.

This queer story of love and friendship is a great and thought-provoking read however, if you have already picked this one up then you might be looking for a similar book to read next.

A Little Life

10 Books like A Little Life

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

The Secret History is the widely popular debut novel from Donna Tartt and the perfect dark and mysterious story for fans of A Little Life.

Set at an elite liberal arts college in Vermont in the 80s, we follow a group of Classics students who study under an eccentric and lively professor. The story is told from Richard Papen’s point of view, one of the six students who soon become close friends.

But there are secrets and mysteries surrounding the group and lies are commonplace.

Then, their friend Bunny is murdered and we follow the remaining friends through the events that occur afterwards. Their lives begin to fall apart and everyone’s trust in each other fails until their little group is no more.

A complex story of betrayal and corruption, this will have you reading into the late hours.

Have you already read this novel? Check out our list of books to read after The Secret History!

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The Secret History: A Read with Jenna Pick (Vintage Contemporaries)

Normal People, by Sally Rooney

Sally Rooney’s Normal People has captured the hearts of readers across the world, with her depiction of teenage love and everything that comes after it.

Connell is the classic popular guy at school where almost everything comes easy to him and everyone seems like him. Marianne is his opposite; quiet and lonely, she only has herself for company.

But after one fateful night when Connell picks up his mother from her cleaning job at Marianne’s home, it begins a secret relationship they are determined to hide and a connection that will never leave them.

Set across numerous years as the two protagonists go through school and then head to college and beyond, this intimate depiction of young love is sure to have readers on the edge of their seats.

Have you already read this novel? Check out our list of books similar to Normal People!

Normal People: A Novel

The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

A Little Life deals with serious and poignant topics such as mental health, trauma and friendship.

The Bell Jar is similar and follows Esther Greenwood who, from the outside, seems like a stunning and successful woman.

On the inside, she is spiralling into a full breakdown. Her insanity becomes more real and more rational with each day.

A haunting story of Esther’s breakdown, if you like novels that tell relevant and harrowing stories, then you’ll love this book.

Have you already read this novel? Check out our list of books to read after The Bell Jar!

The Bell Jar (Modern Classics)

If We Were Villains, by M. L. Rio

If you liked A Little Life, then I suggest picking up If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio.

Similar to Yanagihara’s book, we follow a group of friends over a period of time that will change them for better or for worse. The narrator, Oliver Marks, is a part of a group of seven friends studying Shakespeare at a renowned arts college.

We flip between the past, when the students studied at the college and the present, where Oliver has just been released from prison for a murder he may or may not have actually committed.

Detective Colborne has retired and approached Oliver, desperate for the truth about what happened all those years ago. Oliver relays to him the secrets that sent him to years in prison.

With morally questionable characters and friendships, this is an exhilarating read!

Have you already read this book? Check out our list of books similar to If We Were Villains!

If We Were Villains: A Novel

Yellowface, by R. F. Kuang

This 2023 release that instantly hit the Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller list, Yellowface is the perfect book for readers to try next.

Dealing with various topics such as racism, cultural appropriation and more, this is an enticing book with important themes.

The story follows June Hayward who, after literary genius Athena Liu dies in a freak accident, steals her unfinished manuscript. Taking the story as her own, she works under the pen name Juniper Son and her success is instantaneous.

But when evidence of her crimes threatens to unravel everything that she’s made for herself, June finds herself stuck on what to do.

Yellowface: A Reese's Book Club Pick

Bunny, by Mona Awad

In Bunny, Samantha Heather Mackey feels utterly out of place amongst her peers on the highly selective MFA fiction writing course at Warren University. A scholarship student among nepotism babies who call each other baby and move together like one.

But then she is invited to the Bunnies’ Smut Salon and somehow ditches her only friend to peek into their world. Drawn into their dangerous world and off-campus rituals disguised as ‘workshops’, Samantha isn’t sure what’s real and what’s not.

This story of friendship, loneliness and desire to fit in, it’s a perfect modern story for those who liked A Little Life.

Bunny: A Novel

Cleopatra and Frankenstein, by Coco Mellors

In Cleopatra and Frankenstein, we meet Cleo who is twenty-four and just escaped her life in England to search for a proper career as a painter in New York.

As her student visa comes to an end, she meets Frank, who is twenty years older and a self-made success. The pair get married so Cleo can apply for a green card, paint to her heart’s content and be happier than ever before.

With every chapter, we explore the irrevocably changed lives of Cleo and Frank over the years as they get older and come up against various obstacles that marriage provides as well as mental health.

A relatable and heartbreaking story, it is a perfect book like A Little Life for readers looking for their next five-star read.

Cleopatra and Frankenstein

My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh

If you like A Little Life, then try picking up My Year of Rest and Relaxation for a fabulous story of mental health and loneliness.

A book about a young woman who disassociates from modern society with help from a terrible psychiatrist who prescribes the narrator with an awful combination of drugs.

A dark and dangerous book full of dark humour and commentary on the everyday struggle that modern life provides.

If you liked the dark and dreary outlook on life that A Little Life gave readers, then this book will be right up your street.

Already read this? Check out our list of more books similar to My Year of Rest and Relaxation!

My Year of Rest and Relaxation: A Novel

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a wonderful book that readers will fall in love with.

We follow the narrator called Little Dog who is in his late twenties. The novel is a letter by a son, to his mother who cannot read.

This letter reveals a family’s history that began long before Little Dog was born into the world, one that his mother never knew, unable to read its contents. It all leads to an unforgettable revelation.

A beautiful story that explores race, class, masculinity and more, this debut novel isn’t one you’ll forget anytime soon.

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous: A Novel

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

To end this list, I am going to include a second novel by Donna Tartt whose intricate writing is perfect for those who love Hanya Yanagihara’s work.

In The Goldfinch, we follow young Theo Decker who loses his mother in a tragic terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is then taken in by a rich and powerful family friend.

In the aftermath of the attack, the boy makes a life-changing decision to steal the famous Dutch painting named ‘The Goldfinch’. This decision changes the course of Theo’s life as he manoeuvres through the criminal underworld, forever changed by that fateful day.

A story of loss, identity and survival, this is a fabulous book to pick up next!

Have you already read this novel? Check out our list of books similar to The Goldfinch!

The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

Books similar to A Little Life show the darker sides of life whilst providing thought-provoking messages and themes to the readers. I hope you found your next read on this list.

Are you looking for more books to read? Have any recommendations that didn’t make the list? Let us know in the comments!

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Charlotte is a writer for Books Like This One. She studied drama and writing for performance and enjoys reading romance, literary fiction and young adult novels. Some of her favourite authors include Donna Tartt and Leigh Bardugo. Read more from Charlotte

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