Had I written this review moments after reading the final words, I might have given the book 3 stars or maybe even 2. The ending, while not entirely unexpected, managed to leave me shocked and stupefied. At first I was angered by the whole thing, then I was perplexed, then I started re-reading certain chapters. Only then did I realize just how smartly woven this yarn is spun. In hindsight, it's actually quite miraculous how Yanagihara managed to tie together the varying storylines.
I will warn readers that this is not necessarily an "easy" read. There are peaks and valleys and sometimes, notably at the beginning, it is a little boring. Don't skim over the boring parts, however, because later they will become the most interesting later. Also, don't you dare skim the footnotes. They take on an entire story of their own and contain the most memorable moments of clever writing.
Once Norton arrives on the mysterious island, know that things really pick up. The descriptions of the plant life, animals and natives are exquisite and paint extraordinarily vivid images of a rich, fantastical world. This part the book is as edge-of-your-seat adventurous as Jurassic Park, though in a very different way.
The cast of characters is fairly small, but well-developed if Norton thinks them worth developing. Everything is seen through Norton's eyes, and in the end, it's important to remember that.
OVERALL: While I don't know that this book is destined to become a "classic" it is layered enough and smart enough that I would like to take a literature course on it. Even as I re-read a chapter here and there, I start to see some of the hidden brilliance that was scattered throughout. For that, I have to give it 5 stars, even when my initial reaction was shock and disappointment. If you're looking for a book that will haunt you and leave you thinking about it years, The People in the Trees will do it.