Review: The Great Alone – Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone

The Great Alone – Kristin Hannah
Release Date:  February 2018
Rating:  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

Review:  I didn’t have any intentions of reviewing Kristin Hannah’s newest novel, The Great Alone.  I actually didn’t intend to read it until later this year (my TBR pile is ungodly right now) but it was nominated as my book club’s choice for April and I wanted to get ahead plus, hello snowstorm, so I plunged in not expecting to come out of it feeling the way I do.

The Great Alone had me so split and feeling so contrary.  I hated Leni’s dad, Ernt.  I thought he was a selfish, self absorbed, abusive jerk who deserved some horrible payback.  But then I remember that he was a prisoner of war for years and had serious PTSD and I feel bad.  So then I don’t hate him for a few pages until he does something awful again.  Halfway through the book, when I started thinking about my pattern of hate and compassion, I realized that this is why Kristin Hannah is a genius–I was thinking and feeling exactly the same way as Leni did.  Normally when I read, I don’t necessarily pick up or feel the emotions of the characters, but I felt Leni’s hatred.  I felt her sorrow for her father.  I felt it all, and it was like a boulder of dread sitting on my chest.

This book also had me seriously stressed out.  I fretted about Leni and Matthew, about Cora and Tom.  I worried about Ernt and his obviously deteriorating mental health.  Every single time I went to put the book down, I had to read a few extra paragraphs ahead just to be sure everyone was OK.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it The Great Alone when I put it down, and I can’t stop thinking about it now that I’ve finished it.

This book hurt my heart in so many ways.  I cried for Cora and Leni and their damaged mother/daughter relationship.  I outright sobbed for Leni and Matthew and for everything to work out.  I even spared a tear or two for Ernt. There was just so much raw pain in this book.  I kept having to stop and breathe.

Make no mistake, everything about this book is tragic.  But with that said, The Great Alone is so, so much more.  It’s the love between a child and her parents.  It’s the perfect first love.  It’s community and supporting others during hardship.  It’s figuring out where home is and what it means.  And even though it’s full of horror, The Great Alone ended perfectly.  I don’t know how, but Hannah brought the end back around in a way that just worked.  And I was satisfied.  There’s not one single thing I’d change about this book.

Go… read The Great Alone.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

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