Review: “The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah

Author: Kristin Hannah
Publication Date: September 24th 2019
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback
Find it on: Amazon, Goodreads

Synopsis

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.

From Goodreads

Review

TLDR; An emotional Alaskan tale about resilience and community in the face of immensely difficult situations.

I almost didn’t finish this book not once but three times. Three times I closed it and set it aside just to pick it up a few days later again. Not because it was a bad book, but because of how incredibly intense this story was. I’d originally been drawn to this story after seeing it’s set in the great outdoors and reading the plot was a mingling of chaos and humanity. This suited my true-crime reader side, psychology nerd, AND my cramped shelter-in-place self all in one go! I know many people have been reading fantasy & outdoors-themed books recently with the pandemic under way, so you might be inclined to pick this award winning book up as well.

Unknowingly, I waltzed straight into a domestic abuse story.

This is hinted at in the description but I did wish it was made more explicit. If I’d known that was in store I honestly wouldn’t have picked up this book at all simply due to a sensitivity for it. Now that I’ve read it without chucking it out a window, however, I am glad I did. Incredibly well written with stunning, realistic descriptions of the family’s time in the great outdoors, the book draws you in with gorgeous scenery. You can almost feel the biting cold and snow. Was sufficient enough to balance out the evil lurking in the characters? I’m not sure.

The story of Leni’s upbringing is also pure and sweet, especially of her time in Alaska meeting the current residents. As a reader you it’s natural to be drawn to her and root for her success. Some of my favorite parts were of her thriving in Alaska or when she meets her classmates in the new school and grows close to them. Her mother was a difficult character to love, on the other hand, but I still cared about her story in a different way. The father I felt similarly but more negative about for obvious reasons as you read.

If you do start this book, you really need to power through to the end as I did. The end is heartwarming and fulfilling and makes the entire book worth the emotional journey to get there. And it is quite a journey.

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