Official Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction
Setting: 1974-1986 Alaska and Seattle
My Copy Came From: I purchased the hardback from Costco.
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Review: Riveting and emotional. I loved this book! The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is a difficult but rewarding read. It is the story set in the 1970s, of a teen girl named Leni, whose father, Ernt, moves her and her mother, Cora, to the wilds of Alaska. This is true off the grid living, and there is nothing glamorous about it here. The Great Alone shows Alaska in all of its harsh beauty, and the setting is as much a character here as anyone.
Summer ended as quickly as it had begun. Autumn in Alaska was less a season and more an instant, a transition. Rain started to fall and didn’t stop, turning the ground to mud, drowning the peninsula, falling in curtains of gray. Rivers rose to splash over their crumbling banks, tearing big chunks away, changing course.
All at once, it seemed, the leaves of cottonwood trees around the cabin turned golden and whispered to themselves, then curled into black flutes and floated to the ground in crispy, lacy heaps.
Ernt was a POW during the Vietnam War, and he struggles with PTSD, and he is also an alcoholic and abuses his wife. There are intense scenes here of abuse, and there are sections that are difficult to read. There are also intense scenes of surviving in Alaska’s harsh environment. There are two especially harrowing scenes of wilderness survival, so be warned if you have problems reading intense wilderness survival scenes, or abuse scenes.
“Two kinds of folks come up to Alaska, Cora. People running to something and people running away from something. The second kind—you want to keep your eye out for them. And it isn’t just the people you need to watch out for, either. Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.”
While I loved the setting of The Great Alone, what truly made the book shine for me were the characters. I loved the character of Leni. Leni is strong, smart, and resourceful, and has a love of reading and photography. While Leni sometimes makes some truly bad decisions, where you’re shouting at the book “NO!!! Don’t do that!!!”, her actions felt real and honest, and not just as something she did to move the plot along. I couldn’t sense the author pulling the strings here, as so many times you can in a book, especially when there are plotlines that can hinge on certain character decisions.
Fear, Leni learned, was not the small, dark closet she’d always imagined: walls pressed in close, a ceiling you bumped your head on, a floor cold to the touch.
Fear was a mansion, one room after another, connected by endless hallways.
I also liked Cora, Leni’s mother. Cora is a compelling character. She struggles with Alaska at the beginning, but learns her way around the camp stove quickly. The big discussion point with Cora is that she willingly stays with the abusive Ernt. That complex relationship is explored here, with the reader seeing all the ugly in the relationship, and also the good times, too.
Another great character is Marge Birdsall, known as “Large Marge”, who is an ex-lawyer who runs the general store nearby. Marge is that character who always knows what to do and say, and always lends a helping hand.
There is romance here, as Leni falls in love with Matthew, a young boy her age. Their story is sweet and heartbreaking, and I loved their story, even if parts of it were a bit predictable. But, I honestly didn’t care too much about that because I was so invested in the characters.
In the vast expanse of this unpredictable wilderness, you will either become your best self and flourish, or you will run away, screaming, from the dark and the cold and the hardship. There is no middle ground, no safe place; not here, in the Great Alone.
For we few, the sturdy, the strong, the dreamers, Alaska is home, always and forever, the song you hear when the world is still and quiet. You either belong here, wild and untamed yourself, or you don’t.
The story is a good one. You’ve got romance, wilderness, family drama, friendship, a strong mother-daughter relationship, a sense of community, and some super intense and suspenseful scenes. I could not put this book down and I highly, highly recommend it to those who enjoy great character dramas and to those who just love a good book. This is a book to read, re-read, and discuss. And those last closing paragraphs of the book? Perfection.
Bottom Line: Loved it. Quite simply, a great book.
LINKS ***the Amazon link is an affiliate link which means I receive a small commission if you click the link and make a purchase***
My review of The Nightingale, another book by Kristin Hannah
10 thoughts on “Book Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah”
We are obsessed with survival stories. I can’t tell if it’s because we want to know if the people will survive, or if we want to see just how long and how much people can struggle.
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Great point. I think it might be a combination of both? We do inherently want survival, and we also want to know what others have been through / can go through. It’s an interesting topic, and I’d even perhaps categorize an underdog story as one of survival too – but a different type of survival.
It’s interesting – I’m reading another survival story right now – The Martian – and even though it’s completely fictionalized (an astronaut is trapped on Mars and is trying to survive) the whole world is getting behind this man’s story. I’ve already seen the movie so I know how it ends, but I’m still getting stressed out while reading it!
The book and the movie and differently–surprise! Isn’t that exciting 😁
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Now I need to re-watch the movie. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it! 🙂
Great review! Sounds like an intense book dealing with several heavy topics. Not sure if I could read it, but it sounds fascinating.
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Thank you! You might really like the Alaskan setting and the characters. I could not put it down, and yes, there were tears – lots of them!!
Sounds like a great book. I love people going to the wilderness and icy places
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This is such a great read! And definitely fits the criteria of living in the wilderness and dealing with winter weather!
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