2021: #27 – The Great Alone (Kristin Hannah)
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 6, 2018
Genres: historical fiction, hf - 1960s & 1970s
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.
This was my first Kristin Hannah, and I wish I hadn’t waited so long!
It’s 1974, and 13-year old Leni is living Washington state with her mother Cora and her father Ernt, a Vietnam vet with PTSD (which of course there wasn’t help for back then). But life is hard, and when Ernt finds out that a man he was in the war with has bequeathed him a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness, it seems like the perfect opportunity for their lives to start fresh and new.
Life in Alaska turns out to be a different kind of hard, as the family learns to live without electricity, running water, and trips to the corner market in a place where not being prepared for the long, long winter can easily mean death. And Leni and Cora face extra challenges as the dark days of winter take a toll on Ernt and his mental health, something that’s not helped along by the friends he makes and their feelings on the state of the world. Can the family make it out of this wilderness alive?
There are some disturbing parallels between the dialogue being had between Ernt and his friends and the political dialogues of today. It adds an extra layer of despair to the whole story.
Really, this is an excellent book despite a number of difficult topics. Hannah builds a family and a place that feel real. If domestic violence and children in danger are difficult for you to read about, be warned. I will definitely be reading more of Hannah’s work.
I read this for the following reading challenges:
- 2021 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge — a book set mostly or entirely outdoors
- 52 Book Club 2021 Challenge — a book by Kristin Hannah
- “Your heart will be in it from the start, in so many different ways. It’s just so real, so vivid, so thoughtful, that I could swear this was a true story (and an addictive one that you won’t want to put down). A terrible downward spiral, but so incredibly uplifting, too. I was wholeheartedly fulfilled when I hit the end.” — Maryse’s Book Blog
- “This book has a profound and honest way of portraying both PTSD and domestic abuse and how quickly, quietly, and unexpectedly one can blend into the other.” — Aestas Book Blog
- “What I want to tell you is this book is a beautiful tragedy.” — Book it Forward