Monday, September 16, 2019

The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah

Summary: 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. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I don’t know what it is about Kristin Hannah, but her books are like all the cry emojis in the land. Seriously. This woman could rip real tears out of a crocodile. But let’s back up.

I first picked this book up for two reasons: 1) Kristin Hannah wrote one of my fave books of all time, The Nightingale. If you haven’t read it, you should go do that right. Now. I’m serious. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I’m not the only one who thinks that. Anyway, since I loved that book so much, I knew I wanted to read her newest book, The Great Alone. 2) I am fascinated with Alaska. I have been to Alaska once, but that was when I was 14. That’s a completely other story, as you might imagine, but I remember Alaska as being this wild place that was nothing like I had ever seen before or have ever seen since. I went to Vancouver Island a few years ago, and although there were some similarities as far as landscape and wildlife and weather, I’m telling you, Alaska was uniquely its own. My dad has told me many stories about Alaska. Some of them are downright wild, some are scary, and some are just…I don’t know. It’s a place unlike any other. I definitely plan on going back there someday. So I was fascinated by this book because I am fascinated by Alaska.

This book delivered in so many ways. First off—Kristin Hannah is a fantastic writer. She is intelligent and deep and creates characters that are realistic. They are flawed but also gifted, and although not all characters are treated with the same flaws as others, they all have something that makes them feel very real. The story also feels very real. It is so, so sad. I have only read one other Hannah book, but it was also very, very sad, so I’m thinking that’s a thing. Hannah has a way of taking reality and just making it so, so real. Also, so, so tragic. Really. It’s almost too much to take at some points. That’s how real life is, though, right? Sometimes life is so hard and so sad and so tragic that it’s just more than we can take. I think Hannah does a remarkable job of creating a reality that is real and heartbreaking and also heartwarming. It’s quite the talent.

Hannah really drilled down on the Alaska part of this book. Alaska was a living, breathing character. Possibly the main character, actually. I love books that include places as a character. So much of who we are—our jobs, the weather, the people, the homes, the lifestyle are created because of the place we live. Alaska is such a place. The descriptions of the people who lived there and the environment itself was so tangible that I can’t think of this book without just imagining the cold Alaska winter nights and the preparations for winter. It’s one thing to plan for winter by putting away shorts and getting your sweaters out of their Tupperware under the bed. It’s an entirely different thing to have to prepare for a winter that is all-encompassing—there are no supplies if you don’t make them or hunt them or fish them, and there is no one coming if you don’t prepare yourself. Man. Alaska. Seriously.

The Great Alone has a complexity that was handled beautifully by Hannah. There is a lot going on in this book. Just when you think it’s about one thing, it becomes about another thing. There were so many “things” at the end that you can’t help but be impressed by the way that Hannah is able to handle and create such a nuanced and complex story with so many layers. She’s an artist, really.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and instances of abuse in this book, many of which might be triggering, especially for women who have experienced domestic abuse.

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