THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah
Published February 6, 2018 by St. Martin’s Press
Page Count: 435
Genre: Historical Fiction | Adult
Format: Ebook (Library copy)
My Rating: 4/5 stars
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. (Goodreads)
This book was so fucking sad and I sobbed through most of it. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, let alone ugly cry because I don’t like historical fiction. I never would’ve picked it up if I wasn’t doing my Goodreads Choice reading challenge, but I’m glad I did because this was a pleasant read.
The Great Alone is about a Vietnam veteran impulsively uprooting his family from Seattle to Alaska because he wants to live off the grid. Ernt Allbright is damaged from the war, but we don’t know just how damaged he is until their first Alaskan winter. When they get to Alaska, it’s summer and beautiful, but the town warns them profusely about winter and the Allbrights spend the first half of the book preparing for it with the help of their new small/close-knit community.
When I started this book my first thought was this:
10% done with The Great Alone. Let me tell y'all right now: ain't no way I'm letting a man uproot our family to Ala… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Artemis (@merlinereads) January 11, 2019
I just couldn’t understand why mom didn’t heed the warnings once they got to Alaska and go back to Seattle. Later, I learned that she simply couldn’t.
For the most part, I liked the characters. There were a few that I didn’t care for personally, but they were authentic and their circumstances felt very real. I loved Leni and loved reading this book from her POV. When we’re introduced to her, she’s a 13 year-old bookworm with no friends. Throughout the book we see her make decisions that no child should ever have to make. It broke my heart every single time. I liked her relationship with her mother and Matthew. I liked that despite the shit she endured, she wasn’t irreparably damaged and that Alaska gave her a chance at a home.
I really liked Hannah’s writing and the way she masterfully depicted Alaska’s contrasts. I liked the way she used Alaska to show the beauty and horrors of this family. Her writing made Alaska just as much as a character as the Allbrights. The writing is fantastic, but sometimes it felt overly descriptive and the foreshadowing was heavy-handed. I honestly didn’t need every single Alaskan thing described in great detail, but I get it.
The reason I gave this book four stars instead of five is because a few things towards the end felt gratuitous. There were times I wondered if the characters would ever catch a break because there was so much tragedy and trauma.
Overall, I’m happy I gave this book a chance. It won best historical fiction of 2018 in the Goodreads Choice Awards. I haven’t read the other books that were nominated in that category, but I understand the appeal for this book and why so many people voted for it.
If you’re in the mood for a story about family, love, loss, resiliency, and the last frontier, you’ll enjoy this.
Trigger warning: physical abuse, alcoholism, PTSD