The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
St. Martin's Press: 2/6/18
eBook review copy; 448 pages
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is a very highly recommended coming of age story and portrait of a family and a time in history.
It is 1974 when her father, Ernt Allbright, loses his job yet again, and
decides he will move his family, wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, north
untamed wilderness of Kaneq, Alaska, where Ernt has inherited his
deceased buddy's cabin and land. Thirteen-year-old
Leni is used to be uprooted and moved at her parent's whim. Her father
Ernt is a former POW and according to her mother, Cora, he came home a
changed man, full of anger and nightmares. Even with the violence, Cora
will do anything for Ernt. Now Leni has no choice but to head north with
her angry father and learn to live off the grid. All she can do is hope
she will find a place to fit in and that Alaska will calm her parent's
unhealthy, passionate and volatile relationship.
At first Alaska seems to be the answer to her family's dreams. Kaneq is
made up of fiercely independent, strong people who all have a before
and after story. Alaska changes Leni. She falls in love with the land,
the way of life, and Matthew. The community believes in bartering and
they pitch in to help the Allbrights prepare during the long summer days
for the harsh, unrelenting winter. As Large Marge tells them, "There's a
Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you." But
that saying is referring to the harsh, unforgiving wild nature of the
land. For Cora and Leni the real danger as winter approaches and
darkness increases is Ernt. The darkness brings out his nightmares,
paranoia and violence, especially toward Cora. Soon locals have to step
in and find a way to keep Cora and Leni safe, but it is a tenuous
solution at best.
The Great Alone is a wonderfully engaging novel and will hold
your rapt attention from beginning to end. The writing is exceptional.
Hannah depicts the violent effect of of Ernt's PTSD on the family and
his toxic relationship with Cora, while expertly weaving into the story
events from the 1970's and the attitudes from the decade. All the
characters in this admirable novel, including the state of Alaska, are
unique, deftly drawn and expertly developed. Leni is a wonderful
This is a perfect stay-up-way-too-late reading book, which makes it a
wonderful choice for long winter nights (or overnight at the airport).
The plot is complex and layered, like life itself. Hannah perfectly
describes the essence of the relationship between mother and child, of
love and loss, of sacrifice and regret. It is also an emotional novel.
There was a point when I wondered where else Hannah could take us, what
was left to experience, and she surpassed my expectations with this
insightful and intelligent novel. This is one of the best novels I've
read this year.
My review copy was courtesy of St. Martin's Press.