Kristin Hannah is back with The Great Alone, her first book since 2015’s hit, The Nightingale. Set in 1970s Alaska, The Great Alone is my second Hannah book. I read The Nightingale, and while I enjoyed it, I couldn’t help but wonder what all the fuss was about. I gave it 4 stars – to me, it was slightly better than average, but it wasn’t thebestbookI’deverread. Regardless, the synopsis for The Great Alone intrigued me enough to pick it up, and since I’d liked The Nightingale, I figured I was in for a pretty good read.
And as it turned out, I did enjoy The Great Alone, but it took a REALLY long time to get there. Like….half the book long time. I’ll be honest and admit to nearly abandoning it after I’d read roughly 100 pages. But, I kept going, and eventually fell into the rhythm of the story.
Unlike The Nightingale, The Great Alone is a rather….slow?…story. It’s much more about the characters than it is about any kind of story. In general, The Great Alone is like watching through the window as the Allbright family moves to Alaska and then learns how to survive there. The tension comes, surprisingly, not from Alaska, but from the abuse Leni and her mother suffer at the hands of her father. For me, that was kind of a turn off…I would much rather have read about them fighting off bears than fighting off an abusive father with PTSD.
And that was another thing that bugged me – the characters, Ernt in particular, lacked the depth necessary to care about them. Everything felt like it was on the surface, and that I was supposed to take Leni’s love for her mother at face value just because Kristin Hannah told me it was there. I also loathed the all-consuming descriptions of love both Leni and her mother had for their men. I think Hannah was trying to show the conflicting emotions abuse survivors go through, but to me, it just felt overdramatic.
What I did like, though, were the glimpses we got of life in Alaska, and the pioneer spirit exhibited by the townspeople of Kaneq. The interactions Leni has with Large Marge, Tom, and the rest of the crew really drives home the idea that family isn’t always blood. That, I think, is The Great Alone’s biggest strength – it shows that even when you think you’re alone and helpless, there are people around you who want to help.
Well, unless you’re an abusive husband, that is.
Hardcover: 448 pages Published: February 2018 by St. Martin’s Press Source: Netgalley
The Great Alone on 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 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.