Kristin Hannah * St. Martin’s Press * February 6, 2018 * 435 Pages
Thirteen-year old Leni Allbright is in a tough spot. Her parents, Ernt and Cora, are desperately in love…and incredibly unstable. Since her dad came home from Vietnam, his moods are erratic. He drinks a lot and can’t hold a job. He’s abusive to Leni’s mom, but she always forgives him afterward, no matter how bad it gets. Because Ernt is a bit of a “dreamer,” the family moves around a lot, always chasing the next scheme that Ernt thinks will make them happy.
But things change when Ernt gets a letter saying he’s inherited a piece of land and a house in Alaska, left to him by one of his soldier friends, now passed, from the war. He decides that a(nother) fresh start in the Alaskan wilderness is just what the family needs, and they all begin the long journey to the remote cabin. When they arrive, though, they realize they are not at all prepared for the brutal and unforgiving conditions of the wild. They learn to survive over time, in no small part to the generosity of their neighbors, but nothing prepares them for how the long winter nights affect Ernt’s mental health. Things get dicey fast, and Leni and Cora soon realize that the greatest threat to their safety isn’t the wild animals or brutal cold outside, but rather the volatile and abusive man living inside their home.
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If you’ve read The Nightingale, you know that author Kristin Hannah loves to create sweeping sagas that show the growth of one main character as she faces obstacle after obstacle. Hannah always manages to balance the detailed inner lives of her characters with enough action to keep the story barreling along. Her books are never boring, and The Great Alone is no exception.
I loved seeing Leni grow up in these pages. As a character, she is so believable, relatable, and endearing. From the very beginning on through to the end, I felt for her, and I felt protective of her. More than that, though, I admired her strength and ability to endure. I developed so much respect for her, and she actually made me feel, I don’t know…hopeful.
I also thought Hannah did an impressive job of showing the complicated inner workings of Ernt and Cora’s abusive relationship. Hannah is honest about the dysfunction, but she also shows how the couple’s intense love for each other keeps them together. It’s hard to witness the toxicity of that relationship—especially when it hurts Leni over and over and over again—but it was believable and powerful, and I couldn’t look away.
I do have a couple complaints—and, ironically, these are some of the same gripes I had with The Nightingale. First, the book went on too long. There were a couple “full circle” moments at the end that felt like unnecessary fluff. I didn’t need or want the story to be so neatly wrapped up like that. Second, Hannah makes her characters go through A LOT of suffering—to the point that it becomes borderline ridiculous. (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) Matthew’s storyline falls into this category for me.
Still. The Great Alone is an exceptional read. It’s engaging from start to finish, with an unbeatable setting and a diverse cast of characters dealing with relevant and complex issues. Five stars all day long.
Advanced Reader Copy provided through NetGalley.