There is a scene in The Great Alone in which Ernt Allbright–father, husband, homesteader, Vietnam POW–is teaching his daughter, Leni how to hunt. The family had recently relocated to Alaska and Ernt holds strong feelings about Leni and his wife, Cora, being able to protect themselves. I squirmed uncomfortably as author Kristin Hannah describes how Leni successfully sights and kills a rabbit. Then, even more uncomfortably, as I read how Ernt pulls the heart from the rabbit and instructs Leni to eat it. In a way, this book did that very same thing to me: pulled my heart out and took a bite. It’s a story I will never forget–and I don’t want to forget it. The Great Alone is a work of fiction that I will, for some time to come, measure all other works of fiction against.
My first introduction to Kristin Hannah came several years ago when I read Firefly Lane. Then I read The Nightingale. In the intervening years, I had not read any other stories, but I eagerly awaited the release of The Great Alone. Kristin Hannah’s writing has a way of putting me so securely in the scene that it takes a moment to realize where I am when I pull my eyes from the page. I sat in the back of the VW bus with Leni as she and her parents drove north to Alaska; I slept in the cobweb filled loft alongside her, praying that her father’s anger would abate and that her mother who not be beaten again; I befriended Matthew and, later, fell in love with him just as Leni did.
It’s hard not to judge the characters and their actions. It’s hard to understand why an abused spouse stays with the person hurting her so deeply. Hard to empathize with a mother who seems to manipulate her child into staying in an unsafe situation. Even now I struggle to remind myself that, in the mid and late 1970’s, much was different for women; that it’s not always easy to accept help when it’s offered. It’s hard for a heart not to break when it seems like all is lost and happiness, true happiness, will never be found again. But, for as often as I felt angry and lonely and hopeless and afraid, Kristin Hannah always brought me back to a place of hope. As with Firefly Lane and The Nightingale, tears fell as I finished the final pages and closed the book, wishing with all my might that I did not have to return this particular item to my library.
Simply put, The Great Alone is a five-star read. Brutal and emotional, hauntingly descriptive, certainly memorable. The best book I’ve read this year.
About the Book
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.
About the Author
Kristin Hannah is the award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including the international blockbuster, The Nightingale, which was named Goodreads Best Historical fiction novel for 2015 and won the coveted People’s Choice award for best fiction in the same year. Additionally, it was named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon, iTunes, Buzzfeed, the Wall Street Journal, Paste, and The Week.
Kristin’s highly anticipated new release, The Great Alone, was published on February 6, 2018 (St. Martin’s Press). The novel, an epic love story and intimate family drama set in Alaska in the turbulent 1970’s is a daring, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival and the wildness that lives in both nature and man. It has been listed as one of the most anticipated novels of the year by The Seattle Times, Bustle.com, PopSugar, Working Mother, Southern Living, and Goodreads.
The Nightingale is currently in production at Tri Star, with award-winning director Michelle MacLaren set to direct. Home Front was optioned for film by 1492 Films (produced the Oscar-nominated The Help) with Chris Columbus attached to write, produce, and direct. Movie news on The Great Alone is coming soon.
I felt the EXACT same way about this book. I have been a fan of Kristin Hannah for years, and I was so excited when I saw she had this book coming out. I went to her book signing/release in NYC, and hearing her talk about it was so amazing. I was up all night reading it because I couldn’t put it down, and ended in tears. Great review! 🙂
Great review! It captured exactly how I felt about the book, which I read, pretty much in one fell swoop. I was pleased to see your response, since yesterday’s New York Times Book Review had a very different opinion. I brought home two Kristin Hannah books from the library today and look forward to reading them. Thanks for your great writing.
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Thank you very much!
Awesome review. I am looking forward to reading this one.