The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is a new book that has quickly jumped to bestselling status. Kristin Hannah has written over 20 novels, including The Nightingale, a bestseller in 2015. Her latest book follows Ernt Allbright, a Vietnam veteran and former POW, who takes his family to Alaska in 1974 to try and make a new start for themselves. We watch through his 13-year old daughter Leni’s eyes as the hardships of Alaska take their toll on the family. Leni is a bookworm and ends up reading plenty of poetry and literature about her new home state, one poem of which is derived the book’s title, saying, “Were you ever out in the great alone, when the moon was awful clear…” We also see a wonderful cast of characters in the small town the Albright’s move to, including Large Marge, a fiercely independent yet loving store owner, and Mad Earl, who Ernt takes to immediately, with their similar ideas about an impending nuclear apocalypse. Even as Leni becomes more and more aware of how dysfunctional her family is, she grows more and more connected to the wildness of Alaska, and the people in the town.
Overall, this is an amazing read. The characters were convincing and the plot hooks you. Hannah often emphasizes the hardships of living in the wild Alaska, with no electricity, phones, dangers around every corner, where surviving winter is the focus year-round. However, most of the book is less focused on those survival hardships and more on the family. With a traumatized, abusive veteran, a wife who refuses to leave him, and a daughter who is only just beginning to see her parents as flawed. It thoroughly explores those relationships, and their struggles only get worse as the book goes on. Their hardships are magnified by the Alaskan wilderness and the 18-hour darkness in the winter. It clearly shows how mentally strong one has to be to survive and live in Alaska, and Leni, a skinny little girl, ends up being stronger than her father.
One of the only weaknesses in this story is that it can sometimes be predictable. At one point, she even writes, “Leni had a terrible, building feeling that something bad was going to happen.” Also, the style can sometimes be a bit corny. “Alaska brings out the best and worst in a man.” However, these flaws aren’t noticeable unless you’re looking for them, the story flies by so fast, and is so good that you don’t really need to be critical.
I highly recommend this book, and I think anyone who reads it will be pleased. However, don’t go into it expecting every single thing to be about survival, although there is plenty of that in the book. The Great Alone is a beautiful story about the effects living in the Alaskan wilderness can have on families, and on people, both positive and negative.