Leni Allbright, her mother Cora and father Ernt move to Alaska in 1974 after Ernt is bestowed a piece of land from his fellow Vietnam POW soldier who died in combat. The war has broken Ernt, who drinks heavily and is unable to control his violent outbursts and nightmares from undiagnosed PTSD. The family hopes that a change in scenery and wide open spaces will help him to heal before his anger is taken too far. When they arrive they are little prepared for the wild weather, and Leni begins to truly understand toxicity of her parents relationship. The local community is a great source of support and Leni finds roots and strength outside of her family. While her love of the wild land grows, the bonds of her family become more strained and dangerous, building to a breaking point and leaving devastation in its wake.
The description of Alaska, America’s last frontier with its mountains, water, animals, weather and sunshine (and lack thereof) were all beautifully done in this novel. The experience of living on the land, with its dangers and highs, really gave me the experience of what living in Alaska might be like; Hannah has first-hand knowledge, her family having lived there during the 1980s. Hannah is known for her engaging and heartbreaking prose, and this story hits on every mark, including a star-crossed love in the form of Matthew, the Sam to Leni’s Frodo, who hails from an affluent Alaskan family Ernt despises. Their friendship and eventual romance does not exactly help curb the danger Leni’s father poses, continually giving the reader the feeling of this cannot end well.
If you’ve read the Nightingale or Firefly Lane (Hannah’s most popular previous works), and are concerned that this will have as sad an ending as those two, don’t worry. While The Great Alone is heartbreaking and tear-inducing, its ending was hopeful, having many wrongs made finally right. This story includes a lot of domestic violence that was painful and angering to read about, but it also puts you in these people’s shoes, and reminds you that nothing is as easy or as clear-cut as it might seem from the outside. The characters were engaging, flawed, and interesting, combining with the beautiful descriptions these are truly the highlights of the book. I would recommend as a compelling family drama set in a beautiful and artfully described landscape, building slowly to create an emotionally powerful story that ultimately ends with a happy outcome.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Published on: February 6, 2018
I read this as: Hardback borrowed from a friend