The Great Alone|5/5 Stars to the Book that Wrecked Me

The Great Alone – Published 2018

“Alaska, 1974.
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.” – Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

A good friend and my grandma have been telling me I would enjoy this author for a while now, and I finally followed through on my promises to check her out. I am so glad I did. Holy cow, this book absolutely destroyed me. Emotionally.

This is a story of Leni’s coming of age, young love, and family. This is a story of abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health, and battered women. This is a story of the wild and the power of Mother Nature. This is a story of isolation, trauma, and resilience.

It takes a lot for a book to make me cry, and this one really did me in. I’ve never, in my life, cried as much whilst reading a book. I mean full-blown, blurry-eyed tears. Hannah is an incredible author who really sucks you into the story and keeps you wanting more. But it wasn’t only heartbreak that she made me feel. One part of the story was so suspenseful that I actually had to skip ahead a few pages to see what was going to happen and then go back and read the pages in between. That’s how afraid I was.

I love contemporary, realistic fiction, so a story about packing up and moving to middle-of-nowhere-Alaska isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but I actually found it to be so peaceful. When Leni’s teacher puts her books down and suggests a field trip because it was sunny out that day, and she stayed home some days because it was too cold, I realized how different life can be in other parts of the world. What might my life be like if everyday wasn’t filled from morning to night with “things” and “activities” that just get us through to the next day? We live in a very busy society right now, and I think all could use some reminders to slow down once in a while.

Leni’s father is in obvious need of help in dealing with the after effects of the Vietnam War, and while it’s frustrating as the reader to know he needed help, I had to remind myself that such help wasn’t as common or easily available in the 60s and 70s, the time period in which the story is set. His character is so intense and beautifully (and heartbreakingly) created.

Overall, this book is truly wonderful, and I highly recommend it. A favorite excerpt is below:

“Books are the mile marker of my life. Some people have family photos or home movies to record their past. I’ve got books. Characters. For as long as I can remember, books have been my safe place. I read about places I can barely imagine and lose myself in journeys to foreign lands to save girls who didn’t know they were really princesses. Only recently have I learned why I needed those faraway worlds.”

WHAT I DID NOT LIKE

The last portion of the book felt a bit rushed. The first half (or so) is slower, so when things sped up tremendously at the end, it was not my favorite juxtaposition, and it didn’t seem intentional.

OVERALL RATING

5 star

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