The Great Alone was the first novel by Kristin Hannah that I have read, and I absolutely loved it. I read this book in about two sittings, mostly spending one Saturday curled up on the couch where I didn’t stop reading until I was sobbing and turning the last page. This then prompted my daughter to ask “Mommy, why do you always read books that make you cry?” That may need to be a post for another day, but I was so engrossed in Hannah’s characters and the story of a teenage girl trapped in her parents toxic relationship that tears were bound to happen. The Great Alone left me heartbroken and at peace all at the same time, and honestly books that manage to do that are always my favorite books.
The Great Alone tells the story of Ernt Allbright, a Vietnam vet and POW, who finds out that he has inherited a piece of land in Alaska from one of his friends from his time in the military. This comes at the perfect time for Ernt because, unable to keep a job and unable to quit drinking, he is running out of options. Cora, his wife, unfailingly devoted to her husband agrees to move to America’s last frontier with him. Leni, their 13 year old daughter hopes that in Alaska she will finally find a place where she belongs.
At first, Alaska is everything they have dreamed of. They find a close knit community of strong men and even stronger women who are willing to help them learn how to navigate the wilderness around them, and Ernt finally seems to be doing better. Unfortunately, Alaska’s wilderness isn’t the only thing that is volatile, as winter approaches and the days get shorter and darkness falls upon Alaska, darkness also starts to fall on Cora and Leni, as Ernt’s mental state deteriorates.
“In the silence, Leni wondered if one person could ever really save another, or if it was the kind of thing you had to do for yourself.”
The thing I loved most about this novel was the characters. Each character was so different to the rest, but they were all fully fleshed out. There was Large Marge, a former D.C lawyer, intense and strong, willing to do what she needed to do to protect her unprepared neighbors. There is Matthew, who brings romance to Leni. The two of them turn into Alaska’s Romeo and Juliet once Ernt starts to have a problem with Matthew’s father. There is even a family of survivalists, the family of the friend who gives Ernt his property, whose patriarch doesn’t help Ernt’s state of mind with their ranting and raving of the collapse of their great country. Each character brings something to this community of Kaneq that helps propel this story along.
Leni and Cora Allbright were the strength of this story however. Leni finds herself in Alaska, she learns to take care of herself, she becomes strong, willing to do what she needs to do in order to survive. She starts to see the cracks in her own parents relationship but doesn’t let that stop her from finding love of her own. Cora, at first glance, is a battered woman. She follows Ernt blindly, willing to do whatever it takes to make him happy, even though she knows that it’s only a matter of time before he explodes. Cora finds her strength in Alaska too, although it’s not Alaska where she finds her happiness. Hannah does her leading ladies justice, they find peace and happiness in their own way.
The Great Alone is a tour de force of drama, emotion, and tragedy. Hannah writes a novel that forces us to look at the way that wilderness lives within us, and the way that sometimes in order to survive what we need to do is look inside ourself for the strength that lies within us.
Kristin Hannah is an author I now need to go out, buy, and read, everything that she has ever written. For those of you who have read her other novels, let me know which one I should read next in the comments!
My Rating: 5/5 Stars