Review The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

An instant #1 New York Times bestseller (February 2018)! 

“A TOUR DE FORCE.” —Kirkus (starred review)

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 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.

The Great Alone: A Novel by [Hannah, Kristin]


Editorial Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of February 2018: In Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, a damaged vet named Ernt Allbright returns from Vietnam and moves his family to the wilds of Alaska to start their lives anew. Initially it’s a welcome change, but as winter approaches, and Ernt’s mental state deteriorates, his wife and daughter find themselves in an increasingly precarious position. Leni and Cora are the heart of what is as much a mother-daughter love story as it is a pressure cooker of a page-turner. Together they reckon not only with the elements, but with some bad decisions, born from the stubborn faith that Ernt will somehow be restored to the person he was before the war. It’s a testament to Hannah’s compassionate storytelling that you’ll be hard-pressed to call him a villain; Ernt actually shares the same Achilles heel as the rest of the Allbright clan: they do not know how to ask for, or receive, help (so much so, you just want to shake them). Fortunately the cavalry comes anyway, including a homesteader named “Large Marge” who doesn’t suffer fools (or domestic abusers). The muse of The Great Alone is clearly Alaska–in all its untamed, stunningly beautiful, dangerous glory. It provides the perfect backdrop for an equally dramatic tale, one that feels remarkably current for the 1970s setting. But Hannah’s latest also harkens to her mega bestselling The Nightingale: it highlights the heroics of everyday people, especially women. And it’s just a damn good read. –Erin Kodicek, Amazon Book Review

From School Library Journal

Set in 1974 Alaska, this sweeping tale follows a girl coping with the dangers of domestic violence. Though ill-prepared for the extreme and harsh conditions, 13-year-old Leni and her parents, Ernt and Cora, have to learn how to survive in the unforgiving wild of their new home on the Kenai Peninsula. With the help of the small-knit community of endearing fellow homesteaders, the Allbrights manage to just barely stay afloat. But Ernt, who has never recovered from the trauma of fighting in the Vietnam War, struggles with the isolation and the interminably dark days of winter. Leni grows up witnessing her father (who is increasingly unable to control his paranoia and jealousy) abuse her beloved mother. Leni’s greatest comfort and escape is her schoolmate and neighbor Matthew. Over the years, their friendship evolves into a forbidden romance. Hannah highlights, with vivid description, the natural dangers of Alaska juxtaposed against incongruous violence. VERDICT Give to teens who loved the author’s The Nightingale and to fans of Jodi Picoult.—Tara Kehoe, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Charlotte, NC


Movingly written and plotted with the skill of Greek tragedy. You’ll keep turning the pages until the last racking sob — Daily Mail on The Nightingale Beautifully written . . . packed with action and emotion — Sara Gruen, bestselling author of Water for Elephants on The Nightingale Great characters, great plots, great emotions, who could ask for more in a novel?’ — Isabel Allende on The Nightingale I didn’t just love this book, I became obsessed with it [. . .] I could neither breathe nor move until I got to the end. I’m not sure a book has ever made me so furious, so thrilled or so devastated, often in the course of the same chapter. The characters were flawed and vulnerable, strong and naive, and Hannah has delivered a masterclass in all the different ways love can both save us and destroy us. She is an absolutely lyrical writer [. . . ] she perfectly captures and evokes the majesty and splendid isolation of Alaska and it feels a privilege to have journeyed there with her. This is a story that will stay with me for a long, long time. — Karen Swan, Sunday Times bestselling author
Bookwyrm – TOP 50 REVIEWER:

Ernt Allbright can’t run far enough to escape his demons. Going off-grid in Alaska, Ernt drags his wife, Cora, and his daughter, Leni, into a wilderness experience none of them are prepared for in an effort to start a new life. They must learn to garden, hunt, and gather as much food as possible to survive the long winter, guarding against bears, wolves, and other predators that would destroy their home. The townspeople donate livestock and helpfully train the small family in homesteading skills to improve their chances of holding on until spring. As time goes by, Leni finds new friendships even as her father alienates the townspeople. As the winter days shorten and daylight slips away, Ernt’s grip on his temper and sanity wanes and his family will pay the price.

There’s a lot of love in The Great Alone: a mother’s love, a friend’s love, a family’s love, romantic love, and dysfunctional love. Some of the romances are rock-solid and life-affirming. One romance is love at its best: patient, enduring, and indelible. However, the dysfunctional love that binds Ernt and Cora intersperses abusive episodes with declarations of love, regret, and broken promises.

The residents of Kaneq, Alaska, don’t understand why Leni’s mother doesn’t tell someone, doesn’t leave, doesn’t accept help, why she doesn’t stop loving her abusive husband. They don’t understand why Leni doesn’t leave her parents and escape to college. But I can relate. It takes years to grow past the fear of telling people that one of your parents is hurting the other or hurting you and your siblings. Hiding becomes ingrained. Your family closes its ranks and stands alone against the world. There’s a wall that must not be breached. Your family pretends that the bruises and broken bones are from accidents. It becomes normal to both love and fear your parent. I think Kristin Hannah beautifully captures the essence of that conflict and dichotomy.

I couldn’t sleep last night, and The Great Alone caught my eye as I was perusing Kindle books and nomming on a Skor bar hoping to feel sleep sneaking up on me. So quickly was I caught by this book that half my Skor bar still remains stranded on my bureau, abandoned when I nabbed my tablet and snuck to my recliner without waking the significant other. The story was so enthralling that I devoured it in one extended sitting broken only by puppy potty breaks.

The Great Alone is a chilling, emotionally wrenching roller coaster ride. Kristin Hannah has created characters that are believable and realistically populate her vision of a child caught between a parent she loves and cannot abandon and a parent who claims to love her. In the midst of becoming a warrior capable of surviving her family, Alaska, hard choices, and the tragedies that rock her world, Leni discovers the true families that love her.

It’s hard to write about this book and not include spoilers, so I’ll stop here and just say that there is a lot of sorrow (ask my Kleenex box about it), growth, and even joy in The Great Alone. For all its pain, this tale is unforgettably uplifting. Highly recommended.

Edited for TMI and again to add in love as an element, since my review overly emphasized the sadder elements of the storyline.

This is a spectacular epic. A love for Alaska shines through the twisting, turning story of a small family who love and hurt each other. We see the horror of war in it’s after effects. The glimpse of life in the 1970’s. Our heroine is a child who moves so often she never fits in. Her father is left property in Alaska by his army friend who didn’t make it back.
When the story moves to Alaska everything comes vividly alive, the scenery, the characters and the story.
It was everything! Beauty, tragedy, love and redemption. Riveting, horrifying and absolutely wonderful. I highly recommend this soon to be classic.
This book is amazing. This story is so compelling there are parts that are painful to read. But keep reading! This is the story of a dysfunctional family torn apart by domestic violence that is born in the aftermath of the father’s time as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He came home to his wife and daughter a fractured man. This is a love story. The love of a wife, Cora, for her tortured husband. A love so strong that it blinds her ability to see what their troubled relationship is doing to their daughter. The love of a daughter, Leni, for her mother. A love so strong that it withstands the violence Leni sees at the hands of her father to her mother. This is a love story to Alaska–its natural beauty and the beauty of its independent people in the 70’s. “Everyone here is either running from something or to something.” I have been involved in the criminal justice business for 35 years. Never have I read such an honest portrayal of a fictional family in the throes of Domestic Violence. Kristen Hannah has done a masterful job at making such a tough topic readable and still teaching the reader of the tsunami effect that DV has on everyone it touches.

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