The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Page count: 448 pages
Content Warnings: domestic abuse, alcoholism, death
Star Rating (out of 5): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Spicy Rating (out of 5): n/a
The premise of The Great Alone immediately caught my attention as the Allbright family sets out to make a fresh start in the 1970s untamed Alaskan wilderness. (Cue man vs. self adventure and drama!) Leni’s father Ernt is unstable after serving in the Vietnam War, which immediately adds tension and uncertainty to the story. Initially, Leni and her mother Cora are optimistic that this new life will be a balm for Ernt’s troubles. That façade quickly erodes as their first Alaskan winter approaches.
Surprisingly, it took me a while to build up the momentum to get through this book. The first half is slow – focused on painting the backdrop of a dangerous, self-sufficient life in Alaska, along with the complex and emotionally-charged Allbright family dynamics due to Leni’s abusive father. I kept reading as this is my second Kristin Hannah book, and I’ve learned the author has a way of turning a slow start into a climactic, emotional roller coaster by the last couple of chapters. And I am so glad I hung on.
While it was clear from the beginning that the plot would hinge significantly on Leni’s abusive father, I found myself surprised by the depth and direction of the story in the second half of the book. I expected a story of a strong heroine but got so much more – heart-aching love (both familial and romantic), sacrifice, resilience, a sense of belonging, and new beginnings. Most of the book was narrated from Leni’s point of view, adding an interesting depth to the story as she matures and her perspective evolves. As Leni sheds her adolescence, we see the Allbright family more clearly and empathize with the complex emotions and decisions Leni must grapple with.
A lot happens in the last couple of chapters of the book, which I don’t dislike, but it did seem rushed for all the pieces to fall together in the end. As a result, some relationships and the tension resolution felt surface level leaving me a little unsatisfied. A couple of plot points also felt a little forced and predictable without the strong conviction to back them up as necessary to the story. These elements aside, I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend this book. The Great Alone excels at vivid scene-setting, intrigue, character depth, and a story direction that took me by surprise.
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