ABOUT THE BOOK:
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.
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CAUTION: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is a 2018 St. Main’s Press publication.
Alaska- beautiful, harsh, dangerous, addictive-
After Ernst comes home from Vietnam, he flounders, suffering from what we would now term, PTSD. His wife, Cora, sees a much different man in front of her than the one she married. But, she is determined to help him, and so when he inherits a home in Alaska, she and their thirteen -year old daughter, Leni, follow him into unchartered territory. As they begin their journey they are filled with renewed hope and optimism, but simmering underneath that forced enthusiasm, is a great deal of nervousness and trepidation.
However, they could not have possibly prepared themselves for living ‘off grid’, in this raw, startlingly beautiful landscape, which is sharply juxtaposed against the harsh, brutal winters, the intensity of mother nature, and the terrifying odds of surviving in such extreme isolation. Yet for Cora and Leni, the danger that lurks around every corner, is within the confines of their own four walls.
As a voracious reader, I am always surprised by how many amazing books and authors I have yet to sample. I have three or four Kristin Hannah novels languishing on my bookshelves that I am always meaning to read. I have heard such great things about this author, and of course, she was catapulted into the ‘household name’ club with her knock out hit- ‘The Nightingale” a couple of years back. Anyway, long story short, I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher, which, of course, meant I had to read it and then review it, which is how this book, despite countless others to choose from, became my first Kristin Hannah novel.
I started this book a very long time ago, with the best of intentions of reading it prior to the release date, but became very frustrated with it almost immediately. As the awesome reviews began to trickle in, I started to get a little nervous. I wasn’t feeling it. So, I put it aside for a while. I ended up reading this novel in fits and starts until I got tired of seeing it on my bedside table, and decided to plow through until the end, whether I wanted to or not.
The subject matter is very difficult to read about, and Hannah doesn’t hold back in her depictions of abuse. It is very graphic, and I admit, as much as I enjoy a good dark and twisted tale, there are some topics I just can’t take, domestic violence being one of them. The taut atmosphere, being completely isolated, living in a cabin out in the middle of such extremes, with no one to call for help, never knowing when the next explosive confrontation would come, made this a hard book for me to consume in large quantities. It was just too nerve wracking and intense. I started to dread turning the next page.
Growing up in an era where women fought to bring these subjects out in the open, to educate the public on the patterns of abuse, I still argued with myself over Cora’s decisions to stay with Ernst. If not for herself, for her daughter!! I know, I know, Cora exhibited the classic, textbook cycle of abuse. However, I still can’t quite get past subjecting her child to that environment. Don’t judge me. I still think I’m right, although, on paper, I ‘get’ the psychology of it all. But, Leni deserved better than that. Therefore, I found myself running that loop in my head, chiding myself for judging, but unapologetic for my feelings, and ended up getting myself all upset and stressed out, as a result.
I’m no expert on PTSD, and I am not making light of it, nor am I suggesting Ernst didn’t suffer from it. He did have many of the hallmark symptoms, but frankly, I’m not sure you can blame ALL his behavior on that. His was classic abusive behavior, and I suspect it might have developed no matter what. Cora was so young when she married, and I think she mythologized the ‘before and after’ scenario to make excuses to stay in the marriage, claiming her husband was ‘sick’. Oh, he was sick, all right, but not only from the effects of the war.
This was all swirling around in my head as I embarked on the second half of the book. It was dark, intense, edgy, suspenseful, but not in a way I normally like. In fact, it was downright depressing. But, then a miracle happened-
The wrinkles ironed out a little, and I was able to focus on Leni and Matthew, which was the story’s saving grace. I ended up liking the way everything turned out, even though it was sad on so many levels.
While I had been turning and tossing and fretting over this review, worrying about this 'critical' kick I’ve been experiencing lately, as I turned the last page, I had an epiphany! It hit me like a ton of bricks. I was experiencing many of the same emotions I normally feel after reading a romance novel.
“She knew fact from fiction but couldn’t give up her love stories. They made her feel as if women could be in control of their own destinies. Even in a cruel, dark world that tested women to the very limits of their endurance, the heroines of these novels could prevail and find true love.”
OMG!! This is an epic LOVE STORY!! All this time I was focused on Alaska, the landscape, the environment, the seventies, the domestic violence, the PTSD, all the points everyone spoke of in all the reviews I’d read., Love is mentioned a lot too, the mother/daughter bond, the friendships, but no one wanted to say anything about THE LOVE STORY!! No one wanted to hint around that there is romance in this story. But....
Leni was tested to the brink of her endurance, yet she prevailed and found true love and despite everything she gets her happily ever after!! It’s romance 101!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And that, my fine friends why I read love stories.
Seriously though, please, stop saying you don’t like romance, or love stories, because, yes, yes you do! It just had to be labeled as something else, so you didn’t realize that’s what you’ve been reading all along- An EPIC love story!! Leni and Matthew! Belonging, finding your tribe,family, separations, hardships, endurance, survival against all odds, true love, and happy ever afters!! Yep! It’s all there. All the elements of a great love story! No, it is certainly not a warm and fuzzy, heartwarming story, that’s for sure, But, it is highly emotional, sentimental, redeeming, and so very satisfying.
If Matthew didn't melt your heart, check your pulse, because you might be dead. And, of course, no one deserved that HEA more than Leni!! Sure, of course, it's not JUST a love story, as I've made clear at the beginning of this review, but at the end of the day, after all is said and done, that's the part of story that endures, the part that burrowed into my heart.
So, Kristin Hannah did what she does best, apparently, and pulled off a NYT bestseller, to boot. Kudos! I do understand the homage to Alaska, all of which was described beautifully. I do ‘get’ the importance of the story, the messages embedded within, and appreciated the characterizations, especially that of the supporting cast, the pacing and all the other spectacular parts of this book that resonated with so many people, not just the parts that made an impression on me.
I am SO glad, despite the initial emotional drain, that I eventually finished it. It turned out to be a rewarding read. These characters will pass through my thoughts on many occasions in the future and I will wonder how they are doing from time to time, but I know they are going to make it just fine!!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kristin Hannah is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including the international blockbuster, The Nightingale, which was named Goodreads Best Historical fiction novel for 2015 and won the coveted People's Choice award for best fiction in the same year. Additionally, it was named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon, iTunes, Buzzfeed, the Wall Street Journal, Paste, and The Week.
Kristin's newest new release, The Great Alone, was published on February 6, 2018 (St. Martin's Press) and became an instant New York Times #1 bestseller. The novel, an epic love story and intimate family drama set in Alaska in the turbulent 1970's is a daring, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival and the wildness that lives in both nature and man. It was listed as one of the most anticipated novels of the year by The Seattle Times, Bustle.com, PopSugar, Working Mother, Southern Living, and Goodreads. Tri Star has optioned the film rights.
The Nightingale is currently in production at Tri Star, with award-winning director Michelle MacLaren set to direct. Home Front was optioned for film by 1492 Films (produced the Oscar-nominated The Help) with Chris Columbus attached to write, produce, and direct. Movie news on The Great Alone is coming soon.