The Great Alone

The Great Alone

by Kristin Hannah

When  thirteen year-old Leni Albright’s father, Ernt, returns from Vietnam, he is a changed man. He is volatile, unable to control his temper and restless. Leni can’t remember what he was like before the war but her mother, Cora, keeps trying to remind her that he is a good man deep down. On a whim, Ernt decides that they are moving to Alaska for a fresh start. He believes that he will get his life back and become a changed man in the open spaces in the mostly uncivilized Alaska of 1974. They are going to live off the grid and he assures them that everything will be fine. When they arrive on the Kenai peninsula, they realize that they are woefully unprepared for winter and it is fast approaching. With the help of neighbors, they manage to set up a sparse homestead and learn what they will need to survive the long winter months.

But as the long winter drags on, Ernt begins to drink again and he becomes more and more paranoid. His violent streak escalates and Leni watches as her beloved mother bears the brunt of Ernt\’s anger and jealousy. Her only salvation is a local boy, Matthew, who becomes her friend. But Leni must keep her friendship a secret from her dad and soon everyone is walking on eggshells.

The Great Alone has a wonderfully developed sense of place. I felt the cold seeping into their bones, felt the danger that were dealing with in this wild place but also appreciated the beauty of it. The colorful characters in the town added to story. Everyone pitched in and helped everyone else.  A story about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and  domestic violence isn’t uplifting and as Ernt’s violence grew I wanted to scream at both Leni and Cora to get out and run but Cora wouldn\’t leave him. She tried to get Leni to leave but Leni wouldn\’t leave her mom. After five years, Leni does try to leave with devastating consequences.

This book is in part a coming of age story, a love story and an adventure. The title of The Great Alone comes from a poem The Shooting of Dan McGrew  by Alaskan poet Robert Service “were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear, And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear…” 

I loved Kristin Hannah’s 2015 book The Nightingale. It was the best book I read that year so I was hoping to love The Great Alone.  I liked it but didn’t love it. I listened to it on audio and Julia Whelan was a fantastic narrator!

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