My name is Ardis and I am an avid reader and budding writer. I want to share my love of books with others. I work with kids and am interested in finding and creating books that will ignite the reader in everyone. Contact me at: ardis.atkins@gmail.com

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Book Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Synopsis (From Goodreads):

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 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.


Kristin Hannah, best know for her mega hit book, The Nightingale, goes from the epic times of WWII to the struggles of a single family in crisis in The Great Alone.  But there is nothing minuscule about the plight of this family or the surroundings of Alaska.  The author takes the reader on a journey that is every bit as harrowing for this small family trying to survive the harsh Alaskan winters, and each other.

What I Liked:
Alaska is as much a character in this book as the people are.  One of the first descriptions of this place is the famous quote from Jack London, "There are a thousand ways to die in Alaska"!  And this book seems to illustrate many of them.  But for all the terrible hardships of this land, the novel also describes many of it's charms, as well.  There is the breathtaking beauty of the land in the summer, and the thrilling Northern Lights in the autumn and winter.  Once they get used to it, the simplicity of life in Alaska became very appealing to the characters.  There was no television, daily newspapers, or modern conveniences.  While this may seem awful to many of us, I think the characters felt this was a buffer from a harsher world.

We first meet Leni as a small child.  She is aware of her dad's temper and her parents arguments but has been sheltered by her mother from any of it's effects.  When the family moves to Alaska for a new start, Leni is as optimistic as her parents that this will be a fun adventure.  But, sadly, the long winter in that state, and the hardships the family endures from not being prepared, bring out the worst in her father.  That's when Leni starts to see the true scope of the violence that has gripped her parent's marriage.

I liked Leni very much and could see how she grew to accept her father's outbursts as what was normal for her family.  She was fiercely concerned for her mother, so she did whatever she could to not rock the boat.  

Some of her choices were very questionable, such as her going along with her mother's plans toward the end of the novel, but I understood that she was terribly afraid for her mom and would do anything for her.

Cora is Leni's mother and feels she has no choices in her troubled marriage to Ernt.  She makes excuses for his behavior because he was a POW in Vietnam, and for his erratic choice in moving the family to Alaska.  The book did a good job of showing how Cora was systematically groomed to accept being devalued, beaten, and isolated from the rest of her family.  Once women get in this situation, it is extremely difficult to escape.  Of course I wish Cora had been able to leave her husband for Leni's sake, but it was understandable, too.

The members of the fictional town, Konnack, Alaska were people who would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it.  I loved their toughness, and sense of community.  They accepted Cora and Leni, and universally hated Ernt.  To their credit, they tried to intervene and help Cora, but respected her decision to stay with her husband.

While this was a difficult book to read, at times, I found the story of Cora and Leni's survival to be gripping.  Not only must they survive the harrowing landscape of Alaska, they must also overcome Ernt's rages and delusions.  I loved how Leni matured and realized, over time, that their family life was not normal.  And I cheered for her as she tried to find a way out.  

What I Was Mixed About:
I think the story takes some strange turns towards the end of the book.  You know when a character makes a really stupid choice that you know will cause major problems for them later?  That's how I felt about some things that Leni and Cora do.  I wanted to yell at them for choosing the most difficult thing when they could have made better choices.  But I suppose these complications are what drives the story.

Trigger Warning for domestic abuse (I had to stop reading this several times due to the vivid descriptions)


Release Date:  February 6th, 2018

Publisher:  Macmillan Audio

Listening Length:  15 Hours, 1 Minute

Page Length:  435 Pages

Format:  Audio Book

Source:  Public Library

Recommendation:  This story of domestic abuse amidst the unforgiving background of Alaska is gripping. 

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2019 Reading Challenge
MsArdychan has read 10 books toward her goal of 120 books.


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