The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah / ★★★★☆
Summary: Leni Allbright’s father, a restless and violent former POW in the Vietnam war, likes to move their family around the country, and is never able to hold a job for long. When they end up in Alaska, it’s just remote and wild enough to seem like the perfect resting place- until winter comes, and Leni learns what it means to be truly resilient, for both herself and her mother.
Leni had seen all of this before. Ultimately, it didn’t matter what she or Mama wanted.
Dad wanted a new beginning. Needed it. And Mama need him to be happy.
So they would try again in a new place, hoping geography would be the answer. They would go to Alaska in search of a new dream. Leni would do as she was asked and do it with a good attitude. She would be the new girl in school again. Because that was what love was.
This book was a long, wild ride, and it probably would have been a five star read if the pacing of the near the end hadn’t gotten a bit too wild. But before I get to that, I should say my reason for picking this book up in the first place- I really, really wanted to read something that captures the beauty and wonder of Alaska. I visited Alaska back in October, and I’ve never been anywhere that felt so very remote and so very beautiful at once. So I read this book for nostalgia, and because I don’t believe I’ve read something set in Alaska before.
This book did a gorgeous job of capturing the beauty and wonder of Alaska- above and beyond what I experienced there. Kristin Hannah has a talent for description and atmosphere. Her Alaskan summers felt colorful and rich and borderline magical, and then THE WINTERS. Her descriptions of winter were dark and frigid and suffocating to the point that at times it was nearly too much for me as the reader. This book took me a little over a week to finish- it was one that I had to read in intervals. Every time I put it down, I needed a break. This was a heavy book.
As for the plot, it was a story about survival, in more ways than one. Not only does Leni battle the unfamiliar, frigid wild of Alaska, but a danger looms inside of Leni’s own home in the form of her father. And just as I was suffocated and on edge by the wilderness Kristen Hannah described, the atmosphere of terror, of “provoking the bear” in their own home, so to speak, had me completely on edge.
I think my favorite thing about this book was the complexity of Leni’s situation. I absolutely hated her father, and yet I was constantly aware of the fact, as Leni was, that her father had been irrevocably changed by his experiences in the Vietnam war. It’s not an excuse for his behavior, but it’s constantly there, the fact that he needs help but in those days the help did not exist for it. But what I appreciated the most about the situation was that Leni never gave in to this behavior- everything she did was always for her mother, for the both of their lives. The mother/daughter relationship in this book was the heart of this book.
It was the last forth or so of this book that took the rating down a few notches. The pacing of the book had been steady thus far, until suddenly it RAMPED way up, and about half of the plot took place in the final few chapters. Not only that, but it simply felt like too much and it stretched my disbelief a bit. By the time the book was over, I’d enjoyed it a lot, but I was kind of relieved that it was over. I also felt like the ending was a little corny? Maybe I’m heartless…
So, for most of this book, it was nearly a 5 star read until the end became a bit too much for me. But overall, The Great Alone was a visually stunning novel with complex family dynamics and heartbreaking romance. If you want a good, heavy read, I definitely recommend it.