I have to thank my lovely mother for sending me the print copy of this amazing book – the cover is beautiful and so is the story…
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.
We are mostly in Leni’s viewpoint throughout this book, which takes us through Leni’s growing up years until she is a woman. I loved her character. Hannah’s writing is lyrical, intense and passionate, allowing us to get right inside the character of this sensitive, observant child. And of course she is hyperaware of the adults around her – with such an unstable family dynamic, it’s the only way she can survive…
I also love Hannah’s depiction of Alaska, which is clearly a remarkable place that attracts remarkable people. And you need something about you that finds modern life in busy cities with all the trappings of civilisation inherently uncomfortable – or you wouldn’t be able to cope in such a challenging environment. The historical flavour of the time is also well captured – having lived through it, I do recall the sense that everything was sliding away. While we didn’t have the draft and a savage war to deal with in the UK, we did have strikes, the 3-day week and the oil crisis.
This one was impossible to put down, once I started to read. The way the family dynamic worked was very well portrayed – it would have been so easy to have depicted her parents as uncaring or complete monsters. But they were nothing of the sort – they were people caught up in events and dealing with the fallout without any support – it’s been well documented elsewhere just what disgraceful treatment the Vietnam veterans endured once they returned home, often traumatised and unable to work.
As for the climax of the novel – I wasn’t sure about the ultimate ending, to be honest. I think it was just a bit too upbeat, given what had happened. But overall, this is an amazing read that I will recall with great pleasure. Highly recommended for fans of books based on recent history and family-based adventure.