Review of The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah #Brainfluffbookreview #TheGreatAlonebookreview

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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.
9/10

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25 responses »

    • Yes – this one is far more concerned about the general political unrest and Vietnam in particular. But I had forgotten just how doom-laden it all felt until I read this book, to be honest…

    • Well… let’s put it this way (delicately stepping around those spoiler boulders) – the ending could have been a lot more grim, which I was expecting. But I had a sense that she had invested a lot in the main character which influenced her decision regarding the ending – which I think slightly flew in the face of how the overall story arc was going…

    • Oh yes – the fact the author has lived there clearly shows in the writing. The decriptions of Alaska is one of the outstanding aspects of this book.

  1. This is kind of funny but the fact that end is really upbeat actually makes this one appeal to me more. I get kind of nervous about really intense subjects and the fact that there’s a happy ending is a big sigh of relief! I’m looking forward to reading this though I can see where the end wouldn’t sit right with you.

    • Oh yes – don’t start this thinking it’s all going to be doom and disaster:)). And it is an extraordinary journey that caught me unawares a number of times… I’m going to remember this book for a long time.

  2. Ooh, Alaska – what a great setting and a wonderful review. I feel like I’ve read this author but I’ve looked at her book list and can’t see anything familiar – and yet, if asked, I would definitely think that I had. Oh Well, brain overheating no doubt.
    Lynn 😀

    • I haven’t read anything by her other than this, either – but she has written a number of other books and is a best-selling author. I had the same moment – which is why Mum sent me her book…

  3. I really should give this book a chance. I like good historical fiction now and then, and Kristin Hannah’s previous book The Nightingale was exceptional – which I recommend to you as well, Sarah, if you’re interested in reading another book by her.

  4. I’ve put off writing a review of this book. My own encounters as a child with the survivalists like those she writes about in this book get in the way of me writing one. This book is just to close to home for me to enjoy.

      • A childhood friend lived this story and it didn’t exactly end well. Spoiler! Everyone lived, but not happily ever after.
        So I guess that means the author did a great job evoking that time and place?

      • Yes – I think she did! And while the ending wasn’t doom and misery, it was clearly going to be a hard old road to continue along.

  5. Until I read this review, I had “temporarily forgotten” about Kristin Hanna. She has certainly written good novels I read and enjoyed in the past. I may add one of her more recent novels to my TBR list, just to reconnect with an “old friend.”

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