“What’s your story, missy?”
“I don’t have a story.”
“Everyone has a story. Maybe yours just starts here.”
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WHAT. AN. AMAZING. BOOK!!
I just UGLY SOBBED through the last 40 pages of this book and there is no doubt in my mind that Kristin Hannah is one of the STRONGEST, MOST TALENTED writers I’ve ever read. This book was very different than the types of books I normally read. You can tell that from the blurb. I went into this book expecting it to be more of a LIFE story, but what took me by complete, unexpected surprise was how much of an epic LOVE STORY it turned into. I feel so deeply and profoundly MOVED by it. It spans nearly a complete lifetime and portrays a raw, honest view of LIFE, LOVE, LOSS, FAMILY, HEARTBREAK, and HEALING. I can’t guarantee that this story will appeal to everyone but I absolutely LOVED IT and the ending was everything I’d hoped for. I highly recommend this as a top favorite!
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 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.
In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska—a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.
I can usually tell from the first page whether or not I’m going to enjoy a particular book. Granted, this isn’t a failsafe method of judging books and most often I’ll try a the first couple of chapters to be sure, but as a general rule, I can tell from the first few lines of a book if I’m going to really fall in love with the story. Kristin Hannah is one of the most talented authors and skilled storytellers I’ve ever read and if you read even just the first paragraph of this book, you’ll see exactly what I mean. Her word choice, sentence structure, and writing is exquisite. If any aspiring authors reading this, I strongly recommend reading one of her books — just to see how she weaves these words into such beautiful stories. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Kristin Hannah is the single most talented author I’ve ever read. Which isn’t to say that I love her books more than my other top favorites specifically (even though I have adored everything I’ve read from hers so far), but just her command of the English language is the best I’ve ever read.
So as you can tell, I was captivated from the start of this book. I knew going into it that this likely wasn’t going to fall in line with the typical stories I usually gravitate towards but I couldn’t resist a new Kristin Hannah book because she’s just one of those authors where if she writes it, I’ll read it because I love the experience of reading her books.
However, this book took me by surprise several times. First, in the overall scope of the story. I didn’t realize just how many years the story spanned and was pleasantly surprised to find that it took place over nearly a full lifetime and as such, the emotional depth of the story was magnified with many story arcs taking years and decades to fulfill.
The second thing that surprised me in a wonderful way was that there was in fact a achingly beautiful love story that slowly developed into a central and incredibly poignant storyline. The heart-break and healing from this equally devastating and uplifting love story was a huge part of the reason why I quite literally ugly sobbed my way through the last 40 pages. Like we’re talking full on crocodile tears streaming down my face, mascara streaks, have-to-stop-reading-because-can-no-longer-see-the-page-through-my-tears kind of sobbing. THE EMOTIONS. THE FEELS. THE INTENSITY. They just swept me away in a fashion that only my most favorite books have ever done.
But I’m getting ahead of myself a little. The first part (nearly half) of the book has a very adventuresome feel. And yet, it has a distinct “edge” to it. Like if it were a movie, you’d hear a little high pitched violin constantly in the background grating just enough to keep your heart-racing, knowing that danger could be around any corner.
Kristin Hannah so skillfully set up the core characters. A wife and mother determined to be strong for the broken man she loved and holding on to an empty hope of redemption while trying to be independent in a man’s world. A husband and father who’d seen the worst from the world, betrayed by his fellow man and abandoned by this country, trying to be someone his family could rely on and yet being unable to keep fear from overtaking his mind. And a young teenager caught up in her family’s turmoil as they tried to survive in a harsh and unforgiving world.
“I’m sorry. I lost my temper. And my job. You must be disappointed as hell in me.”
She knew how sorry he was. She could see it on his face. When she was younger, she’d sometimes wondered what good all those sorries were if nothing ever changed, but Mama had explained it to her. The war and captivity had snapped something in him. ‘It’s like his back is broken,’ Mama had said, ‘and you don’t stop loving a person when they’re hurt. You get stronger so they can lean on you. He needs me. Us.’
When an unexpected turn of events gives her family a chance at a new life in the wild of Alaska, everything changes.
“She had lain awake long past midnight, reading about the vast landscape of Alaska. It had captivated her in an expected way. The frontier was like her dad, it seemed. Larger than life. Expansive. A little dangerous.”
My heart raced a little with excitement and anticipation as they made their way to Alaska. As someone who loves the countryside and wilderness, I found a strange sense of peace reading about the desolate landscape they were about to call home. However, I could just as easily see how terrifying and unforgiving it could be. And how dangerous.
“You’ll need to be tough up here, Cora Allbright. For you and your daughter. You can’t just count on your man. You need to be able save yourself and this beautiful girl of yours.”
“That’s pretty dramatic,” Mama said.
… “This is a bear whistle. You’ll need it. Lesson number one: no walking quietly — or unarmed — in Alaska. Not this far out, not this time of year.”
“Are you trying to scare us?” Mama asked.
“You bet your ass I am. Fear is common sense up here.”
Despite their isolation from most of the civilized world, Leni’s family put their best foot forward, determined that this would be the fresh start they’d dreamed of.
“Be careful. Learn to shoot a gun.
They lived on a piece of land that couldn’t be accessed by water at low tide, on a peninsula with only a handful of people and hundreds of wild animals, in a climate harsh enough to kill you. There was no police station, no telephone service, no one to hear you scream.
For the first time, she really understood what her dad had been saying.
And there, at the end of the earth, the final frontier, in the most impoverished, undersupplied, desolate and tiny town you could imagine, they were shown generosity, support, and kindness the likes of which they’d never seen.
“In Alaska you can make one mistake. One. The second one will kill you.”
“I don’t think we’re prepared,” Mama said. “Maybe we’ve already made a mistake by coming here.”
“I’ll help you,” Thelma promised. “We all will.”
But the coming winter changed everything for everyone. It took a strong person to withstand the darkness and it was a kill or be killed world out there in the wild. And her father wasn’t strong enough to keep the demons that haunted him at bay. The war had changed him and back then PTSD wasn’t understood. His fear and paranoia was tinged with just enough truth to give it a strong hold but his mind had twisted it into something uglier than any reality and as the winter went on, they began to realize that the dangers they faced weren’t only from the wild .
“With no 911 and no one to call for help. All this time, Dad had bought Leni how dangerous the outside world was. The truth was the the biggest danger of all was in her own home.”
But in the midst of this unforgiving world, Leni fell in love with the land. It molded her. And it was there that she met someone who would one day change her life forever…
“This is Alaska. We live and let live. I don’t care if your dad hates my dad. You’re the one who matters, Leni.”
“To me you do… So we’re friends, right?” Matthew said. “No matter what?”
Leni nodded. “No matter what.”
This book has a profound and honest way of portraying both PTSD and domestic abuse and how quickly, quietly, and unexpectedly one can blend into the other. Kristin Hannah did a fantastic job of differentiating between a truly evil person and a good person who did bad things as well as a good person who’d succumbed to fear. She references Herbert’s quote “Fear is the mind-killer” and that line rang so very true over and over again as you read this story.
“Mama would never leave Dad. It didn’t matter that she’d gone so far as to take a backpack and run to the bus and drive away. She would come back, always, because she loved him. Or she needed him. Or she was afraid of him. Who knew, really?
Leni couldn’t begin to understand the hows and whys of her parents’ love. She was old enough to see the turbulent surface, but too young to know what lay beneath.”
However, I will say that there’s a point where you go from feeling sympathy for a character to understanding that they’ve crossed the point of no return and again, and that progression and transition was written so powerfully.
In the naivety of youth, her parents had seemed like towering presences, omnipotent and all-knowing. But they weren’t that; they were just two broken people.
The second half of the book shifts forward several years closer to the end is another jump forward. These shifts in time were perfectly balanced and I honestly read the second half of this book in what felt like a single breath. This is a long book but it felt like I barely blinked. I mean really. THE FEELS!!!!!!!
It’s honestly unfair that I’m writing so little in my review about the second half of the book because it was AMAZING but I’m trying really hard not to give away too much of the story. What I will say again though was that I told you that I’d known this would be a life story but I was not expecting it turn into such a truly epic and beautiful love story. We’re talking the kind of true, undying love that no measure of tragedy or loss could ever diminish.
“How will I stop loving him, Mama? Will I… forget?
Mama signed. “Ah. That. Love doesn’t fade or die, baby girl. People tell you it does, but it doesn’t. If you love him now, you’ll love him in ten years and in forty. Differently, maybe, a faded version, but he’s a part of you now. And you are a part of him.”
I’m tearing up now just thinking back on those last 40 pages. THEY WERE EVERYTHING I needed from this story. The ending was deeply fulfilling and brought all the story arcs full circle. I felt whole and healed by the end and the last words even were just perfect. I’ll answer the HEA question in a hidden spoiler here because I know that some of you will be wondering…
If you’re in a book club, this would be a FANTASTIC reading choice! There is so much about this story to discuss — so many layers of meaning and emotion. So many choices and such complex characters. Also, I wouldn’t usually address this but I’ve been asked about it so my own opinion is that yes, this book is absolutely worth its price.
This is a story that’ll stay with me for years to come. If you’re looking for a fantastically well-written book with a unique, powerful, deeply profound story that’ll sweep you away, definitely read this!
Rating: 5 STARS!! Standalone
- Buy THE GREAT ALONE (Kindle)
- Buy THE GREAT ALONE (Paperback)
- Buy THE GREAT ALONE (Audiobook)
- Buy THE GREAT ALONE (iBooks)