2:00 pm EST, February 13, 2018

‘The Great Alone’ book review: Tragedy, love, and the wilderness of Alaska

By Emily McDonald | Edited by Donya Abramo

From the author of The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah, comes a new novel that will take you far and away into the deep wilderness of Alaska.

About ‘The Great Alone’

In 1974 13-year old Leni is whisked away to Alaska when her father, who suffers from PTSD from fighting in the Vietnam War, is given a piece of land from a war buddy.

Suddenly forced to confront complete isolation, the dangerously naive family moves to “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.”

‘The Great Alone’ book review

I will confess, I went into reading this book with some hesitance. Last year I read Kristin Hannah’s biggest bestseller, The Nightingale, and to be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan.

So, as I sat down to read The Great Alone, I had low expectations, and ended up getting slightly more than expected. While this novel does lack a lot in character depth, it soars high with Alaskan wilderness. In fact, multiple times I caught myself thinking I was reading about a different planet. I guess that’s what you get when you grow up in a city.

I have never been to Alaska and I don’t have a particular urge to ever live there, but this novel almost, almost, convinced me to. Or, probably more realistically, gave me an understanding of why people seek out this beautiful and secluded land.

Leni, our protagonist, is forced to move to a tiny, and I mean tiny, town in the middle of nowhere Alaska. It’s the ‘70s so technology in these parts was non-existing. No electricity, indoor plumbing, or even paved roads to be found. This part of the novel is by far the best. It puts Leni in an unknown situation, throwing her into learning how to essentially live amongst the wild in a place that has nearly no darkness in the summer, and nearly no daylight in the winter.

Seeing eagles in their day-to-day life, hearing about bears prowling around, going on spur-of-the-moment field trips to see frog eggs, all of it was breathtaking, and this is what saved the novel for me.

The Great Alone has quite a few memorable characters, and although they are a bit two-dimensional and predictable, they do suit the tight knit community Hannah creates. There is Large Marge, the former D.C. lawyer who is ferocious enough to probably take down a grizzly, but also be able to keep an eye out for Leni. Mad Earl is the town’s conspiracy theorist, Tom Walker is the rich neighbor and his son, Matthew, holds the heart of the romance in the novel.

The romance of the story is sweet and is threaded throughout the novel, but doesn’t drown the rest of the story out. Most of the action is centered on Leni’s alcoholic father who suffers from PTSD, and her mother who chooses to stay in the toxic relationship.

Leni’s perspective of her parent’s love, described as “the twisted love that bound her parents together,” is how Leni’s growth is most notably seen. Much of this dysfunctional family is predictable, and in many ways frustrating. At the same time, however, it is what helps give the story realism. Sometimes life is predictable. When a wife-beating husband becomes angry, it’s hard not to know what is going to happen next.

Although not perfect, The Great Alone is a quick read that moves swiftly and smoothly. I highly recommend to read this if you are looking to take your imagination out and into the wildness of the cold and lonely, but also breathtakingly beautiful Alaska.

In other news, Sony announced early this year they bought the rights for the movie adaptation. Production is already in progress for Kristin Hannah’s bestseller The Nightingale movie adaptation.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local independent bookstore. Also, don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads “to read” list.

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