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Book Review: The Great Alone

by | Jun 21, 2023 | Book Reviews, Historical Fiction

Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Age Rating: 16+

I’m a big fan of Kristin Hannah and her ability to craft stories that pull you in and refuse to let go. I’ve just turned the last page of her latest book, The Great Alone, and I’m still catching my breath. It’s another stunning testament to Hannah’s writing talent, and I’m eager to share my thoughts with you.

The Great Alone whisks you away to the untamed terrains of Alaska in the 1970s, a simultaneously beautiful and brutal world. Hannah deftly paints a portrait of Alaska’s serene beauty yet underscores the formidable challenges intrinsic to its harsh environment. 

She isn’t afraid to delve into the stark realities of life, particularly tackling the profound issue of domestic violence. But amidst the weighty subjects, the narrative unfolds a therapeutic layer, a resonance with nature’s healing rhythm, and a tribute to the human spirit that kept me riveted from cover to cover.

Now, let’s dive in further with this The Great Alone book review.


In Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, set in Alaska in 1974, the Allbright family is thrust into the unpredictable and unyielding nature of America’s last frontier to escape their past and survive their present. Ernt Allbright, a former POW from the Vietnam War and a man beset by volatile changes, impulsively decides to uproot his family to Alaska, lured by the promise of living off-grid in the wild expanse.

His daughter, Leni, is a young teen growing up amidst the whirlwind of her parents’ stormy relationship. She clings to the hope that this new land might offer a brighter future. Cora, Leni’s mother, is blinded by love for her husband and follows him fearlessly into the great unknown. The family initially finds solace in the striking wilderness and the community that welcomes them. The long days, the kindness of their neighbors, and the untamed freedom seem to assuage the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter descends and Alaska’s relentless dark corners inch closer, Ernt’s mental state crumbles, leading to a schism in the family. The external perils soon take a backseat to the internal threats tearing at the family’s fabric. Trapped in their isolated cabin amid unending darkness, Leni and Cora come to grips with a brutal truth – they are their only saviors.

My Review

Stepping into the literary world of Kristin Hannah is always an emotional journey, and her novel The Great Alone is no exception. I fell in love with Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale, so this book brought a certain sense of apprehension – can it live up to that masterpiece?

Hannah chose to venture down a new path with The Great Alone. This novel, a family drama set in the rough Alaskan wilderness, stands starkly apart from the World War II narrative of The Nightingale. But the departure is worth it. It tugs at your heartstrings with a mix of young adult romance and gut-wrenching family struggles that’ll have you reaching for tissues.

The Alaskan wilderness is the backdrop is both breathtaking beauty and formidable challenges. Hannah’s descriptions of Alaska are vivid, painting a picture of an untamed wilderness unspoiled by the trappings of modern tourism. This mirrors the complexity of Leni’s life, marked by moments of breathtaking joy and harsh reality.

Leni is a mix of innocence and wisdom, tested far beyond her young years. She is forced to navigate her father’s increasing instability and the codependent relationship between her parents. Her mother, Cora, remains loyal to Ernt despite his escalating violence. And it’s through this tangled web of love and fear that Leni’s character is honed – strong, resilient, and wise beyond her years.

Romantic love is a central theme in the book as well. There’s the burning, tumultuous love between Leni’s parents and the innocent love that blossoms between Leni and Matthew, the son of a wealthy local family. These relationships, fraught with complications and crises, provide an emotional depth that’s heartrending and relatable.

In her intricate portrayal of the Allbright family, Hannah demonstrates the dichotomy of love – its power to heal and its ability to harm. Each character is authentic and flawed, from Ernt’s scarred psyche to Cora’s desperate optimism and Leni’s tenacious spirit. This complicated web of relationships shows us the different forms that love can take, each fraught with unique struggles and joys.

The characters are neither purely good nor evil. They are individuals, shaped by their experiences and circumstances, striving for happiness and peace in a world that often seems set against them. Ernt, though undoubtedly the antagonist of the story, is portrayed as a man broken by war, his love capacity crushed, and his mind plagued by paranoia and nightmares. His portrayal, though disturbing, also serves as a poignant commentary on the long-term effects of trauma.

The secondary characters are also thoughtfully developed. Large Marge, who runs the local grocery, becomes a beacon of hope and help for the Allbright women. Matthew, the son of a wealthy local man, becomes an essential part of Leni’s life, offering her friendship and love in a desolate and harsh environment.

The Great Alone delves into the complexities of love, the harsh realities of life, and the resilience of the human spirit. It tells a tale of second chances, heartbreaking endings, and the power of redemption. Like the Alaskan wilderness, life in this story is beautiful, harsh, unpredictable, and, at times, cruel. But through it all, the characters find strength in each other and within themselves.

If you found this review helpful, you can check out the book at Bookshop.org here and support local bookstores along the way!