Tuesday, February 6, 2018

ARC Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Pub. Date:Feb. 6, 2018
Publisher:St. Martin's Press
Length:435 pgs

This book is outside of my normal genre, but I have been wanting to try this author for quite a while. When I saw the blurb was about Alaskan homesteaders, I knew that I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and start with this one. I get sucked into those Alaskan Bush People type shows from time to time, and I have always wanted to go to Alaska, so I knew that the subject matter would be interesting. I have to say that Kristin Hannah is a master storycrafter and I will definitely be adding more of her books to my TBR.

The Great Alone is not a happy story by any means, but it is poignant and captivating. The narrator of the story is Lenora "Leni" Albright, whom we followed as she came of age in the 1970s following the Vietnam War. Leni's father, Ernt Albright, has returned home a changed man after years as a POW in Vietnam. As he suffers from (likely undiagnosed) PTSD, Leni and her mother, Cora, do everything they can to appease Ernt, including following him to the Alaskan wilderness to get away from what he sees as the deterioration of society.

The Albrights arrive in Alaska wholly unprepared for the realities of living in such a harsh environment. Luckily the small community of homesteaders on the Kenai Peninsula are willing to help cheechakos that come up from the Outside and help get them settled and prepared to survive the harsh winter. I enjoyed the sense of community that we saw around Otters Cove, and each of the secondary characters added a needed dimension to the story. I enjoyed the diversity of thought and methods of living that we saw from the townfolk - from survivalists, to escapists, to people who loved the Alaskan beauty.

Sometimes it was hard to read about Leni's life. She and Cora were suffering the fate of many females of the time, struggling to get by in a world where women's rights were still a new phenomenon. Hardest of all was dealing with the volatility and declining mental state of Ernt, particularly once they had diminished resources in Alaska. I can only imagine how difficult and terrifying it was to live in that household that was more full of fear than love. There were times when I really wanted Leni to run, even if she had to leave her mom behind. I think that Hannah did an admirable job chronicling the life and circumstances of battered women, particularly the emotional turmoil that Cora felt over the man she loved, but who was also violent.

I enjoyed watching Leni come of age and gain maturity and experience in such a harsh environment. I respected her ability and love for this type of life, even if I don't think I could have survived it myself. The imagery was fantastic and allowed me to picture the harsh landscape in my head, but also sent me to google looking up images of Otters Cove and the surrounding area. I am no less fascinated by Alaska after reading this story, although I no longer think I would be capable of living the isolationist life in this type of environment. 

While this story was not a happy tale for the most part, I do recommend it to those who enjoy dense historical fiction or captivating family sagas. The Great Alone was a one-sitting read for me, as I couldn't put it down until the very last page. Every time I would turn off the Kindle and try to sleep, I found my eyes popping back open and willing me back to the next chapter.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book that I received from the publisher, St. Martin's Press.

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