Book Review: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (St Martin’s Press)

So, I accidentally joined five book clubs this year. Three are with various friends and two from Instagram and Tiktok–but five clubs are nothing I can’t handle. One that’s meeting this very weekend (which I’m admittedly nervous for since I don’t know everyone) is reading The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. This book was already on my to-read list so this sped up my process of actually getting it from the library.

Kristin Hannah is an iconic author, and though this was my first book I read by her, she is famed for other works like The Nightingale and The Four Winds. Originally a lawyer in the Pacific Northwest, her works as an author have made this a much more popular career choice!

The Great Alone follows the Albright family through the eyes of the 13 year old girl, Leni, as they move from Seattle to the wilds of Alaska. While some of this coming-of-age historical fiction is about their learning of survival in the wilds known as The Great Alone, the real survival is the lonliness of surviving domestic violence and being silenced by the father, Ernt Albright, a Vietnam POW veteran.

The biggest tip to reading this book I’d say is have tissues close by and be prepared to cry. Good thing I like sad things and am no stranger to tears…

Through the tears and trauma, themes become present and clearer. I’d say the biggest theme comes from the title, The Great Alone. Though this nickname comes from a Robert Service poem and refers to the solitude of the Alaskan wilderness, the book actually uses it as a metaphor for lonliness that comes from a violent father and surviving a trauma that teaches you to be silent and fear love. Other themes feed into this bigger one, like grief, isolation, PTSD, and the meaning of community.

The characters are also multifaceted. Leni and her parents, Cora and Ernt, are at the forefront of the novel, but their allies and (in Ern’t case) enemies also help paint the novel. Some of my favorites are Matthew and Tom Walker, who show us what real men look like compared to Ernt, and Large Marge, an outspoken, often comedic, but always loyal friend.

Probably the most beautiful and breathtaking part of this novel is the descriptions. Hannah depicts a beautiful and dangerous Alaska, never failing to show us the environments in which Leni finds herself. I also admire the symbolism, particularly of cracking ice in the Alaskan winter. There are many times when there is danger on thin ice–literally–in the novel, but walking around Ernt and his temper is also thin ice. I lost track of the times when Cora warns her daughter to “be extra careful” around him.

My one criticism of this book is the danger of portraying those suffering from PTSD as violent. While there are certainly those who do become violent, I think portraying this can further stigmatize mental illness and shame those who are suffering. Also, this book is just so sad–definitley not a book for an escapism.

Overall, I’d give this book four stars. I’d recommend it to those who like sad stories, who want to learn more about survivng trauma or living in the Pacific Northwest, and those interested in more recent historical fiction.

Check out this link for Kristin Hannah’s book club discussion questions on this book.

By myadventure2017

Writer, Reader, Bookstagrammer, Booktoker, Blogger

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