I took The Great Alone on a recent trip to Michigan to visit my family and I couldn’t stop reading it in the car while my husband was driving. It was such a great story, I was pulled in and the story didn’t let me go until the end. I felt this way about Hannah’s The Nightingale as well although The Great Alone is a very different story.
Thirteen-year-old Leni has a very young mom, Cora, who loves Leni’s POW father, Ernt, with overwhelming passion. Cora insists that Ernt was a very different man before the Vietnam war, but Leni cannot really remember those times. Ernt has a temper now and can’t seem to settle down anywhere. Then Ernt finds out a fellow POW friend left him property in the Alaska. Hoping for a new start, the family heads north.
In Alaska, the family discovers they are ill prepared, but that their neighbors are there to help. Leni meets Matthew and finally has a friend her own age. But as winter approaches, Ernt’s mood swings and violence increases. They especially increase when he feels threatened by their neighbor, Tom Walker, who seems to have it all and admires Cora. Will the family be able to survive the winter and all that Alaska has in store for them?
I loved this unique story and loved the author’s note at the end where Hannah describes living in Alaska and her family’s lodge. I was disturbed that this is labeled a historic fiction novel as I was born in 1978, but I guess the 1970’s was 40 plus years ago and it’s time to accept that I am historic. The description of the work the family must do to survive in a rugged terrain without running water or electricity were fascinating. It was like Little House on the prairie set in the 1970s.
Alaska itself is a star of this novel with visit description of the beauty of the land as well as the people who live there. My favorite character was Large Marge. Large Marge was a former Washington DC prosecutor who gave it all up to live on the land in Alaska. She tells it as it is and isn’t afraid to take charge. I love that there were several powerful women in this story. I want Large Marge to get a book of her own.
The discussion of the lack of rights for women, especially woman that were subjected to domestic violence was thought provoking. I did feel that Ernt at times seemed like a one-dimensional villain, but then Hannah would bring him back for Leni to remember what a great dad he could be at times.
I also loved the romance that developed between Leni and Matthew as it was a Romeo and Juliet story set in rugged Alaska.
I loved this novel, but the ending still puzzles me. I guess I really don’t understand how Matthew could be alive with his leg almost being severed and them not being found for two days. I believe Leni put a tourniquet on Matthew at some point, but I just don’t understand how Matthew wouldn’t have died from a loss of blood or have lost his leg at the very least. What happened to him was so disturbing . . . but I don’t even know if he should have lived. I really want to talk to someone about this – leave any comments below. If I could pick half stars, I would go with 4.5 stars out of 5 for this one.
Overall, The Great Alone is an epic and unique tale. Kristin Hannah has a wonderful follow-up to The Nightingale.