REVIEW: THE GREAT ALONE By Kristin Hannah

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Published Feb 6, 2018 By St. Martin’s Press

Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival. Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown. In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

******

 I finished this book last week and while I typically try to write my reviews right away, I struggled with my feelings about this one so I’ve put it off for a week and I’m glad I did. If I would’ve wrote it immediately I might have focused too much on my feelings about the ending; however, with a little time and perspective I think I have a clearer understanding of why I feel so torn about parts of this book.

Enough vagueness, let me be more specific. The blurb, which I heavily edited from Goodreads (this is really all you need to know), gives you the bare bones of the story. What Hannah so brilliantly manages to do is to take that set up and place the reader right there in the Alaskan setting with the Allbright family. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was mesmerized by the Alaskan setting and the way the author was able to place me there….I literally couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I felt the cold, I saw the beauty. I’m not sure that’s ever happened to me before, where a setting has so completely captured my attention and made me feel the suspense and drama of the surroundings that are at once beautiful yet deadly.

Then we have the Allbright family and really I don’t know where to start with them. The level of dysfunction and domestic violence prevalent in their family dynamics was heartbreaking, yet infuriating, because as a reader it’s very hard to read about the details of the abuse that Ernt (a former POW) inflicted on Cora and then having a child, Leni, be witness to it and becoming the caretaker of her mom while trying desperately to not rock the boat with her dad…her life was truly “walking on egg shells” on a daily basis.  Add to that Leni’s struggles with her new life in the harsh Alaskan setting and here was a character I was rooting for and as a result I could. not. put. this. book. down! Was the domestic abuse over the top as many reviewers have discussed? In my opinion, no. Yes, it was very difficult to read but as someone who worked in social work, foster care to be exact, the domestic abuse cycle and trauma to Leni and Cora was (unfortunately) realistic to me.

In terms of another major aspect of this novel that I loved were the supporting characters. Hannah has crafted a small group of townspeople who inhabit the little Alaskan village and my absolute favorite was Large Marge. Seriously, I would’ve taken so many more chapters about Large Marge verses some of the extended storyline chapters toward the end. Hannah’s ability to craft secondary characters with intricate subplots is just superb.

This, however, brings me to my critique which honestly I feel torn writing about because overall I was captivated by this story.  In fact, I read the first 70% of this like a madwoman and then literally there was a shift, slight but there, in which the narrative began to feel bogged down with descriptive details in what felt like a much slower pace. Add to this some questionable character motivations and actions, one which felt like a glaring misstep that was put in to force the plot and you have my reasons for feeling so conflicted. I do question whether my expectations were too high, am I being too picky? Perhaps. I just read (and loved) The Nightingale in November so it was fresh in my memory, but unquestionably this is a completely different book, wonderful in it’s own right which needs and deserves no comparison to any other.

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33 thoughts on “REVIEW: THE GREAT ALONE By Kristin Hannah

  1. I haven’t read The Nightingale so I can’t compare but I read Night Road and really loved that one as well. It’s funny because normally the ending is not spun out but is wrapped up too fast and it seems it’s the other way around here. I definitely want to see for myself because I am curious and I love an atmospheric read!

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    1. I read Night Road and loved that also. I would say you should really really try to read The Nightingale Inge, she was on another writing level with that one. The Great Alone is completely worth it for the Alaskan setting, you’ll find tons of atmosphere with this read!!

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  2. We’re on the same wave length with this one. I also posted my review today and our thoughts are very, very similar. I loved the story for so much of the book, but then it simply derailed and was something of a train wreck by the end.

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  3. I’ve put this book on my TBR pile as soon as I saw it on Goodreads. So it’s nice to read an honest review about it before I am going to pick it up. It sounds like a great read despite the ending..

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  4. I JUST bought a copy of this one this past week. I read The Nightingale back in 2016, and fell in love with Kristin Hannah’s writing. I find the Alaskan setting absolutely fascinating, so I was super excited to see this book set in Alaska. I’m sorry to hear that the last 30% lost steam for you… hopefully I will have different feelings when I get around to it.

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  5. Stellar review, Renee. I share many of the same feeling as you and Susie. I’ve also procrastinated on writing the review for this one which is something I’ve been trying very hard not to do. It was a good read but I have a lot of critical thoughts and don’t want to sound completely negative.

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  6. Yes, yes, yes! You’ve captured my experience of this novel perfectly! I agree that the domestic violence was serious, but not shocking; sadly, this is rather run-of-the-mill for these cases, I think. Also, I am kind of obsessed with Large Marge; can we just get a book about her and her story? I feel like she’s got so much more to offer! I’m so glad I’m not alone in this! Great review.

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    1. Thanks Tara, and yes I’m all for a Large Marge spin off…one of her clients and/or cases from her previous life comes back to haunt her! And just like that we’re back in Alaska with Marge…of course, she’d have to make trips back to DC to sort this so we’d get that setting too

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  7. Wonderful review! I’m kind of glad I read The Nightingale quite a while ago, so I won’t be able to compare the two properly… I can’t wait to read The Great Alone to see if I will have similar problems with it.

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  8. Great review Renee. I am glad that you still liked this one despite the ending. I think I will have similar issues with the book though. I read The Nightingale late last year and it still ranks highly on my list of favourites so drawing comparisons will be hard not to do.

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  9. I’m pretty sure that my expectations are too high for this one. I really loved The Nightingale and I’ve been waiting to pick this one up. I think I’ll enjoy it, but will lower my expectations a bit. Great review!

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  10. I agree completely on much of your assessment of this book. Hannah’s depiction of Alaska was immersive and I loved it. In fact, if it had been the focus of the novel all the way through, with the quirky characters, I would have ended up with a much different opinion. As it was, I couldn’t get past the drama, which felt forced to me, especially in the last quarter and ending. Killed whatever like I had about the rest of the novel. I ended up angry, as if I’d been duped.

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    1. I can definitely see where you’re coming from Catherine, I felt let down by the ending and the way it felt forced, as if she had to make it work for perhaps deadline reasons. Whatever the reason, it was unfortunate!

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