The Great Alone can be awfully lonely
Spoilers throughout this review please be aware!
It's been a couple of years since we've last read a Kristin Hannah novel. We loved her past work The Nightingale and at the time our usual favorite reading fare was historical fiction or biographies at and around WWII. Long ago war stories that lifted the spirits through tragedy, determination, and in the end heroism such as The Book Thief, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, The Hiding Place, and Unbroken. So here we are again visiting Kristin Hannah's latest novel that takes place decades after WWII with similar heart-rending emotions but turned up thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit.
The Great Alone begins in 1974 when the Vietnam War has come to an end and many of the soldiers that return home are broken emotionally and physically with the added weight of a country that turns their backs on them. Leni, the main character, is a typical preteen and only child of a young mother and father struggling with PTSD from the Vietnam war. Their life is not financially stable and is nomadic, never settling in one place for too long at any given time. When Leni's father is given an opportunity to homestead in a remote part of Alaska he grabs the adventurous chance to start a whole new life one in which Leni dreams will be a brighter future for her family, healing for her Dad, and a fresh new start in the wilds of Alaska.
All this time, Dad had taught Leni how dangerous the outside world was. The truth was that the biggest danger of all was in her own home
A book club opinion or two
A picture is worth a thousand words. Several in my book club didn't even give The Great Alone a fighting reading chance. And why was that? Even though they didn't read or finish the book they had a lot to say about this story. Book reviews, (such as the ones on Amazon.com or Goodreads), have sway in the reading world and if some book friends take a peek at the one or two star reviews and read only the negative ones then it becomes a 'not gonna read it' sadly. All it took was a few bad comments on how depressing the novel was and that pretty much sunk this book club for this time around. I truly believe that The Great Alone deserved to be read (Kristin Hannah is an amazing writer) but it will not be everyone's cup of tea.
Our book discussion was animated and nothing about it was optimistic. Much like the story itself our conversation was as cold as an Alaskan winter. We agreed Leni's Dad's struggles with PTSD would have made a gripping and necessary story alone but compounding the added feeling of The Shining by Stephen King took this novel off in a whole other direction that is filled with violence, hopelessness and utter gloom.
If you prefer your books with tragedy on top of tragedy and a dollop of more tragedy with no room to breathe or even coming up for air then this is the book for you. Like I said this novel might not be everyone's cup of tea but we do give huge props to Hannah's fast page turning writing style and beautifully descriptive scenes of life in the remote parts of Alaska. The author's well written characters (Large Marge is fantastic) as well as the townspeople that come in all descriptive shapes and sizes was the best part for our thin as ice reading emotions. In the end, we agreed to wait a wee bit longer to read any more of Hannah's novels until we've fully recovered from The Great Alone because it was a dark and lonely place to be.
For our last read of the summer we chose The Little Paris Bookshop. We've been told it is a sweet and uplifting novel. Something that is much needed at this time. Read along with us!
Books are the mile markers of my life. Some people have family photos or home movies to record their past. I’ve got books. Characters. For as long as I can remember, books have been my safe place ~ Leni
Leni's literary journey through novels
Leni loved reading and photography. Here is a list of all of the books she read throughout the novel. Like an 80's mixed tape the titles and or descriptions of the books chronicles Leni's life and survival in Alaska perfectly. Links take you to Amazon.com
Watership Down - There is trouble and a new homeland must be found
The Lord of the Rings - A friend that stays with you to the end. Leni described Matthew has her Sam to Frodo
Go Ask Alice - Possibly Leni's young mother's sacrificial addiction to her father
The Outsiders - A poor family with nothing moving to a new town and unprepared
The Thornbirds - A love that must not be discovered
Childhoods End - To those that resist it could be the end of humanity
The Stand - It's a fight between good and evil
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