Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone is either going to be one of your favorite novels or it won't be your cup of tea in any way. Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews loved it and gave it starred reviews. The New York Times and Washington Post panned it. I’m with the Times and the Post as I found little to like.

The Great Alone features thirteen-year-old Leni who narrates the story of her life, her parents' lives, and of her love for Alaska. The tale begins in 1974 when Leni’s father Ernt, a damaged former POW, returns from Viet Nam. Ernt is unpredictable and when he loses his job, he decides to move the family to a small village off the grid in the Alaskan wilderness. Cora, Leni’s mother, will do anything to make life work for Ernt including acting as his punching bag. Despite lacking indoor plumbing, electricity, or any way to make a living, Ernt seems to improve in their first Alaska summer. Then winter comes and his moods mirror the darkness.

Leni starts school and falls in love with the only other person her age in the town but Ernt detests the boy’s father and the book begins to resemble Romeo and Juliet. As Leni tells of her romance and details her father’s downward spiral, the novel seems more of a teen romance/young adult novel than adult fiction. The lack of detail and showing of the teens falling in love made it difficult for this reader to feel their relationship. Hannah presents picture-perfect descriptions of the Alaskan landscape informed by her own family history, but they aren’t enough for this reviewer to overcome the lack of nuanced characters, the melodramatic intrigue, and the hyperbolic and (for this reviewer) unbelievable plot twists.

When the darkness makes Ernt’s anger worsen, Cora continues to make excuses: “It’s the weather,” Mama said, lighting a cigarette, watching him drive away. Her beautiful skin looked sallow in the headlights’ glow, almost waxen.
“It’s going to get worse,” Leni said. “Every day is darker and colder.”
“Yeah,” Mama said, looking as scared as Leni suddenly felt. “I know.”

Leni is right, it does get worse; it drifts into a nightmare for Leni and Cora. If you enjoy romance, an exotic locale, and a “happily-ever-after” ending, The Great Alone may please you as it has so many readers in the last few weeks. Washington Post critic Ron Charles wrote a wry review attacking the book’s many deficiencies but ended it by noting that he understood the book’s appeal: “By the end, I was surrounded by snow drifts of tissues damp with my tears, which may be as close as I’ll ever get to the last frontier.” That surprised me as the telegraphed ending didn’t touch me in any way. Your reaction will depend on what you want at the time. If you’re looking for a romantic escape and are willing to accept an adolescent outlook, you may love the novel. If you want more, look elsewhere. I enjoyed Hannah’s The Nightingale and it was a romance, but it was more believable and the characters had dimension. I expected more from The Great Alone. 

Summing it Up: The Great Alone is a book for those looking for a romantic interlude in the frontiers of Alaska. If you want a more literary, nuanced book, keep looking. Read the first chapter, then decide.

Rating: 2 stars   
Category: Fiction, Overcooked
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Author Website:  https://kristinhannah.com/
What Others are Saying:


  1. I remember the reviews of Colleen McCullough's book that followed The Thornbirds being similarly controversial. It's hard to top a blockbuster first novel.

  2. What an interesting post. The children did such a great job with the play. Thanks for sharing.
    School Books Online