The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – Book Review

Title: The Great Alone

Author: Kristin Hannah

Genre/Themes: Historical Fiction, Family, Alaskan Wilderness, PTSD, Aggressive Controlling Behaviour,

Blurb from Goodreads

Alaska, 1974.

Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed. For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

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.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

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

My Review

This fantastic book kept me reading until after 4am!

The Great Alone is a brilliantly written story that gripped me from the first page. I felt myself transported to another world by the sheer beauty of the descriptions of the wildness of Alaska mirrored in the some times wildness of the actions of the characters. I was moved to tears by a fantastic ending that left me with an overwhelming feeling of hope in the resilience of the human spirit.

The book follows the story of a family living off grid in the wilds of Alaska in the 1970s through to the 1980s.

The father, Ernt, is a veteran of Vietnam and suffering with undiagnosed PTSD. His temper rules the family.

He and his wife Cora share the most toxic love that infects their lives to the degree that their reality is perverted.

Leni is their young daughter. At the beginning of the book she is 13 years old and it is through Leni’s eyes we see Alaska. We see the harshness. The beauty. The joy. The love.

You think you know what wild means.

It’s a word you’ve used all your life. You use it to describe an animal, your hair, an undisciplined child.

In Alaska, you learn what wild really means.

Wild. That’s how I describe it all.

My love. My life. Alaska.

Truthfully, it’s all the same to me.

Alaska doesn’t attract many; most are too tame to handle life up here. But when she gets her hooks in you, she digs deep and holds on, and you become hers.


A lover of cruel beauty and splendid isolation.

And God help you, you can’t live anywhere else.

For we few, the sturdy, the strong, the dreamers, Alaska is home, always and forever, the song you hear when the world is still and quiet. You either belong here, wild and untamed yourself, or you don’t.

I belong.

The Great Alone is so well written. The story sucks you in and spits you out almost as broken as these characters at the end. My heart both soared and was crushed by all Leni experienced and endured.

Her love for her mother and her broken abusive father was heart wrenching. And her love for Matthew was so beautiful and pure…

The juxtaposition of callous love with an innocent one is what made this story shine and what tore my heart out. The characters felt so visceral. They came alive on every page.

“It’s not as easy as people think,” Leni said. “If he loved you guys, he wouldn’t hurt you.” He made it sound so simple, as if it were a mathematical equation. But the connection between pain and love wasn’t linear. It was a web. “What’s it like?” she asked. “To feel safe?”

The prose is truly exquisite with the Alaskan setting feeling as tangible to me as any character so beautifully was it described. I loved this book with every fibre of my being.

There was a slightly rushed ending but otherwise The Great Alone was perfect.

A truly memorable read.

Other Works by Kristin Hannah I’ve Reviewed

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