Book Review: The Great Alone

Author: Kristin Hannah
Published: January 30, 2018
Genre: Literary Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

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Wow – I cannot say enough good things about this book. I ordered it back in February from Book of the Month and it took me until now to read it because I really wanted to be able to savor it. I still wasn’t sure the time was right, so I created a poll on Instagram, asking my followers to vote on The Great Alone or The Mars Room. The result was almost unanimously in favor of The Great Alone, which was just the kind of kick in the butt I needed! However, the best outcome of that poll was that my new friend Chelsea messaged me asking if I would be interested in a buddy read! I said yes, and the back and forth discussion with Chelsea ended up being so much fun and a great way to unpack this book in which SO much happens! (I will talk a lot more about that buddy read in a future post because it was such a great experience – but we’re here to talk about the book!)

The Great Alone tells Leni’s story. Leni, of course is a fictional character, but she felt so real and to me and she had such a powerful story to tell. Her mom was 16 when she got pregnant with Leni and married Leni’s father, who shortly thereafter was deployed to Vietnam where he unfortunately was taken as a POW. Years after his return, the family was gifted property in Alaska through the will of a fellow POW, and Leni, her mom, and her dad decide to take the offer and move up north. What they don’t anticipate is that while living far from the rest of society may have its perks, it also has some serious consequences. Leni’s father’s mental health struggles in the cold dark winters, and being so far from family and resources makes it hard for for Leni and her mom to find a way to survive in his company.

What I liked so much about this book wasn’t necessarily the story, but the characters. Each character was so well developed and was fighting their own battle. In life when we, and those around us, are all going through something, it can be hard for us to a) help each other and b) sort out our emotions. I thought the author gave Leni so much maturity in her ability to sift through her emotions – sadness, guilt, anger, and fear – as four distinct feelings, and also consider what others were going through as well. I can be picky about character emotional intelligence, and the author giving young characters more emotional intelligence than they would really possess, but this felt right. It made Leni a strong character, and helped the reader process the events as they were happening to Leni too.

Overall, the writing in this book was extremely readable – which is something I love, especially in a long book. I don’t want to be struggling through uniquely structured sentences for 440 pages. That has its place and time, but I was glad that I found this book to be easy reading.

The one warning I will give with this book is that it is trigger HEAVY. I know triggers are discussed a lot these days so I’ll let you know that there is a lot of domestic violence and a lot of grief. For as wonderful as this story is, it carries a heavy plotline and I felt sad for most of the book. To me, that speaks to the power of the book, but for some I know it may be too much to handle.

But back to the positives, when I closed this book, I knew I’d never forget Leni, her mother, or any of the other characters in this book. I truly spent most of a weekend reading this book – and to me it was a weekend well spent!