The Great Alone – Book Review

by Kristin Hannah


The Great Alone  book cover

Publication date: February 6, 2018
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

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 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.


Set in the ominous beauty of Alaska, Vietnam vet, Ernt, and his wife and daughter Cora and Leni strive to survive the physical forces of nature and the psychological forces of being a war vet. Taking place over the span of decades, Cora and Leni strive to support Ernt as he battles with his inner demons, and becomes an abusive husband and father. Not wanting to abandon him in his time of need, Cora stands beside him while the close community of their small Alaskan town stands beside her, protecting her. A story of love, heartbreak, suspense, and abusive trials, Hannah tells an unforgettable tale in The Great Alone.

Kristin Hannah has always been an “auto-buy” author for me. In my eyes, she can do no wrong, but regardless of the rose-colored-Hannah glasses I wear, this novel is one of the best I read all year. The familial relationships Hannah creates are tumultuous, tender, and timeless. Cora and Leni’s mother-daughter relationship is both endearing and heartbreaking. The pressures Leni puts upon herself to care for her mother and protect her from her father are a recipe for therapy, and the self-destructive choices Cora makes to stay in an abusive relationship are enough to make every woman empathize and want to shake her, all at the same time. Though Ernt is clearly the villain in this tale, the reader can’t help but feel a small tug on her heartstrings, as he is an obviously broken man. And among the brilliant build of character and relationships is a consistent feeling of suspense interwoven through the chapters and decades as the reader wonders will they make it out of The Great Alone together.

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