The Great Alone follows a family of three—Leni, and her parents Cora and Ernt—as they move from Seattle to the wilds of Alaska. They are grossly underprepared, yet the small community of Kaneq welcomes them and offers a helping hand. However, Leni’s father, Ernt, is a Vietnam War veteran, and lives with debilitating PTSD that has led him to drinking, and abusive behavior against Leni, and especially his wife, Cora. As the darkness of the Alaskan winter sets in, Leni and Cora face an even darker situation inside their own home.
The plot follows Leni’s story from thirteen, when she moves to Alaska with her parents, through young adulthood. I’m glad that Hannah didn’t decide to just focus on their first year in Alaska, and instead follows a longer storyline, that allows more to happen and more characters to be introduced. While the plot kept me reading, and was quite engaging, the events that happened in the story were rather predictable.
That predictability floats over to the characters, who I enjoyed on a surface level, but fell flat in a deeper exploration of their minds. Even when we got glimpses of Leni’s own thoughts, they seemed…flat, silly, unrealistic? I can’t quite find the right word, but at times she would act and think in such a mature way, but then revert back to a childish persona. I found this flip-flop between two mindsets off-putting as I continued to read.
I also wish that the secondary characters were developed more. They were all simple props that helped further along Leni’s story, and didn’t have much more to them besides a simple backstory that was mentioned once or twice. They play such a large role in Leni’s life, yet they were not very realistic. Granted, I don’t know much about rural Alaskan communities, but I would figure that more people would be from Alaska and not have these crazy backstories where they are all intelligent professors looking for a life closer to nature, or ex-prosecutors, or rich people who know the governor. Every secondary character seemed to have this special backstory, but were not developed much further, with personalities that seemed plucked off a store shelf—not unique, and not true-to-life.
As with The Nightingale I feel like this was an engaging read that really pulled at my emotions, yet wasn’t as masterfully created as other novels I have read. I think this is a great story of family, survival and nature, and Hannah really brought me into the Alaskan environment. However, if you are looking for an intricate, masterful piece of writing, I’m not sure this is it. But if you are looking for something to excite you, bring you back to nature, with a nicely tied up ending, then this book is for you.
I think that The Great Alone is a great, easy read, and has sparked an interest in me to read more about Alaskan frontier. If anyone has any recommendations, let me know in the comments! 🙂
Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for an advanced digital copy, which I read very late…