Emily May's Reviews > The Great Alone

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
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really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, botm, 2018

All this time, Dad had taught Leni how dangerous the outside world was. The truth was that the biggest danger of all was in her own home.

This book completely stole my heart. Maybe it's just more fresh in my mind, but I'm pretty sure I enjoyed The Great Alone even more than Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale. In fact, it was verging on a five-star read for me until the final few chapters-- which I felt were too rushed and more sentimental than I personally like. But I still highly recommend it.

I loved the atmosphere that Hannah created. She deftly draws the wild beauty of the Alaskan landscape, painting it as the visually stunning and dangerous place it is. Set in the 1970s and 80s, this is about a family of three arriving at the last frontier in search of a different kind of life. And, boy, do they get it.

The Allbrights must work themselves to the bone just to survive the perilous winter in Alaska, but we soon learn that for thirteen-year-old Leni and her mother Cora, there are dangers far greater and far closer to home than black bears and the freezing climate.
They were trapped, by environment and finances, but mostly by the sick, twisted love that bound her parents together.

The author wraps up a survival story inside a survival story. As the family grapple with raising livestock and gathering supplies for the long winter, they also must deal with the fragile, abusive dynamics that exist within their home. Ernt is a Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD before anyone knew what PTSD was and this, in turn, leads to violent episodes and paranoid behaviour that threatens the safety of his family.

The complexity of the characters makes this book something extra special. You hate Ernt, and yet are forced to acknowledge that he is dealing with a mental illness back when no one was willing to call it such. You feel frustrated at Cora for sticking by him, and yet she is clearly a victim of abuse. Add to this mix a set of charming secondary characters, a budding romance, snowstorms, near-death experiences and animal encounters, and you have a book that is utterly enthralling.

I especially liked how the author captured the feeling of these Alaskans living in a isolated bubble of their own, being afraid of the "Outside" and the possibility of change. You can draw parallels between this and anyone who has ever desired to put up a wall to keep the "Other" out. Ernt - as well as others in their tiny town - wants to protect the community from any kind of change; from anyone who might come in and affect their way of life. It is, of course, paranoid and delusional.

I could probably go on and on forever, but I'll just say I loved almost all of it. I loved how, like in The Nightingale, Hannah shows the importance and the strength of the relationships between female characters. I loved the Alaskan setting and the multiple tales of survival against the odds. And I loved how everything had something of a fairy tale quality to it, dark places and broken dreams included.
Mama had quit high school and “lived on love.” That was how she always put it, the fairy tale. Now Leni was old enough to know that like all fairy tales, theirs was filled with thickets and dark places and broken dreams, and runaway girls.

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Reading Progress

October 31, 2017 – Shelved
February 6, 2018 – Started Reading
February 7, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-50 of 62 (62 new)

message 1: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike Looking forward to what you make of this one, Emily. Just picked it up yesterday myself.

message 2: by Kelly (new) - added it

Kelly Mongan My absolute favorite thing about Kristin Hannah's novels is the relationships between the female characters, so I love that it's present in this one too. Can't wait to read!

message 3: by Janna (new) - added it

Janna Can’t wait to read this!!! In a few years....when I get my library copy. 127th hold over here :eyeroll:

message 4: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike Well...that was a wonderful review, Emily. Glad that you enjoyed this one so much.

I'm looking very forward to tackling this one myself. "The Nightingale" still stands as one of the more emotionally wrenching books I've ever read so I'm curious to see what this one will do to me. Hope to be enthralled as you were.

PinkAmy loves books, cats and naps Great review. I was on the fence, but now want to read it.

message 6: by Pupukat (new)

Pupukat You write the best reviews. You should write a book on how to write book reviews. I was going to skip this one, but now I think I'll put it on my to-read list.

message 7: by Brittany's (new) - added it

Brittany's Pages Wish I read this before choosing my BOTM!

Karen Gosh...you are one fast reader! I barely started this book, but your rave review is just the incentive I need to set aside a big chunk of reading time to dig in. You are such a terrifc reviewer, and so far you haven't steered me wrong - on selections that are within my preferred genres, at least. Thanks for constantly keeping my reading enthusiasm stoked, Emily!

Lynnek Great review! I totally agree with your take. I did go ahead and give five stars even with the same general feel of the ending. I just knew that I needed to give it 5 stars! ;)

message 10: by Laura (new) - added it

Laura Yes, so very important to have the relationships between the female characters well written. Far too many books get that so wrong.

message 11: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Pardo 4 stars from you! I’m adding it to my list!😊

Megan Helmer I can’t wait to read this one!

Cathy I can't wait to pick this up, hopefully sometime next week! I remember when I read Kristin Hannah's books back in the day of her novels Firefly Lane and Night Road and mentioning in one of my reviews that I always liked her books, but never loved them. Something always seemed to be preventing me from giving her stories more than a 3-star rating. Until Home Front in 2012, which completely blew me away. Good to see that she keeps it up yet again with her new novel :)

message 14: by Happiness (new)

Happiness  Adaeze Emi!! I see that you read alot and because of that I want to be your friend. Send me some books to read

Cheri I read your reviews to help me choose my next book. Thank you!

Karen Hmmm. I'm 100 pages in, and finding the narrative so dull - disappointing. Not sure if it's worth the slog...

message 17: by Brittini (new) - added it

Brittini Austin Have you had your baby yet, Emily?? :)

Emily May Brittini wrote: "Have you had your baby yet, Emily?? :)"

Yes! He's 4 days old today :)

Mary Ghee “The Nightingale” is still her best. This had a good story but not a great one. I read it in two days because it did hold my interest. I agree the ending did seem rushed.
I love her books but “ The Nightingale” is still my favorite.
I am amazed at how much research she must have done to make the setting so real to me.

message 20: by Ashlie (new)

Ashlie Shawl Congratulations on your little one, Emily! :)

Karen What wonderful news! Wishing you and your little guy (and big guy) all the best! Enjoy!

message 22: by Pam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pam I loved your review and the passages you posted were ones that I loved in the book. I disagree with your saying the end seemed rushed I think it was right on target to wrapping up a story that was hauntingly beautiful

message 23: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Alyssa Emily May wrote: "Brittini wrote: "Have you had your baby yet, Emily?? :)"

Yes! He's 4 days old today :)"


message 24: by ☆Dani☆ (new) - added it

☆Dani☆ ☆Touch My Spine Book Reviews☆ Wonderful review!😍💝📚

Ginger I still have about 40 pages left so I only skimmed your review. My criticism of this book, The Nightingale and The Winter Garden is that Ms. Hannah appears to intentionally ramp up the sentimentality in these books near the end. It feels somewhat contrived to me. She is such a talented and beautiful writer, and her books filled with such emotion that I don't think the additional sentimentality is necessary. Nonetheless, I have loved these books. The Great Alone may surpass The Nightingale as my favorite.

Peggy I agree with your review. I loved the book and was thinking 5 stars until the final few chapters. Such a let down. I hate to see a beautiful piece of writing downgrade itself to chick-lit.

Paloma R This is such a lovely review and I completely agree! It was also such a breathtaking backdrop and makes me want to visit Alaska ASAP!

Emily Great review! I also gave it 4 stars because it became too much of a romance novel- suddenly I was reading a Jojo Moyes novel. But overall I loved it, and loved the characters, especially Leni and her mom!

Alexandra Great review. I agree that the last few chapters were rushed—I think Hannah had the opportunity there to develop her characters and experiences more in those later momentous scenes.

Debra Did I miss it on audio book or did she never bring up the reunion with Matthew or explain how he recovered?

Candacegmail.Com The top 10 on my Bucket List is to visit Alaska and now that my granddaughter is stationed there in the Air Force, I'm determined to get there.
so when I read the article in February BOOK READ about The Great Alone, I couldn't read this soon enough. It took you deep into the rural lives of the homesteaders and what they face regularly. Put PTSD and alcoholism into the mix and you have a page turner. I couldn't put this down. I soaked up every scene, felt all of Cora's pain loving an alcoholic. I have never cried so hard reading any book. Kristin Hannah tugged at my heartstrings deeper than I could have imagined. The ending seemed rushed but it still was a 5 star read. This is a boom that will be with me for a long, long time.

Sue  Wegloski Great review

message 33: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne Thompson Schauer Just finished and I think I like it just a little more than The Nightingale too! That book was one of my all time favorites.

Sue  Wegloski TY Emily

message 35: by Amy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Amy Kadatz Excellent review. The last few chapters were a disappointment to me, as well.

Jo-Ann Breitstein Your review is so good and so on point that I have to agree with the comment suggesting you write a book on review writing. I have been to Alaska as one of those tourists Ernt hated. I loved it and wondered if I could last a year not homesteading but in a city. Lastly, congratulations on your new baby!

Esther Steffens This is an excellent review. I also felt the end was rushed but I needed it after almost closing the book about 75% through. Instead,I finished the book in the wee hours of the night and was very glad I didn’t give up on it. Several days later, This is a powerful read that doesn’t end with the last page. I find myself thinking about Leni and Hannah’s wonderful descriptions often. I gave ‘‘tis a 4 but it is close to a 5 in retrospect.

Sue  Wegloski As can be the truth. No?

message 39: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin What’s the name of their little town in Alaska?

message 40: by A. (new) - rated it 5 stars

A. M. Hi, great review! You make the book appeal to want to me too. But the problem is that I’m not a native speaker, and I don’t know if this one would be readable for me regarding my reading level. So I’m not sure weather I should purchase it (just a poor college girl). I would be grateful to hear any advice!

message 41: by A. (new) - rated it 5 stars

A. M. Sorry for the want to, I mean appeal to me.

MomLuvsBooks Great review! I didn't think the ending was rushed but I did think it could be seen as a bit unrealistic and yet I fell for it and loved it anyway!

message 43: by Deb (new) - rated it 4 stars

Deb I am glad I am not the only one who thought it was rushed at the end. So much slow tension throughout the book...and then HUGE legal and emotional issues resolved almost instantly and without any problem. It felt like she just had enough of telling the story. Loved it until those last few chapters though!!

Margaret Disagree. Tedious characters. Redundant descriptions of landscapes and dangers. No comparison to Nightingale, a far superior book. This one was written for money.

Krishna Khataniar Your review of this book is exactly what I felt for it too.

Linda Not sure I could say the end was rushed. In fact....I wanted it to move quicker to find out how it ended. Thought it was drawn out and too sentimental. But loved the story.

Carol Vincenty I just finished reading The Great Alone, & I agree with you that I liked this even better than The Nightengale

Carol Vincenty A rewrite of my comment: I just finished reading The Great Alone & I agree with you that I liked it even better than The Nightingale.

Martha Youngblood Couldn’t put it down! Excellent!

Jaime I meant to post this here and forget. Emily May you are one of my favorite and most oft followed reviewers. I read over your recommendations for books all the time when looking for a good book!

However, I disagree with your review of this book. I agree that this book was well written and I truly felt like I was in Alaska with them. It was, in fact, a gripping page turner.

But, I couldn’t in good faith give it a good review. I feel like the father could have STILL played the role as the villain without needing him to be a combat veteran with PTSD.

I believe this group of people is already misunderstood, feared and alienated. And the news often gives plenty of reasons for people to be wary and afraid. A lot of these men and women don’t like themselves already and need friends and companionship to alleviate the loneliness. If people are scared of our veterans, then they will be truly alone.

This book using a combat vet with PTSD and then heaping on all the awful things Ernt is—wife beater, paranoid, delusional, end-of-the-world, anti-government etc etc—is going too far. And doesn’t do this already misunderstood group of people any favors. It only serves to make people even more wary of this group, some who have sacrificed so much.

The writing was great. The characters were described well. I just can’t get my head around villainizing the group of people that keep us safe. They are misunderstood enough already without a work of fiction contributing more.

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