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The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
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really liked it
bookshelves: 1-fiction, 4-historical-fiction, 9-read-2020-01-january

The Great Alone is the first book I've read by Kristin Hannah. Last month, I re-initiated the Book Bucket List feature on my blog. In this feature, I list 12 books each month for my blog followers and viewers to vote on. I chose the 12 books to start the new version from the list of 2018 and 2019 Goodreads Awards winners and my favorite genres. January 2020's winner by a landslide was this book, and I'm happy to share my review today and open up voting for the February 2020 book on February 2nd. Let's dive in...

Alaska. 1970s. When Ernt returns home from Vietnam, all is not well. His wife, Cora, loves him with all her heart and refuses to walk away when things get tough. As the world conflicts heat up, Ernt decides to accept the gift of land from a deceased army friend and move his family to the last frontier. Daughter Leni is only 13 but wise beyond her years. They soon realize Ernt's PTSD is getting worse, and they have no escape once they are stuck in the remote wilderness in the middle of the winter. Luckily, the neighbors on their small peninsula are all willing to help one another survive. Unfortunately, Ernt divides the group according to rules that he believes are the true law. Over a period of 5 years, this family conquers their greatest fears and pains, but it is not without much sacrifice and hurt. I'll leave the summary there, as a lot more happens, including a few time jumps into the future... but those are resultant from their actions during the 70s.

When I began reading this book, I worried I wouldn't like it. Ernt is a jerk. He is abusive and cruel. His vision of the world is skewed from mine. Unfortunately, it matches a good chunk of my country's currently, so I had to keep my eyes and ears open. This man represents what a lot of people think and feel today, so not much has really changed in 40 years, has it? Since this isn't a political review, I'll end my personal feelings there... and focus on how this attitude wreaks havoc in the small, barely-inhabited Alaskan town where he settles down.

Hannah's characterization is wonderful. On a few occasions, it felt caricaturish, but I understood why. Given the author's familiarity with Alaska during this time period, she knows best. Hannah got a rise out of me on several occasions -- I wanted to beat Ernt to a bloody pulp -- so she clearly can write well. I have little experience with abuse and PTSD, so I kept asking "why do you stay?" when I could see paths to salvation (of sorts). That said, this happens in reality a lot, so the truth is... the book tells about the reality of life for many women, especially in this time period and location.

The tone is bleak with a few happy spots. Leni's ability to fall in love despite the problems around her are magnificent. The setting and backdrop of the wilderness are stunning. The language and dialog felt exorbitantly real. The book kept me interested after the first twenty-five percent. Sometimes authors need time to set the tone. Personally, I think it could've been trimmed a bit, and there were a couple of moments of unnecessary repetition. For those reasons, I couldn't push it up to a 5-star read. It was more than a 4, but fell short a bit... that said, I'd still recommend it to most others as a solid read. It's the kind of book you need to stick with, as it might be slow at times, but it's about life and the decisions we make.

Seeing what happened when Ernt went off his rocker, when Cora defended herself finally, when Leni suffered because of decisions her parents made... all these things showed me how other people live, and how much I should be grateful for. Life can be hard, and if you run away and don't deal with it, it's even harder in the long run. These were two very strong women, even if they let themselves suffer for too long. Sometimes, only sometimes, does it make sense to bide your time and take the pain to ensure you can find the reward. Whether or not the reward at the end of the book is justice or a vision to unfortunate reality (not everyone gets what they deserve), it's the kind of book that makes people talk.

Given that it was published in 2019, I see it as more of a confirmation of things we already knew... not groundbreaking in terms of telling readers what really used to happen. Had this been published in the 1990s, I would say it's of the highest caliber in terms of impact on its readers. Instead, two decades later, it's strong and vibrant, but we've seen parts of this story before. What made it different was the landscape, strength of other women in the book, and the validation that in many ways, things are still the same -- and that's not good enough for people who deserve better.

So... all that said, if a book moves a reader this much, how can you ever say it's not a marvelous piece of literature. A few minor bumps... a couple of band-aids... and an open-mind... you'll find yourself thoroughly enticed and shocked by this story. Definitely a good one to read.
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Reading Progress

January 12, 2020 – Started Reading
January 12, 2020 – Shelved
January 12, 2020 – Shelved as: to-read
January 12, 2020 – Shelved as: 1-fiction
January 12, 2020 – Shelved as: 4-historical-fiction
January 21, 2020 –
page 100
22.99% "I know little of Alaska, especially in the '70s, so it is interesting. I am still trying to connect with the story and characters, but it has a lot of potential."
January 22, 2020 – Shelved as: 9-read-2020-01-january
January 22, 2020 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Lesle (new)

Lesle She is an awesome writer

James I agree. It was a fantastic setting and story.

Connie Glad that you liked it!

James Connie wrote: "Glad that you liked it!" Yes! Definitely. I'm curious to see what else she's written too. :)

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