When Leni's father, a traumatized Vietnam veteran, uproots her and her mother Cora to claim land left to them in Alaska, she expects yet another difficult adjustment to school but hopes for a new beginning with her family. What she finds instead is a landscape that enchants even while it endangers, a community that both confounds and comes together, and an unexpected camaraderie with her only classmate. The long, dark winter, however, proves to be her father's undoing. Cora and Leni live on edge, attempting to build a life while avoiding the blows from his next drunken outburst.
Hannah brings Alaska to life and manages to evoke feelings of vast expansiveness, possibility, and oppressive isolation. About three-quarters of this book had me captivated; the characters were well-drawn and realistic, and the landscape provided endless mysteries and surprises. The last quarter, however, felt rushed and several events rang less true than the rest of the story. I can't dismiss this one entirely but I do wish it had ended stronger.
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Alaska, 1974. Untamed. Unpredictable. A story of a family in crisis struggling to survive at the edge of the world, it is also a story of young and enduring love. Cora Allbright and her husband Ernt, a recently-returned Vietnam veteran scarred by the war, uproot their thirteen year old daughter Leni to start a new life in Alaska. Utterly unprepared for the weather and the isolation, but welcomed by the close-knit community, they fight to build a home in this harsh, beautiful wilderness.
At once an epic story of human survival and love, and an intimate portrait of a family tested beyond endurance, The Great Alone offers a glimpse into a vanishing way of life in America. With her trademark combination of elegant prose and deeply drawn characters, Kristin Hannah has delivered an enormously powerful story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the remarkable and enduring strength of women. About the highest stakes a family can face and the bonds that can tear a community apart, this is a novel as spectacular and powerful as Alaska itself. It is the finest example of Kristin Hannah’s ability to weave together the deeply personal with the universal.