*FYI: This book review contains references to domestic violence and PTSD.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I signed up for the Book of the Month program earlier in the year. I am a huge fan of the setup, especially when in-person browsing options at stores are limited. The basic concept is that you pay $14.99 a month plus tax ($16.04 total), and you get to choose from that month’s selection of five new titles.
The company gets early releases of some books, which means you have access to books that aren’t yet out for the general public. If you don’t like any of the five titles, you can choose from a limited selection of previous months’ books, which is how I got my copy of The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah last month. It was originally part of the February 2018 selection.
I chose this book because I knew it was about Alaska and living off the grid, and I figured the setting was perfect for the chilly month of December.
The book revolves around the life of Leni Allbright, who we first meet when she is 13 years old. Leni is an inquisitive, quiet girl who finds herself trying to hold her family together as it unravels throughout the years. The Great Alone begins with her family moving to a remote part of Alaska in 1974, when her father (Ernt) attempts to escape his past as a former POW in the Vietnam War.
Ernt, we quickly learn, is suffering from PTSD due to his experiences in the war. He is shown early on to have an anger and alcohol problem, and in attempt to ignore/move away from his problems, he drags his family from Washington State to an isolated cabin in Alaska that a friend from the war left him. Ernt views the move to Alaska as the chance he needs to “get away from it all” and exist far from the world’s issues.
Leni’s young mother, Cora, is devoted to her husband and generally follows his decisions without question, all the while mistakenly hoping his problems will disappear. Leni, more often than not, assumes the role of a friend and mentor for her mother rather than that of a typical daughter.
We learn that Ernt has been physically abusive to Cora for years, but her insistence on remembering the man he “used” to be causes her to remain with him at the expense of her and her daughter’s safety. Hannah scatters references to the barriers Cora encounters to becoming independent from him, even if she tried to. For example, as a female in the early 1970s, she can’t get a credit card in her name without a male’s signature.
The move to Alaska proves to be a catalyst for Ernt’s violence, which Leni tries to deal with while also navigating the usual experiences of being a teenage girl. Her dire family situation intensifies at the onset of the Alaskan winter, a season marked by long periods of darkness and brutally cold temperatures.
When I selected this book to read, I did not realize that domestic violence was a major theme. I honestly wouldn’t have chosen the book if I had known about its subject matter initially, as this theme can trigger anxiety for me.
However, I found the story very gripping and finished the book within two days. Ultimately, I am glad I had the opportunity to read it, as I feel the author explored the topic without gratuitous violence (although detailed scenes are present) and from a believable perspective.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is okay reading about heavy themes and enjoys descriptions of the natural world. I loved the depictions of the Alaskan landscape and the detail the author went into, describing the town’s relationships, history, and strategies for surviving the harsh Alaskan climate.
Overall, I rate this book 4 out of 5 crows.