The Great Alone follows the Allbright family (father Ernt, mother Cora, and especially daughter Leni) as they begin a homestead in Alaska after Ernt is released from a Vietnamese POW camp. Leni is initially taken aback by this drastic change, but she gets caught up in the excitement of possibility, and the beauty and wonder of Alaska itself. When they arrive at their new home, two things become clear to Leni- first, that they are woefully unprepared and unaware of what living in Alaska is going to entail and second, that the community where they landed is something different than she’s ever known. She’s especially excited to meet and befriend the one kid her age, Matthew.
But even though Leni feels that she’s finally putting down roots, she hides the deep secret of her father’s anger and violence following his return from war. Leni comes of age in this unique circumstance, and we’re along for the ride.
While I mostly enjoyed this book, and finished it in just a couple days, I also struggled with it at times. The setting was so much fun to read about, as well as the specifics of this kind of homesteading that the Allbright family must learn- it’s clear that Hannah knows what she’s wriitng about. But the action scenes which drive the plot forward are at times so predictable that I was cringing and forcing myself to read through them to get to the other side where the characters could continue to develop. These scenes were few, and the story after them compelled me forward. As a mother, the relationship between Leni and Cora frustrated me to no end, and I’m not convinced that Cora was able to redeem herself at all in my eyes.
My favorite part of this book is that there was a big romance theme, but it wasn’t what defined Leni’s formative years. It was there and it was shaping her in a positive way, but she was largely coming into her own on her own and I think this made the romance stronger.
Overall, if you like compelling reading with a unique setting and Hannah’s writing style, you’ll probably enjoy this book as well. I did!
Questions for discussion:
Did Cora’s big actions at the end of the book redeem any of her shortcomings throughout the rest of the book?
Did you believe in Leni and Matthew’s romance?
Place was a huge component of this book- in what way was this a story about Alaska, and in what way was it a coming of age story? Can the two be separated?