Family Dilemmas, Bravery and Perseverance Found In “The Great Alone”

by Mariana Duque, Staff Writer

There is a good chance you may have seen the title “The Great Alone” somewhere. It was, after all, a New York Times Bestselling novel by author Kristin Hannah. I had seen the book before, and had put it in my “to-be-read” list for quite some time, until one fateful day. I finally bought it.

A story set in the mid 70s in Alaska was interesting enough, but what really drew me in was its characters and how they dealt with one another. Hannah throws amazing and intense moments of survival, resilience and is not afraid to talk about heavy themes such as abuse, mental issues and a broken family. Through this backbone, she writes compelling characters and situations that keep moving the story forward.

The novel follows a young girl named Leonora ‘Leni’ Allbright and her two parents, Coraline and Ernt. This is not your typical happy family, as Leni’s dad returns from the Vietnam War and returns as a shell of his former self. This becomes problematic from the start of the novel, as husband and wife start arguing and fighting while Leni is off at school. After she returns from school, her dad, now more composed from his rage, shows her and Cora they have land in Alaska after one of his compatriots in Vietnam left it in their custody. This subsequently leads to the family moving to Alaska, and learning its wonders and horrors.

A short while after they move to Alaska, Leni meets a boy called Matthew in school. She starts empathizing with him and they soon become friends. This friendship soon turns into something more, and it starts becoming important in the story.

Each winter that goes on, Ernt’s state deteriorates more and more, thus endangering his family to the extreme. But also teaching her wife and daughter the valuable lesson of surviving on their own, something that Leni seeks most of the time in the novel.

What shocked me the most was the situations of abuse that the mother, and subsequently daughter faced by Ernst in the worst moments of winter. Hannah expands each insult, each beat and each hit, making the reader somehow visualize it in the particular way it was written. So, through these scenes, the reader gets a scope on each character’s motivations, which was very interesting to me.

Cora always acted sensible but hopeful after her beatings, constantly wishing the Ernst before the war returned, that her happy, loving husband could come back out of that trauma. She is constantly hopeful it will happen again, even though each situation of abuse becomes even worse. I could somehow sense that the situation was never going to get better, and somehow rolled my eyes every time her hopeful speech returned, after an exhausting session of beatings and blood.

Leni on the other hand, once she finds out this is going on at her own household, tries and finds a way to get herself and her mother out of the house, and escape to another place where her father could not reach them. I really liked this forward mentality of hers, especially when she finds out her mother had gotten beaten, and then her attitude towards the excuses her mother gave her drastically changed. Besides the escape vehicle that Mathew was to her, Leni’s character develops from a shy booknerd to an independent and forward-thinking teen, to a grounded adult, all throughout the novel.

Full of intense scenes, heart-pounding dialogue, immersive environment, and incredible characters and character development, as well as the portrayal of themes as fragility and survival,  The Great Alone is not just another Kristen Hannah novel. It is a book that will leave you thinking about people, about love and abuse, about hope and despair, and most importantly, about family, the true value of friendship and survival. It is a novel that will make you question everything, that will make you value your friends and family, but most importantly, that will leave your jaw on the floor for days to come.