The Great Alone is a self-contained story about a family seeking escape and happiness in the wilderness of Alaska. Mostly taking place in the ’70s, it’s also a commentary on politics during that era; namely regarding anti-war sentiment and domestic violence. Kristin Hannah writes a clear and easily digestible story about triumph and tragedy from the perspective of a young girl named Leni, who is forced to grow up fast thanks to the ferocity of the Alaskan wild amid her parents’ toxic relationship.
Leni’s family spontaneously chases an off-grid lifestyle deep in Alaska. Any fan of the book Into the Wild will feel that same sense of adventure in The Great Alone. These two books also overlap in their theme of anti-capitalism. But what The Great Alone does particularly well is describe the Alaskan nature through surrealistic prose that gives it a sort of fantastical element.
Easily the biggest theme in this book is domestic violence, which is played out vividly through scenes that will leave your mouth agape while reading. Yet, among all of this, there are still long stretches of scenes where we’re able to absorb the larger setting, cast of characters, and adventures within Leni’s world.
Most of the characters were fleshed out well, but there was something slightly unrealistic about one of the most crucial characters: Leni’s father. Although he had a huge role to play in driving the plot, something about his personality and behavior borderlined on absurdity.
This book is surprisingly fast-paced. The author does great at establishing suspense, especially in the beginning, which reminded me of some of the earlier chapters of A Game of Thrones with all the teasing for the coming of winter. Moreover, toward the end, there was a long stretch of about 150 pages where I just couldn’t stop reading. Unfortunately, much of the final few chapters felt too drawn out. It’s almost as if the book could’ve ended much earlier than it did.
Overall, this is one of those books that deserves a read no matter what your preferred genres are. Author Kristin Hannah writes very clearly while remaining thought-provoking and providing action-packed scenes. However, for a book based in reality, there were some very unrealistic aspects. Also, much of the final chapters felt like filler. Trigger warning for anyone personally familiar with domestic violence.