New Release: 2-6-2018
The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah was provided as an ARC to me by St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Hannah’s story is set just after the Vietnam War. Leni’s parents are complicated. Her mom became pregnant with Leni when she was 16 and her dad Ernst was 25. When Leni was very young Ernst was drafted into the Vietnam War. He came back 6 years later, obviously damaged, and we see a brief glimpse of their home life before a letter arrives, informing Ernst that his army buddy Bo left him his plot of land in Alaska (aka “The Great Alone”) and Ernst decides this is the new beginning to end all new beginnings and moves the family north from Washington to Homer, AK.
This book was 100% terrifying. The tension never gets below a 5 out of 10 from her dad’s PTSD to the ultra-survivalist lifestyle they stumble into in Alaska. Even the never ending days of summer and unrelenting nights of winter contribute to the terror. It was kind of the author to allow them to move at just the right time so they have the entire “summer” to learn how to live through an Alaskan winter. Otherwise things would have become dire very quickly.
What adds to the suspense is that most of you who will read it live in a world where we couldn’t imagine using an outhouse or having to hunt to put away meat for winter or garden to can enough preserves to make it until spring. When was the last time you saw a goat let alone milk one and know how to churn that into other things? Have you ever had to lug water from a river to boil before using it? How long could you go without power? If you pick up this book, really imagine what it would be like to have 5 months to become completely literate in living off the land and sea or be murdered by the famine or insanity that the Alaskan winter brings. Reading this book in the 70s would evoke a much different reaction than reading it today. Our current reality adds to the horror of this novel.
I do not want to give away how this book ends, but if you are looking for a very fast-paced thriller that’s like My Side of the Mountain on powerful steroids, go get this book right away. Hang on tight though, it’s quite a ride.