Book Review: Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone

by The Cowl Editor on November 4, 2021

Arts & Entertainment

Book Review: Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone 

Domestic Horror in an Alaskan Wonderland

Tully Mahoney ’23

Trigger Warning: The following article is a review of a novel that deals with topics such as domestic abuse. This issue is only lightly touched on in the article, but is described in detail in the novel. 

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is an extraordinarily heart-wrenching novel that will have readers convincing themselves that they will only read one more chapter, only to stay up all night to read many more. The novel follows a young woman, Leni, who is adversely impacted by her parents’ toxic marriage. She and her family, the Allbrights, move into complete isolation in the wilderness of Alaska. Leni’s father, Ernt, was a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. He was never truly able to reintegrate himself into society, so living off the grid in seclusion with no electricity, grocery stores, or police seems like the perfect solution for him. 

However, the shift from Alaskan summer to winter is tremendously triggering for Ernt, an unemployed alcoholic, and sparks post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, flashbacks, and nightmares. Hannah juxtaposes the beautiful wonderland of Alaska and all its treasures with the turmoil hidden in the family’s lonely, isolated cabin: “All this time Dad had taught Leni how dangerous the outside world was. The truth was the biggest danger of all was in her own home.” 

Hannah has an incredible ability to make the pages of this work come alive. She bounds its plot around the most intricate and specific details of the landscape and characters’ appearances to create an all-immersive experience for readers. In addition to this profound ability to illuminate such vivid details, she takes care to highlight the toxic relationships that parents can have and how such relationships can manifest themselves in their child. Hannah powerfully exposes the reality of the sort of abuse that is never as simple as it appears to be; she wonderfully executes a feeling of love wrapped in deep betrayal that feels suffocating to read, as readers wish the characters would make the choices readers tell themselves they’d be able to. 

Hannah spends a large majority of the novel setting up its major conflict. This strategy makes the novel feel like it is dragging on for too long in its first section with a rushed resolution toward the end. Nonetheless, its final pages were so masterfully crafted that they had this reviewer in tears wishing the novel wasn’t coming to an end so soon. 

One other frustration with this novel is that some of the facts or details about Alaska that Hannah included were very stereotypical and felt dropped into scenes. For example, one line describes the setting as “a town where winter lasted from September through April, and night lay across the land for eighteen hours.” Anyone could find such a description on Google. Some of this information would have been better explained through Hannah’s breathtaking imagery rather than being placed directly into the novel in such a cliche manner. 

In this reviewer’s opinion, The Great Alone deserves 3.85/5 stars. The final pages leave more to be desired; the beginning of the novel could have done with less context. The ending was truly the most enjoyable part of the work, and readers will feel themselves having a much harder time putting this part of the book down than its earlier chapters–this reviewer even read it while brushing her teeth as she neared its end.