This book hit all the feels for me. And how could it not? A veteran, broken, struggling, suffering from PTSD and the darkness that lurks deep in his soul, threatening to take over. A woman who loves him too much to leave, who lives on hope and faith and in fear. A young girl caught in the middle, struggling to make sense of it all, while falling in love for the first time.
The book is set in the 1970s in Alaska and its one of the things that first caught my attention, as I lived in Alaska during that time. Kristan Hannah took me on a sweet, wonderful trip to the past. Reading THE GREAT ALONE took me back to the summer of endless days and dark, cold winters. Her descriptions of the Kenai Peninsula didn’t so much paint a picture for me, as it transported me across time and space. Once again I was a young girl picking the biggest and sweetest blueberries I’d ever had. And yes, those mosquitoes! The Alaskan state bird. :-)
But it was more than the trip down memory lane that drew me in; it was the beautiful writing, and the touching story of this dysfunctional family. While I wanted to rant and yell at Cora for staying with an abusive husband, my heart ached for her struggle. How do you give up on someone you love? For those of us lucky enough to never have experienced this kind of relationship, it might be hard to understand that walking away is not an easy option. However, the author did a wonderful job of not only showing Cora’s struggle with her faith that things with get better against her fear of staying and of running.
As for Ernt Allbright, I’m not sure there ever was a time he was good, happy, and “normal.” And while it was easy to hate him, we could see that he wasn’t all bad. He really struck me as a person who struggled with more than just PTSD. There seemed to be traces of bipolarism and definitely narcissistic personality disorder. Through Leni and Cora’s eyes we saw there was love fighting the darkness. Sadly, it didn’t win.
The story is told mostly through Leni’s young eyes. We experience her own struggle to fit in, to adapt, and the heartbreak that comes with finding out your heroes are flawed. Despite the dysfunctional dynamics in this family, Leni is devoted to her mom and it’s this relationship that gives the two women the strength to keep going and to try to make this new life work.
Kristan Hannah has written a beautiful, emotional story that is also devastatingly sad, yet full of hope. Her characters are complex, flawed and real. Her descriptions are full and vivid. This might have been my first Kristan Hannah book, but it will not be my last and I have no doubt THE GREAT ALONE will stay with me. Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press for advanced copy.