The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
With these lines in the first few pages, I knew I this book was something special. "The last frontier was. like her dad, it seemed. Larger than life. Expansive. A little dangerous." (p.12) How prophetic those words became, as I continued reading.
What I noticed first about Leni was her perceptiveness. Her ability to watch her parents interact, watch the world around her move and make her own assessments. So many times they were spot on. Even as a young girl, Leni knew the relationship between her parents as well as the three of them was something volatile. Something that maybe wasn't "normal". But it was her normal and she persisted throughout the story to hold on to that, for longer than I may have been able to.
Leni's courage, tenacity, perseverance and bravery made her a hero in my eyes. She was so strong, even when she felt or looked like she wasnt. In a world literally freezing and dying in front of her eyes, she only grew stronger. I admired that about her throughout the story. Time and again a situation arose where I feel I would have given up, lets be honest. The chores! The frustration at being isolated. Living a life of tiptoes, quiet voices and fear. She was. so. brave.
The setting of Alaska became its own character to me as the story progressed. Hannah's descriptions of life throughout the summer and fall preparing for winter made Alaska sparkle in my mind! Full of life and abundance. As all of that slowly and then abruptly died, as night fell faster and longer, Alaska seemed to show its alter ego. Reading it the way Hannah described, everything took on a new meaning. No longer just a dad struggling with PTSD and two women who are trying their best to love him, it became a story that mirrored Alaska's descent into the dark winters. Often it struck me how Leni's life, her thoughts and feelings, became woven and connected to the world surrounding her.
"The dark ages fell back again, receded until there was only here, only now. A sunlit day, a celebration, a family. Life was like that, full of quicksilver changes. Joy reappeared as unexpectedly as sunlight." (p.378)
What I loved most about reading this story is how connected Kristin Hannah made me feel to the Alaskan wilderness. In a way, it made me fall in love with a place I've never been. With each page I felt myself fall deeper into the story and could almost pretend (ALMOST) that I was in Alaska too, as I crunched through the snow to take my doggies outside at night. I cannot imagine what such a landscape truly looks like in person, let alone what a place referred to as "the last frontier" could do to your soul. Leni's story stole my heart, broke it and then put it all back together by the time I turned the last page. She was far braver than I could ever imagine being and a better person than most.
Well done, Kristin Hannah, on such a beautifully written story that I won't forget anytime soon.
Other quotes that spoke to my heart:
"Night swept in like nothing Leni had ever seen before, this winged shadow of a creature too big and predatory to comprehend." (p.97)
"In literature, death was many things- a message, catharsis, retribution. There were deaths that came from a beating heart that stopped and deaths of another kind, a choice made, like Frodo going to the Gray Havens. Death made you cry, filled you with sadness, but in the best of her books, there was peace too, satisfaction, a sense of the story ending as it should." (p. 117)
"What happened to you if you hoped too hard for the best and got the worst? Was it better not to hope at all, to prepare?" (p. 121)
"...the sad and scary truth that you could love and hate the same person at the same time, that you could feel a deep and abiding loss and shame for your own weakness and still be glad that this awful thing had been done."
Published by St. Martins Press