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The great alone

When her father impulsively moves the family to mid-1970s Alaska to live off the land, young Leni and her mother are forced to confront the dangers of their lack of preparedness in the wake of a dangerous winter season. - (Baker & Taylor)

When her volatile, former POW father impulsively moves the family to mid-1970s Alaska to live off the land, young Leni and her mother are forced to confront the dangers of their lack of preparedness in the wake of a dangerous winter season. By the best-selling author of The Nightingale. - (Baker & Taylor)

In The Great Alone. the new novel by #1 New York Times bestselling author Kristin Hannah, a desperate family seeks a new beginning in the near-isolated wilderness of Alaska. - (McMillan Palgrave)

#1 New York Times Instant Bestseller

In Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, a desperate family seeks a new beginning in the near-isolated wilderness of Alaska only to find that their unpredictable environment is less threatening than the erratic behavior found in human nature.

Alaska, 1974. Ernt Allbright came home from the Vietnam War a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes the impulsive decision to move his wife and daughter north where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Cora will do anything for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown. Thirteen-year-old Leni, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, has little choice but to go along, daring to hope this new land promises her family a better future.

In a wild, remote corner of Alaska, the Allbrights find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the newcomers’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own.

- (McMillan Palgrave)

Author Biography

KRISTIN HANNAH is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty novels, including The Nightingale, The Great Alone, and The Four Winds. A former lawyer turned writer, she lives with her husband in the Pacific Northwest. - (McMillan Palgrave)

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Trade Reviews

Booklist Reviews

Hannah (The Nightingale, 2015) takes readers on a journey to Alaska in the 1970s with the Allbright family: damaged Vietnam vet Ernt; his devoted wife, Cora; and their 13-year-old daughter, Leni, the novel's protagonist. Initially unhappy to leave her Seattle home, Leni soon falls in love with the wilds of remote Kaneq. Leni adjusts to the lack of electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing, but her father's increasingly erratic and violent behavior is much harder to endure. Leni finds an escape in her books and her one-room school, where she meets Matthew, the only other kid her age in the area. Matthew becomes Leni's best friend and eventually her first love. But Leni's father's irrational hatred of Matthew's family threatens to keep them apart, and Leni fears her father's uncontrollable rage could be the death of her and her fragile mother. Though smaller in scope than her previous blockbuster, in this tightly focused drama, Hannah vividly evokes the natural beauty and danger of Alaska and paints a compelling portrait of a family in crisis and a community on the brink of change.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: In addition to the draw of Hannah's massive popularity, this dark family adventure will be rolled out with an enormous first print run, extensive media coverage, and a major author tour. Copyright 2017 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews

Coming of age in the wilds of Alaska

Kristin Hannah has known for 20 years that she wanted to write a book set in Alaska­—and that she wanted to use a haunting and powerful title inspired by a favorite poem: The Great Alone.

In the meantime, she wrote more than 20 other novels, including her 2015 runaway bestseller, The Nightingale, a novel about two sisters in German-occupied France during World War II. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the blockbuster success of The Nightingale made it a hard act to follow. "It did kind of mess with my mind," Hannah admits, speaking on the phone from her home near Seattle. "You feel an immense pressure to follow it up."

Determined to write something completely different, she says, "I decided—clearly after too much wine—to write a domestic thriller."

The book was set in current-day Alaska. Hannah wrote for about a year and a half, only to come to a terrible conclusion: Her manuscript wasn't working.

"I had already thrown everything I could think of at it, and I had failed," Hannah says. It was a heartbreaking realization, but as much as she loves thrillers, "I realized that I wasn't ultimately interested in what happened. I'm much more interested in why things happen and who people are. Not only was the book not good enough to follow The Nightingale, it wasn't good enough to be a book with my name on it."

Fortunately, there were a few shreds of hope to be salvaged: the Alaskan setting, which Hannah says "is just as special in its own way as World War II France," and a cast of characters she liked. So she created a new story for the Allbright family, who in 1974 move off the grid to the fictional town of Kaneq, located near Homer, Alaska. They are propelled by their survivalist father, Ernt, a Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress disorder who has inherited a cabin from an old army buddy. The isolation becomes a pressure cooker for his demons, with tragic results for his wife, Cora, and their 14-year-old daughter, Leni, the book's narrator.

Once Hannah wrote an opening scene from Leni's viewpoint, she immediately knew that "this is a girl worth following." After 18 more months of writing, she had crafted a new—and very different—novel.

"It's a much more intense read than I've done before," Hannah concludes. "It's very much about this girl coming of age in an incredibly dangerous environment, both inside her home and outside of it. I think I was able to bring to the reader a vision of Alaska that is different than what they've read before."

The setting provides a mesmerizing look at the difficulties that face a homesteading family. Upon their arrival in Alaska, the Allbrights are warned by Large Marge, one of the book's many marvelous characters, "Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There's a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you."

The Allbrights make a multitude of mistakes, which translate into page-turning, riveting, wee-hours of-the-night reading. Leni, a whip-smart, book-loving girl, becomes a rugged Alaskan outdoorswoman, forced to make agonizing decisions about the domestic violence that overtakes her family.

It's clear that Alaska is embedded deep in the author's heart, a special connection that began with her own family's odyssey. When she was 8 years old, Hannah's father loaded the family into a VW bus and traveled through 16 states, landing in the Pacific Northwest.

"He said we were looking for home," Hannah recalls, "and we'll know it when we see it. It was about 100 degrees in that bus, and all I remember is my mom and dad saying, ‘Will you stop reading your book and look at the scenery?' "

Hannah offers readers "a vision of Alaska that is different than what they've read before."

From this journey blossomed Hannah's interest in Alaska, and she started spending summers there, once working in a fish processing plant, an especially grueling summer job. "You don't sleep for hours and hours on end," she says. "It was gross."

The book's title, which Hannah held onto for so long, also comes from her father. It pays homage to poet Robert W. Service's nickname for Alaska, from a poem called "The Shooting of Dan McGrew": "Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear, / And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear . . ." During childhood camping trips, Hannah's father used to recite Service's poems to her and her siblings, who learned them by heart and later passed them on to their children.

Hannah's mother inspired her as well and, in fact, launched her career. When she became terminally ill during Hannah's last year of law school, Hannah's mother invited her daughter to collaborate on a novel. She also predicted that her daughter would become a novelist, a notion that struck Hannah as absurd at the time.

"It's taken me a long time to find my stride as a writer," Hannah says. "The biggest part of that is finding my voice, and what I have to say. And it's pretty clear that it's about ordinary women banding together or on their own, fighting in extraordinary circumstances in an extraordinary time, and finding a way to both survive and thrive."

As Hannah wrote The Nightingale, she pondered whether she would have risked her life to save a stranger in the circumstances that her characters faced. With The Great Alone, she contemplated a different essential question.

"I kept asking myself, ‘Could I survive here?' " she says. "And I can say with absolute certainty that I probably could not be an Alaskan pioneer. For me, interestingly enough, it's not the weather and it's not the dark. I think it's the hard work and no reading time."


This article was originally published in the February 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Author photo by Kevin Lynch.

Copyright 2018 BookPage Reviews.

BookPage Reviews

Book Clubs: October 2019

★ All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
In her stirring memoir, All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung hopes to find the Korean birth parents who gave her up for adoption. Chung was raised by a white family in small-town Oregon, and in this beautifully crafted book she recounts her struggle to fit in as an Asian American. After graduating from college, she decides to investigate her past and possibly contact her biological parents. On the cusp of becoming a mother herself, she hears from her biological sister Cindy, who tells her the disturbing truth about their complex past. Already aware that she was a premature baby and that she has two sisters, Chung learns her birth parents claimed she had died. Chung touches on timeless themes of family and identity while crafting a fascinating narrative sure to spark lively book club discussions.

Gone So Long by Andre Dubus III
As he nears the end of his life, Daniel Ahearn hopes to be reunited with Susan, his daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since the long-ago night when—driven by jealousy—he murdered her mother. Dubus presents an electrifying portrait of a broken family in this unforgettable novel.

Everything’s Trash, but It’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson
Bold, insightful and funny, Robinson’s terrific essays offer fresh perspectives on feminism, body image and the dating world. 

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
Ernt Allbright; his wife, Cora; and their 13-year-old daughter, Leni, are initially enamored of their new surroundings and resilient neighbors in rural Alaska. But when Ernt becomes increasingly violent, the Allbrights find themselves in danger of losing everything.

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
The fortunes of the intellectual Knox clan decline after work opportunities dry up. Rewind to the 1870s, and science teacher Thatcher Greenwood also experiences setbacks due to his progressive ideas. Kingsolver’s compassionate rendering of everyday people struggling to gain purchase in a changing world is sure to resonate with readers.

Copyright 2019 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews

In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, "Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you." There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As sh e cautions the Allbrights, "Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There's a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you." Hannah's (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet-like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America. A tour de force. Copyright Kirkus 2017 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews

In 1974, what could be harder for 13-year-old Leni Allbright than having a dangerously unsettled Vietnam vet dad? Having him lose yet another job and decide to move the family to the Alaskan wilderness and live off the land. The summer of their arrival proves glorious and golden, but trouble comes with the winter snows, as supplies dwindle and Leni's father becomes increasingly unbalanced. With a million-copy first printing.

Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Library Journal Reviews

Lenora Allbright is 13 when her father convinces her mother, Cora, to forgo their inauspicious existence in Seattle and move to Kaneq, AK. It's 1974, and the former Vietnam POW sees a better future away from the noise and nightmares that plague him. Having been left a homestead by a buddy who died in the war, Ernt is secure in his beliefs, but never was a family less prepared for the reality of Alaska, the long, cold winters and isolation. Locals want to help out, especially classmate Matthew Walker, who likes everything about Leni. Yet the harsh conditions bring out the worst in Ernt, whose paranoia takes over their lives and exacerbates what Leni sees as the toxic relationship between her parents. The Allbrights are as green as greenhorns can be, and even first love must endure unimaginable hardship and tragedy as the wilderness tries to claim more victims. VERDICT In this latest from Hannah (The Nightingale), the landscape is hard and bleak, but our young heroine learns to accept it and discover her true self. Not a cozy read, yet Hannah's fans will appreciate the astuteness of the story and the unbreakable connection between mother and child. [See Prepub Alert, 8/28/17.]—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Copyright 2017 Library Journal.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Hannah's vivid depiction of a struggling family begins as a young father and POW returns from Vietnam, suffering from PTSD. The Allbright family, barely making ends meet in 1974, moves from Seattle to the untamed wilderness of Kaneq, Alaska, to claim a parcel of land left to Ernt by a slain Army buddy. Together with his wife, Cora, who spurned her middle-class parents to marry him, and their 13-year-old daughter, Leni, who barely remembers the adoring dad who's become so restless, Ernt is totally unprepared for the rigors of the family's new home. Soon, his fragile mental health and his relentless abuse of Cora worsen during the long nights of the family's first winter up north, even as the quirky and steely homesteaders around the Allbrights rally to help them. They intervene by forcing Ernt to leave in the winter to work on the newly started oil pipeline, but the added income and absences from Kaneq fail to fix his intractable paranoia and anger. Meanwhile, Leni finds friendship and love in a neighbor boy, Matthew, who is also a troubled survivor of a shattered family. Hannah skillfully situates the emotional family saga in the events and culture of the late '70s—gas shortages, Watergate, Ted Bundy, Patty Hearst, and so on. But it's her tautly drawn characters—Large Marge, Genny, Mad Earl, Tica, Tom—who contribute not only to Leni's improbable survival but to her salvation amid her family's tragedy. (Feb.)

Copyright 2017 Publishers Weekly.

School Library Journal Reviews

Set in 1974 Alaska, this sweeping tale follows a girl coping with the dangers of domestic violence. Though ill-prepared for the extreme and harsh conditions, 13-year-old Leni and her parents, Ernt and Cora, have to learn how to survive in the unforgiving wild of their new home on the Kenai Peninsula. With the help of the small-knit community of endearing fellow homesteaders, the Allbrights manage to just barely stay afloat. But Ernt, who has never recovered from the trauma of fighting in the Vietnam War, struggles with the isolation and the interminably dark days of winter. Leni grows up witnessing her father (who is increasingly unable to control his paranoia and jealousy) abuse her beloved mother. Leni's greatest comfort and escape is her schoolmate and neighbor Matthew. Over the years, their friendship evolves into a forbidden romance. Hannah highlights, with vivid description, the natural dangers of Alaska juxtaposed against incongruous violence. VERDICT Give to teens who loved the author's The Nightingale and to fans of Jodi Picoult.—Tara Kehoe, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Charlotte, NC

Copyright 2018 School Library Journal.

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