Change is not one of the limited things I specialize in.
I am all about consistency: constantly not getting enough sleep, not studying enough, and not drinking enough water. My life is predictable, for the most part. That’s why I’ve always been able to pinpoint my favorite books as those from a series called Storm and Silence. It’s been this way for four years, and I wasn’t planning on changing that any time soon. But like all good things, they wedge their way into your life and leave you unable to live without them. This is exactly how I felt reading The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.
I started off reading this book for AP Seminar. You’d think it would be the typical “school-based curriculum read,” with some gems hidden in a thousand layers of dirt and rubble. Although just published this year, it has already received the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Historical Fiction, #1 New York Times Instant Bestseller and People’s “Book of the Week.” And despite these accolades, I did not maintain high hopes for it. At this point, tons of books that are “critically acclaimed” have brought nothing but closing eyes and tired words to me.
This is what I expected from The Great Alone, and I have never been more content with being proved wrong.
The Great Alone tells the story of the Allbrights, a family of three who are moving to Alaska. The father, Ernt, was a prisoner of war in Vietnam and suffers from severe PTSD due to it. He is constantly searching for fresh starts, and he believes that living on a homestead on the isolated island of Homer is the best way to find it.
The family’s journey is mainly told by the daughter Leni, along with other points of views sporadically throughout the book by family members and friends. While Leni is constantly told about the dangers that Alaska creates for people, she finds that the biggest threat remains inside her cabin walls.
Ernt suffering from PTSD is just the beginning and, sadly, makes sure he is not alone in his pain. He inflicts his irrational and toxic ways onto his family and abuses them in more ways one. His wife, Cora, remains entranced with him and who he used to be, unable to move on and accept the person who she used to love no longer exists.
Never have I ever been taken on so many plot twists that it made me sick. I lost sleep over this book; I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It brought me to tears, yet it brought me yelps of joy all wrapped in one. I was destroyed and rebuilt, much like Leni is in this story.
With every hardship Leni encountered, Hannah was able to create reverberations that affected even me, and I would not consider myself an easily emotional person when it comes to books.
Hannah writes with alluring alliteration and skilled storytelling; her detailed diction adding to her inventive imagery. She creates emotions and images that dance across your eyes as they soak up her written word as if it’s an ocean–nothing is ever quite enough.
Hannah writes incredibly dynamic characters with detailed pasts, all expertly added to the story with perfect harmony. Never have I ever held so much hate for some characters, and never have I felt such admiration for others. Hannah is somehow able to engender sympathy and fear, yet also untamed anger.
Along with disarrayed feelings, each character uniquely battles love and how untamable it can be, leaving some with corrupted views and dismantled hearts.
My favorite part of the book, and also one I consider the most altogether arresting, is that although it has a love story with a girl and a boy, the true love story is between a mother and a daughter. Hannah is able to speak with an experienced voice of the terrors and pleasures love can bring and how, when you truly love someone, it will either destroy you or complete you. Quotes like, “Love and fear. The most destructive forces on earth. Fear had turned her inside out, love had made her stupid,” are seemingly never-ending and yet they’re never enough.
I could spend days simply analyzing her tone and the eloquent way in which she uses words, and I would never fully be able to appreciate her skill.
The Great Alone did one of the hardest yet most the most crucial things a book should do: leave you changed. This book has changed the way that I view mental illnesses and love and how hate and love can be so closely intertwined. For all of these reasons, it has shaken my previous favorite book off of the top shelf and has positioned itself rightfully as the staple piece of my collection. It has had a life-altering effect on me, and reading anything else now seems sacrilegious.