A Vietnam veteran - suffering from PTSD, moves his family to Alaska.  The story follows his journey as he and his family struggle to survive in this harsh, unforgiving enviornment. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah - #historical-iction, #reading, #books-to-read, #books

The Great Alone

By Kristin Hannah

Reviewed by- Linda (July 2019)

Book Review:

This is a story of survival with the voice and heart of the story belonging to Leni, who is just thirteen when the story opens. It tells the struggles she and her family faced overcoming the harshness of living in the Alaskan wilderness. And it also speaks to the difficulties she and her mother faced surviving domestic abuse at the hands of her father - scarred from being a POW during the Vietnam war.

I loved that I was drawn into this book almost from the first page. And how the author's descriptions of Alaska drew me in and made me want to hop a plane and visit. I also liked Leni a lot and become really invested in her outcome. Recommend.

Book Club Talking Points:

Although this book is historical fiction - the issues it deals with are definitely current. It shows the effects of war. The trauma doesn't end when the soldiers return home, and it doesn't just impact the soldier, but also his friends and family. They return with a myriad of problems like PTSD and learning to function and fit into society again. Some other themes running through this book are domestic violence, and a chance to reset your life and start over again. You also have a family trying to survive the harsh Alaskan wilderness and Leni and her mother trying to escape domestic violence. Great choice for book clubs.
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*Discussion Questions

1. Before reading the book, what was your perception of life in Alaska? What surprised you?

2. "The wild, spectacular beauty of Alaska. It was otherworldly somehow, magical in its vast expanse, an incomparable landscape of soaring glacier-filled white mountains that ran the length of the horizon, knife-tip points pressed high into a cloudless, cornflower blue sky." (22) The author describes the Alaskan landscape with such electric language-what passages did you find the most moving? Did they help you visualize the place or inspire you? Did you find the landscape to be in contrast to the violence of the story? Or do you think it complemented the breathtaking feeling of young love?

3. What aspects of the lifestyle would you find the most challenging in the wild? How would you handle the isolation, the interdependence among neighbors, the climate? Would you have what it takes to survive?

4. "Up here, there's no one to tell you what to do or how to do it. We each survive our own way. If you're tough enough, it's heaven on earth." (39) What drives the settlers in The Great Alone to Alaska? They're not all desperate people in desperate need of a fresh start like the Allbrights, but what could be attractive about this unique way of life for some? What brings Large Marge there? The Walker family? Do you think most are hunting for something-or hiding?

5. In The Great Alone, we're transported by the author back to America in the early seventies with plot elements such as the gas shortage, shocking news headlines, countercultural ideas, and of course, the wardrobe choices. If you were present for these years, what was it like to see snapshots of it in the story? Did it match up with your memories, or color the story for you? What would you add?

6. Did you find Cora's actions and "liberated" mind-set to be in conflict? When we first meet Cora she's venting about discriminatory credit practices at the bank while sipping from a feminist-messaged coffee cup, but we soon discover she's at a tense crossroads in her personal life. What do you think holds her back?

7. Leni sees the complexity of her parents' relationship when in such close quarters with them in the cabin- the rawness of their lives together. Did you think it was going to be the weather or the violence that killed them first?

8. Discuss the forms of love within this book-crazy and romantic love, neighborly love and compassion, love for the natural world, and a mother's love. What else would you add?

9. "A girl was like a kite; without her mother's strong, steady hold on the string, she might just float away, be lost somewhere among the clouds." (118) If you have faced the loss of a loved one, did you find this quote to have special resonance for you? What did the author get right about this sentiment? How else would you describe a mother's influence? Does Cora serve such a role for Leni-why and why not? Did your ideas change throughout the book?

10. Leni and Matthew compare their friendship with Sam and Frodo's from The Lord of the Rings, but what other couples from literature do you think they'd fit neatly into the roles of? 11. "This is dangerous, she thought, but she couldn't make herself care. All she could think about now was Matthew, and how it had felt when he kissed her, and how much she wanted to kiss him again." (233) Do you recall your own days of young love and that rush of feeling? Do you think the experience is universal?

12. How did the building of Ernt's wall affect you as a reader? Did you find that the construction heightened the suspense-or was it suffocating?

13. Did you see Cora's explosive act of protection coming? What did it feel like to read that scene? As a parent, do you think you'd be capable of the same act, or be able to write such a confessional letter?

14. Did you hold Leni responsible in your mind for any of Matthew's misfortune? Why or why not? How does Leni show her devotion in the end? Did you anticipate the kind of future that is set in motion for them at the close of the book?

15. At the end of the story, Leni ends up back in Alaska- do you think there's an ultimate place where people belong? How would you know if you got there?

(Discussion Questions by Publisher)

Book Summary
Alaska, 1974. Untamed. Unpredictable. A story of a family in crisis struggling to survive at the edge of the world, it is also a story of young and enduring love.

Cora Allbright and her husband Ernt, a recently-returned Vietnam veteran scarred by the war, uproot their thirteen year old daughter Leni to start a new life in Alaska. Utterly unprepared for the weather and the isolation, but welcomed by the close-knit community, they fight to build a home in this harsh, beautiful wilderness.

At once an epic story of human survival and love, and an intimate portrait of a family tested beyond endurance, The Great Alone offers a glimpse into a vanishing way of life in America. With her trademark combination of elegant prose and deeply drawn characters, Kristin Hannah has delivered an enormously powerful story that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the remarkable and enduring strength of women.

About the highest stakes a family can face and the bonds that can tear a community apart, this is a novel as spectacular and powerful as Alaska itself. It is the finest example of Kristin Hannah's ability to weave together the deeply personal with the universal.

'I didn't just love this book, I became obsessed with it . . . Hannah has delivered a masterclass in all the different ways love can both save us and destroy us.' - Sunday Times top ten bestselling author Karen Swan
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