Read MY MIND © Book Reviews by Michael G. Harris, OD
Jun 11, 2018 07:45AM ● Published by Michael Harris
I hate to admit it, but I’m madly in love with the author Kristin Hannah. (Please don't tell my wife; she's the jealous type!) Even though I've never met Kristin, the mere thought of her gets my heart pounding. Don't get me wrong. This is not the puppy love or infatuation of my youth with authors Anna Quindlen, J.K. Rowling, or Isabel Allende. No, this time it's the real thing! Let me explain.
Kristin had me the moment I started reading her 2015 bestseller, The Nightingale, one of the best-told stories I've ever read. It was love at first sight; that is, my first sight of how she put words to paper in such a magical way. But like many lovers, when I finished that book, she left me yearning for more. My heart was broken. I waited anxiously to hear from her again. I scanned the New York Times Bestseller List every week just hoping to see Kristin’s name once more, but to no avail.
Finally, after two years of longing for the mere mention of her name and a new book, Cupid answered my prayers. Kristin’s new bestseller, The Great Alone, has renewed our love affair. I'm not sure what I was expecting when she returned. Would she “read” the same as The Nightingale or had she changed?
Like many lovers, when Kristin returned after her absence, she had changed. The Great Alone is totally different but in a good way. While the story and characters are unlike what I expected, her new book brims with the same wonderful storytelling and amazing characters that attracted me to Kristin in the first place. I am in love again.
The story centers on the Allbright family, Ernt, Cora, and their gangly teenage daughter, Leni, who is “trapped in her parents’ toxic marriage.” Ernt is a Vietnam vet and POW who returns from the war a very troubled man. A mean drunk with horrible nightmares and flashbacks, Ernt takes out his anger on his wife. After he loses yet another job, he moves the family from Seattle to the remote Alaskan settlement of Kaneq for a fresh start. None of them are prepared for the harsh winters in this unforgiving land where there are "1000 ways to die."
Thirteen year-old Leni finds solace in her new classmate, Matthew Walker, son of the town’s richest man. Over the next years, they form a deep friendship and fall in love. But they encounter numerous obstacles. Ernt is jealous of Matthew's father and doesn't want Leni to have anything to do with the Walker family. Leni and Matthew are separated for several years, only to be brought together again to face unbelievable tragedy.
The characters in this book are a larger-than-life “scrappy, tight-knit community of adventurers,” especially Large Marge, the shopkeeper who takes Leni under her wing. Having lived on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula herself, Kristin’s descriptions of "the last frontier are spectacular and stirring," with landscapes that are beautiful, mysterious, and ominous.
The book’s title, which describes Alaska, comes from the 1907 Robert Service poem, The Shooting of Dan McGrew. In writing about Canada’s Yukon Territory, Service says: “Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awfully clear, And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you (al)most could hear?” The title has a deeper meaning, as you’ll see when you read this coming-of-age story of love and heartache.
This is a wondrous read that has renewed my love for Kristin Hannah. I can hardly wait until her next book to rekindle the flame