All it takes to move to Alaska is a beat-up Volkswagen bus and a decrepit cabin waiting for you, nestled deep in the Kenai Peninsula – if one follows the lead of the characters in bestselling author Kristin Hannah’s newest book.
Inspired by her own childhood move to Alaska, Hannah wrote “The Great Alone” on the heels of her acclaimed 2015 novel, “The Nightingale.”
“The Great Alone” has settled on the New York Times Bestselling list for 21 weeks and continues to rise. Since first appearing on the list, it has appeared as high up on the list as the second-ranked book in paperback trade fiction. It currently is listed as the sixth-ranked book in the same category.
The book is set in the mid-1970s and follows a small family who leave their life in Seattle to search for better times in Kaneq, a fictionalize town inspired by Seldovia and set not far from Homer.
The Allbright family includes Ernt, a recently released prisoner of the Vietnam War; his progressive wife, Cora; and their bookish 13-year-old daughter, Leni. When Ernt discovers that his old combat partner had died and left him a parcel of land in Kaneq, he convinces Cora and Leni that by moving to Alaska he will finally be able to become the person he was before he left for the war.
Once the family gets to Alaska, it takes just the first few months of winter for the Allbrights to realize that Ernt’s issues are only going to get worse in their harsh new town. Dealing with the issues that spring from a growing tourism industry in Kaneq and disagreements with the locals, the family quickly understands that although they have come to love Alaska, it has drastically changed each of their lives in countless ways.
Hannah’s knack for emotional storytelling is almost dangerous – throughout the 450-page book, the reader never feels like the story is a neat, linear journey from start to finish. The edge-of-your-seat feeling doesn’t leave until the last page is turned.
As the book continues, the detailed descriptions of the setting become a bit wordy, but are written in obvious effort to convey Hannah’s own affection for the state. Hannah fleshes out the Allbrights’ new environment with painstaking detail, taking the time to explain the wildlife, cultures and challenges that her characters encounter.
Perhaps the best aspect of “The Great Alone” is Hannah’s ability to describe characters. While she certainly does have a talent for creating a dimensional setting, it’s the characters that truly shine in this book. Each character has parts of their personality that are unflattering or problematic, but ultimately make the character more enjoyable to read about. The respectable length of the book acts as an aid to Hannah’s style and allows her characters to develop and change.
It’s these charms set against an expansive background that ultimately shape the book, delivering an emotional story full of unexpected twists and shocks.