Reviewed by Kristin
You can make one mistake in Alaska, but the second one will kill you.
That’s the advice the Allbright family receives from locals when they move to an Alaskan homestead on the Kenai Peninsula in 1974. Thirteen-year-old Leni is hoping for a fresh start, and she is no stranger to fresh starts. Leni’s father Ernt is a Vietnam veteran, one of the “lucky” ones who returned home after years of being held in a POW camp. Now his temper is quick and violent, but Leni and her mother Cora hold onto hope that Ernt might one day find his way back to being the husband and father he was before the war. Another job, another town, just another chance is all he needs. Or so Leni and Cora think.
While the Allbright family is almost laughably unprepared for an Alaskan winter, their new neighbors pitch in to help them stock up over the few warm months of summer. Neighbor Large Marge explains the community’s way of trading goods and services. Leni and her parents quickly find out how much of a lifestyle change they have chosen, but they grow stronger and more wilderness-savvy as the weeks of sunlight pass.
As the wintry darkness falls, the world becomes smaller for Leni and her family. What seemed like a new beginning becomes only a new setting for Ernt’s nightmares, anger, and obsessions.
I had never read anything by Kristin Hannah before The Great Alone. The harsh Alaska landscape was an appealing setting, so I jumped right into this new release. Quickly I began to care about Leni as she deals with the complicated love within her family. Even Ernt with his volatile emotions simmering just under the surface, draws some kind of sympathy because his wartime experiences changed him. Cora’s relationship with Ernt is intense, full of love and caring as well as jealousy and violence. Leni loves both her parents, but desperately wants to protect her mother from harm.
This saga stretched out so long with so many dramatic moments that I really wondered what other twists and turns could happen. At some points, I thought the situation could not possibly be resolved without someone dying. This isn’t much of a spoiler, but people do die before the end of the book. The question is: will it be a death of someone by the hands of someone they love, a matter of self-defense, or simply the tragedy of making a mistake in the Alaskan wilderness?