Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.
Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.
At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.
But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.
My Thoughts: I love the setting and the era in which the story begins. It takes me back to what was happening in my life in the 1970s. The Vietnam War, protesters, Nixon and Watergate…and a feeling of a country divided. Not that different from the world today.
Ernt Allbright is the MC, who, along with his wife Cora and daughter Leni, hopes to find a new life in Alaska. Ernt’s experiences as a POW in Vietnam have left him with nightmares, flashbacks, and rage. A lot of rage.
Long winters in Alaska bring out his worst emotions…what will happen to his family in the isolated “great alone”?
Leni’s third person narrative kept me thoroughly engaged, and I felt such empathy for her experiences, having grown up in a family with domestic violence and rage. A family that relished its “outsider” status.
Leni’s fear that her father would eventually kill her mother held me by the throat, as I watched the intensity grow. Her friendship with Matthew opens up the world for her, but her father’s hatred of his family enhances the danger. Will Leni find a way to escape? What will need to happen before she can find the peace she craves?
A beautiful saga of an unpredictable wilderness and the people who brought a sense of belonging to Leni, The Great Alone spanned decades, and left me feeling the beauty of the land and the people who had found their place there. 5 stars.