THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah: A Review

I received this book as a gift from a cousin/book buddy after she had read and enjoyed it. I read it some time back, but I’m just getting around to reviewing it since I have been so tied up with Cybils books lately. The Washington Post describes it as an “epic story” and it is one where the place/setting seems to be an important “character in the book.” Alaska–The Great Alone with its broad expanses of treacherous ice and snow and tiny towns hanging on for dear life to the icy crags of the mountains takes place in 1974. The Albright family, Cora, the mother: Ernt;  the father; and Leni, who at the opening is only thirteen and is their only child is “living off the grid.” In my mind’s eye I saw them as hippies, challenging a “place of incomparable beauty ands danger.” Ernt moves his family to a dilapidated house inherited from a relative in Alaska. No one bothers them, no one asks them questions, no one asks anything of them, but the community offers support and help that Ernt has trouble accepting. It is a community of “strong men and even stronger women.” The state and its people can be described by one word, “resilience.”

This is a story of fast action and dramatic scenes, that are as well-drawn as are the terrific characters. Leni, the responsible one, contrasted to her free spirited parents, never had a childhood. Ernt is an abuser who always promises things will be different, but there is always a “next time” that follows. Cora is weak, entrapped by the fierce, passionate love she and Ernt share.

This is a novel full of heartbreak and a tugging at the reader’s emotions.  It is a darned good read!


One day I hope to meet the girl/young lady (?) who donated today’s recommendation to my Little Free Library. I had just finished Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, about a black, land-holders family, struggling to “make it” in the rural South during Depression Days, when a gorgeous purple 5″x7″ book turned up. That’s part of the fun of an LFL, people put books in as well as take them out. On the cover were black and white photos of a stately, African American woman, dressed for church; a young girl, about eleven, striking a pose that indicates she has a mind of her own; a tiny sleeping baby, and a typical southern bungalow-styled home; a typical Sunday dinner, complete with cornbread and collard greens. From the lady’s hat, dress, and pearls, the reader might guess that the lady is a relative of the girl or a respected woman of the girl’s community. All this is set against a rich, purple background. The author’s name, Barbara Hathaway. The title: Missy Violet and Me. The “me” turns out to be Hathaway’s grandmother, who like the family in Thunder, lived during the Great Depression.

The story is based on true stories told to the writer by her mother about her grandmother’s life as a young girl The photos comprising the cover must be family photos. Viney, an eleven-year-old girl narrates the story, for it is her story, hers and the town’s midwife, Miss Violet, “…one of the most looked-up-to ladies in Richmond County.” As the book opens, Viney’s sister is delivered by Miss Violet, and Viney hears her shamed father tell Miss Violet that he cannot pay. She reminds him that he still owes her for the delivery of the last child, and suggests that Viney work off his debt by assisting her in her practice. When her father agrees, Viney is so excited and feels so important that she sings softly under her breath as she goes off to bed, “Gonna’ work for Miss Violet! Gonna’ work for Miss Violet; gonna’ catch me some babies.”

It is a lovely, “soft” encouraging story for a young girl in upper elementary or junior high.   It is appealing, not only because of the cover’s beauty and its petite, “thin” size (LOL) but because of the influence a mentor can have on a child’s life. The author describes how Viney’s education/apprenticeship leads to her vocation and the finding of her identity. Perhaps because I am a teacher, I was inspired by Miss Violet’s methods and compassion, agreeing with her: Yes, mentoring a young woman-to-be is ‘worth it’. The “Kristin M. Soto,” who donated the book and decorated the inside, right, purple, fronts- page in silver pencil, adding curlicues and  “favorites”: “cats/pizza/softball/art/[and the color] lime green” in her design. I would love to someday meet this woman and invite her in for a cup of tea and conversation.