Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone gives readers an engrossing story about a family drama set in the dramatic wilderness of Alaska. The main character, Leni, comes of age in the turbulent 70’s when her parent’s toxic relationship brings them to a remote area of Alaska. We see Leni growing up against the gorgeous and unforgiving backdrop of a small isolated Alaskan town, while she grapples with her view of family and love while trapped with her parents’ dysfunctional and abusive relationship. Use our The Great Alone book club questions to get started discussing the many layers of this dynamic book.
There are so many interesting topics to explore with this discussion guide for The Great Alone— abusive relationships, family ties, trauma, loyalty, sense of place, and the great Alaskan wilderness. Start with the book synopsis, use the book club questions to get your discussion going, and browse the selected reviews for some more discussion material.
For further reading, finish up with our suggestions for 3 books like The Great Alone to find similar stories to keep your TBR topped up.
The Great Alone Synopsis
The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah
Alaska, 1974. Ernt Allbright came home from the Vietnam War a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes the impulsive decision to move his wife and daughter north where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.
Cora will do anything for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown. Thirteen-year-old Leni, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, has little choice but to go along, daring to hope this new land promises her family a better future.
In a wild, remote corner of Alaska, the Allbrights 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 newcomers’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.
But as winter approaches and darkness descends, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates. 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.
10 The Great Alone Book Club Questions
- “They were trapped, by environment and finances, but mostly by the sick, twisted love that bound her parents together.” So much of Leni’s life was shaped by her parents’ toxic relationship.
How did this influence the way she viewed them? How did she handle the conflicting emotions?
- Abusive relationships are often complex, involving love, hatred, loyalty and guilt, among many other emotions. How did the author explore these complex feelings in the book, and how they led the family to stay together?
- Alaska plays a prominent role in this book, like another character. How does the wilderness reflect Leni’s life? How does it help shape her into the person she becomes?
- Many characters in this book have experienced trauma. War, abuse, death– what are the different ways they have dealt with it? How do their traumatic experiences reveal themselves later in life?
- “A girl was like a kite; without her mother’s strong, steady hold on the string, she might just float away, be lost somewhere among the clouds.” Leni and Cora have a strong bond throughout the book.
What do you think about Cora’s choices as a mother? Do you think she was a good mother?
- “Fear, Leni learned, was not the small dark closet she’d always imagined; walls pressed in close, a ceiling you bumped your head on, a floor cold to the touch. No. Fear was a mansion, one room after another, connected by endless hallways.”
Were you afraid for the characters in this book? What was the most threatening; the people, the Alaskan wilderness, or trying to leave?
- Did you foresee Ernst and Cora’s relationship ending the way it did? Why or why not?
- What did you think about Leni and Matthew’s relationship? Did it seem authentic to you?
- Leni used books and photography to help her process her turbulent childhood. How did they help her remain steady and process her life?
- “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you. No one cared if you had an old car on your deck, let alone a rusted fridge. Any life that could be imagined could be lived up here.”
What is it about Alaska that attracts people? Could you see yourself living in this environment?
Selected Reviews for The Great Alone
“Kristin Hannah really takes her time laying the foundation for the Allbright family and the tedious work the Alaskan wilderness demands and you know what, that was okay with me. It was around the halfway mark, when she switched gears, that everything came crashing down. There is a love story packed within these pages, although despite the anticipation, I found it all to be sort of lackluster. The words and the feelings were present on the page, demanding my consent, but I can’t say I ever truly felt their connection with every piece of my being […] With all of that said, I still found this to be a worthy read. I love the thought of living a simpler life—although probably not realistic for this city girl—and spending a bit of time in Alaska proved to be eye-opening and even sort of refreshing.”
“I loved this book. An entertaining and emotional read with an engrossing plot and well-developed characters. I could almost feel the bitter cold from the long isolating winters. But I could also see the beauty of Alaska with its gorgeous mountains and blue skies.”
“The Great Alone” does not disappoint. This was another fascinating, thought-provoking, and captivating read. Heartbreaking at times… but there were also moments of great love and unbelievable kindness. A gripping story where I was desperate to know what was going to happen next. A bittersweet but satisfying ending topped off this amazing read.”
“The torment she inflicts upon her characters is just so excessive. It doesn’t feel real. It’s impossible to believe that all this awfulness could happen to one person. And for me, what’s even worse is the corny, schmaltzy melodrama and emotional manipulation. It kills my reading experience. It pushes me over the edge to where I’m shaking my head, rolling my eyes, and disappointed that I am, once again, responding in this way to these wonderful stories […] Because I loved The Great Alone. Most of it, at least. Until sadly, I no longer did.”
3 Books Like The Great Alone
If you like the cold landscape of The Great Alone, then grab a cup of tea and a warm blanket and check out our list of books set in winter.
The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls
If you are looking for another page turner book centered around dysfunctional family dynamics, check out The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.
In this memoir Walls recounts her turbulent childhood growing up with 3 siblings and nomadic parents who lived according to their own dreams, regardless of the effect on their children. Walls describes her relationship with her family with moving descriptions of their love and flaws, and her journey to independence.
The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey
Looking for more Alaskan wilderness? In The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, a married couple move to Alaska in 1920, hoping to escape the sorrow of their child loss in the great wilderness. They face the brutal realities of homesteading in this dramatic environment, but fail to outrun their troubles and emotions.
Everything changes when they discover a young girl named Faina who appears to live on her own in the wilderness near them; what they learn about Faina and her mystery will transform their lives. The book reads like a frosty fairy tale.
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
Nathan Price is a Baptist preacher who pushes his way into the Belgian Congo in 1959, followed by with his wife Orleanna and their four daughters. His arrogance brings the family into this drastically different world, and his wife and daughters suffer the consequences.
The Poisonwood Bible tells the story through Orleanna and her daughters, and we see the ways they deal with their difficult family relationships, the effects of colonialism around them, how they attempt to fit into a new culture, and the beauty and harshness of the African land.
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