Instant #1 New York Times bestseller, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, was a book that moved me deeply. This is a plot summary and review of The Great Alone with book club questions / discussion questions and other inspiration from this popular, mesmerizing and gut-wrenching story.
Never had the setting of a book been so intoxicating to me than the Vietnam-era Alaska that Kristin Hannah described. On numerous occasions, I found myself googling “Alaska 1970s” to get an even clearer picture of the beautiful state which was itself the main character in this book.
And when I started this blog, I knew I would eventually devote a post to this book, one of Kristin Hannah's best books (along with The Nightingale and Firefly Lane!). Get inspired by Kristin Hannah's Alaska book below.
About Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah is one of the best historical fiction authors of 20+ popular novels, including the unforgettable #1 New York Times bestselling World War II novel, The Nightingale, which is being adapted to a movie.
Did you know?: Kristin Hannah's Alaska descriptions were drawn from her own experience living in Alaska as a child, which created the vivid backdrop of The Great Alone.
Summary + Review of The Great Alone
Below is my plot summary / review of The Great Alone.
“It was otherworldly somehow, magical in its vast expanse. An incomparable landscape.”Kristin Hannah, "The Great Alone"
What is The Great Alone about?
The Great Alone transports the reader to Alaska in 1974 for an epic family tale of resilience.
Ernt Allbright is a former Prisoner of War, who returns home from the Vietnam War with PTSD. After losing his job, he impulsively decides to move to Alaska, where he, his wife Cora and his thirteen-year-old daughter Leni will live in America’s last true frontier, fighting for survival literally and figuratively.
While Leni feels caught between her father’s PTSD and her parents’ tumultuous relationship, she befriends a local boy. And as the harsh Winter approaches, survival becomes necessary when these characters face a string of haunting traumatic events as dark and cold as Winter itself. The results are both beautiful and devastating.
The Great Alone is an unforgettable winter-themed book that has stayed with me since first reading it, and I still think about the picturesque but harsh reality of the Alaskan backdrop. While I felt it contained a bit too many dramatic events, its riveting words that kept me up all night still made it a five-star read for me.
20 Book Club Discussion Questions for The Great Alone
Alaska is truly the main character in this novel, but it has two sides -- beauty and danger. Discuss how both sides are consequential to this story.
Could this book have taken place elsewhere, or was Alaska, in the winter particularly, the only possible setting for the Allbrights' story?
Do you agree with the author's description of Alaska in the title as The Great Alone? Why or why not?
Would you ever visit or live in Alaska?
What do you think would be hardest about living in Alaska? And what do you think would be hardest about living in Alaska in the 1970s?
Consider this quote: “Alaska didn’t create character; it revealed it.” Do you agree or disagree?
How did Ernt's PTSD shape Leni's life?
Why do you think Cora stayed married to Ernt?
Was the timing of the 1970s crucial to this plot? How would it have been different in another timeframe?
Consider this quote: “She saw how love could be dangerous and beyond control. Ravenous.” Was love more a force of good or evil in this book?
Do we know more about PTSD and have more resources for people like Ernt now, or can we still do better for veterans?
Do you believe Ernt had violent tendencies before serving in the Vietnam War or was he truly changed by the war?
Was Cora destined to act the way she ultimately did in response to Ernt or could her actions have been prevented?
How were Alaska and the character's lives different in the different seasons of the story?
How did Leni maintain self care in Alaska? How do you?
Discuss the mother-daughter bond between Cora and Leni, and how the bond affected their lives for better or for worse.
How do you view Matthew and his relationship with Leni?
There are so many historical and pop culture references in this book. Which ones stood out to you?
Consider this quote: “Leni saw suddenly how hope could break you, how it was a shiny lure for the unwary. What happened to you if you hoped too hard for the best and got the worst?” Do you believe Leni's vision of hope changed as she came of age?
This book contains several tragedies and traumatic events. Do you find this to be a realistic portrait of life in Alaska or do you view it as fiction?
For more book club questions:
Inspired by The Great Alone
I loved the 1970s Alaskan setting of The Great Alone so much that I created the following Pinterest board with inspiration from the book:
The Great Alone Playlist
The playlist below contains songs referenced in The Great Alone, as well as songs that, according to Kristin Hannah, were in her mind as she was writing the book: