The Great Alone

"Were you ever out in the great alone when the moon was awful clear"--a line from a Robert Service poem--is where Leni Allbright lives, literally and metaphorically. At 13, she's with her PTSD-plagued Vietnam War POW father and her loving, compliant mother in their rickety VW bus, headed from Seattle to Alaska. Here, her dad is certain, they will end their years-long quest for peace and security. Kristin Hannah, whose 2015 novel The Nightingale, about sisters in World War II France, endeared her to millions of readers, again brings life to a time and place with vibrant characters.

In 1974, Alaska drew pioneers seeking to live "off the grid," and when Ernt Allbright inherits a place in remote Kaneq, it seems like the solution to the Allbrights' rootlessness. Cora shares this dream, loyal to Ernt even through violence, abuse and poverty. Leni, too young to resist, relies on her books, photography and love for her parents--the mother she hopes to protect and the dad she remembers from before the war. Alaska's grandeur leaps from the pages--snowy peaks, Northern lights, lush spring--as does its brutality: 18-hour winter nights, isolation, foraging bears, fearsome cold. Ernt's demons revive here, trapping Leni and Cora. The colorful residents of the tiny town of Kaneq bring both friendship and danger, but it's Matthew Walker, the only local her age, who changes Leni's life. Her resilience sustains her through horrific challenges, and by the novel's satisfying conclusion, Leni Allbright is no longer among the "great alone." --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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