A special thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Kristin Hannah's newest book takes place in Alaska in the 70s and 80s. The land is wild, unpredictable, and harsh. The Allbrights think Alaska will be their salvation, but for a family in turmoil, it will become the ultimate test of survival.
Ernt Allbright has returned from the Vietnam war a broken and volatile man. After losing another job, he makes a rash decision to move his little family north, to Alaska, where he has been left property by a fallen soldier. Here they can make a fresh start, live off the land and by their own rules.
Leni is thirteen and is the voice of reason in her parents' passionate and tempestuous marriage. She hopes that the new opportunity will lead to a better life for her family. Her mother Cora would follow Ernt anywhere, even at the cost of a relationship with her parents.
They seem to be adjusting well to life on the great frontier. They have forged relationships with some men and women in the community that show them the ropes and how to survive. Winter is coming and they need to learn how to prepare and survive the wrath of Mother Nature. When winter arrives with dark days, Ernt's mental state suffers and he turns just as dark. Life outside is nothing compared to life inside their small cabin. The women are isolated—they are on their own with no one to save them so they must save themselves.
Hannah explores the resilience of the human spirit juxtaposed against the beauty of Alaska. This is a story of love, loss, survival, and man against nature and himself. I was completely caught up in the the story, it was absolutely riveting. Hannah's writing is such a gift. Her descriptions of Alaska were sweeping and vivid. Alaska becomes a character and at times is the hero and other times is the villain.
The theme of survival dominates the story—the family are surviving the harsh winter and the women are surviving the harsh realities of living with a POW with post-tramatic stress. Cora and Leni must carefully navigate Ernst's outbursts that lead to his explosive rage and violent outbursts. Hannah does an incredible job in her execution—you hate Ernst for his abuse and yet you feel sorry for him because he is living with an undiagnosed mental illness. The reader also flip flops with their loyalty to Cora—there is a level of frustration for staying with Ernst and exposing Leni to his violence, but on the other hand you pity her because she is a victim of domestic abuse.
Hannah pens some dynamic supporting characters. I just wish she would've come up with something more original than 'Large Marge'. She creates a whole town of interesting personalities that are integral to the plot. This is no small feat.
The difference between 4 and 5 stars is because of the last part of the book. There was a disconnect and I wasn't as invested in their journey by that point. Without spoiling the ending, it didn't work for me. I wonder if her editor made her rewrite it? That being said, Hannah fans are going to love this book.