Author Kristin Hannah has a knack for creating vast sweeping sagas spanning multiple generations in a family’s story. In The Great Alone, Hannah crafts the story of teenager Leni Allbright who is growing up the the Pacific Northwest in the early 1970s. Leni’s father, Ernt, has just returned from the Vietnam War and is struggling with his life back in the United States. Her mother, Cora, attempts to cope as best as humanly possible, but struggles with trying to navigate a new life with her husband and growing daughter. Soon after Ernt returns from the war, he is informed that one of his soldier friends, who was killed in Vietnam, has left him a large swath of land in Alaska. Without much forethought, Ernt announces to his wife and daughter that they are packing their van and heading from Washington state to Alaska.
After arriving in Alaska, the trio quickly realize that living in the wild will not be as easy as they initially thought and they are woefully unprepared. They befriend a group of folks, some Alaska natives and some with the same dreams as they did upon their arrival, to live on their own terms. It soon becomes clear that the scars of war are still affecting Ernt and his mental health continues to deteriorate as the dark and cold winter approaches. Before too long Leni and Cora become isolated, both mentally and physically, by Ernt. When a small dispute arises with the neighbors and escalates, Leni has to choose sides, with possibly treacherous results.
Although the story is set in the 1970s, many of the issues facing the Allbright family align with events that are current in today’s world. The Great Alone isn’t always an easy read and the characters face choices that are part necessary and part catastrophic. In the end, a novel that is well worth the investment.
What would you do if one day you woke up and realized that the life you were living was not the life that you wanted for yourself? Walking into work and having that one bad day, that one interaction, that pushes you over the edge? How would you handle it? Would you try to work through it? Talk to your significant other? Would you take a much needed vacation? Quit your job? Start all over in another city with another job and another family? All of these are questions that Barbara Delinsky tackles in her novel, Escape.
Escape tells the story of Manhattan lawyer Emily Aulenbach. She is 32 years old and has been married to another lawyer, James, for the last seven years. Emily has become increasingly frustrated with her life, both professionally and personally. In law school, she dreamed of representing victims of corporate abuse and campaigning for the little guy. Always the idealist, she hoped to brighten the world. Now she sits in a cubicle alongside hundreds of other lawyers in their tiny cubicles, a headset plastered to her ear, talking to victims of tainted bottled water. You’d think that this would partly be Emily’s dream, except for the major fact that she is on the bottler’s side, NOT the victims.
After a particularly devastating interaction with a victim, Emily has had enough. She packs up, leaves town, and just drives. Looking for a purpose in her life and an escape, she meanders aimlessly and eventually ends up in the place that gave her great joy ten years ago. This small New Hampshire town is rife with good and bad memories. Emily has to find a way to deal with both, interact with the people from her past, and convince her husband and family that she’s okay and not crazy. By putting her happiness first, Emily’s selfishness reverberates throughout all the lives of the people that she knows. She must work to find her center and to decide what she actually wants. Add in an animal refuge, a former lover, and someone in desperate need of legal advice and Emily’s escape brings up some dilemmas that she cannot run away from.
This book did not go the direction that I thought that it would, for which I am very grateful. I have read too many novels where the main character decides that she needs a complete do-over and throws her entire life into shambles trying to find herself. Delinsky goes another route of self-discovery that still hits all of the necessary emotional highs and lows, but thankfully misses all of the predictable actions. This was my first Delinsky read and I am quite ready to pick up another! There was nothing that didn’t delight me within this novel.
This book is also available in the following formats:
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center is a book about starting over. Helen Carpenter is thirty-two years old and has been divorced for a year. She is just fine with how her life is going, thank you very much, but if she actually thinks about it, she really needs to take a break to try and put herself together again. Her much younger brother, younger by ten years, mentions off-hand about a wilderness survival course. Thinking that this is exactly what she needs, Helen decides to sign up and give it a try. Right when she’s getting ready to leave, her brother’s best friend, Jake, tells her that he is also coming on the trip and just so happens to need a ride. Great. This life-changing journey has turned into a cross-country trip with her younger brother’s annoying best friend. Not what she wanted at all.
The wilderness survival course that Helen has signed up for is three weeks long and puts her and a group of people smack dab in the remotest part of a mountain range in Wyoming. Her fellow survivalists are nothing like what she was expecting. Instead of the hippie folks and rugged back-packers she was envisioning, Helen finds herself at orientation with a group of college students all significantly younger than her and who are basically doing this course as a way to get college credit. The person in charge doesn’t even look like he’s out of high school, for goodness sake! Helen is clearly out of her element. This point is further emphasized when the instructor lays out a series of very strict rules. Helen is in way over her head.
In order to begin this course with a clean slate, she tells Jake to pretend like he doesn’t even know her. She wants to begin anew. This sort of backfires on her when Helen realizes that Jake has become the popular guy and also that no one else in her group really likes her that much. Such begins Helen’s road to rediscovery, a wilderness survival course that is nothing like she thought it would be with people she wasn’t expecting. With sore, blistery feet, a medical emergency, a summer blizzard, and love blooming on rocky trails, Happiness for Beginners is a breath of fresh air as Helen works to remake herself into the new person she wants to become.
This book is also available as an Overdrive eAudiobook, which is how I listened to this book.
The popularity of Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games, got me thinking about apocalyptic books I’ve read. Alas, Babylonby Pat Frank was on school reading lists- years ago. Originally published in 1959, the novel is about the survival of a community in Florida after the United States has been hit by nuclear missiles.
What is satisfying about this books is how the extended family of Randy Bragg gets back to nature in order to survive – using local plants, fruits and trees to eat and to re-build. And eventually they thrive and learn to appreciate their new-found lifestyle.
The story has alot in common with that of Swiss Family Robinson. Like the Pat Frank book, the characters respond to adversity with ingenuity. Both books take place in tropical settings, which give the families a definite advantage. They don’t have to cope with cold weather and are surrounded by abundant sources of food and fuel.
Shipwrecks, nuclear war and other disasters have always been catalysts to the imaginations of novelists. How do you think you would fare in those circumstances?