This is my first Kristin Hannah book. She’s the writer of the super popular WW2 book, The Nightingale but I was so tired of the many WW2 books on the market, that I just decided to give that a pass. 13 year old Leni Allbright and her family move to Alaska and go off the grid as a possible cure for her father, Ernt’s illness. He just came back from Vietnam and is suffering from PTSD. He is extremely paranoid and volatile. At first, they do well in Alaska, they moved to Alaska during the summer so extremely longer days and shorter nights. Their neighbors are super welcoming and pitch in to prepare them for the winter coming. Winter shows up bringing with it a lot of darkness and snow, Ernt’s mental state starts deteriorating all over again and the family starts falling apart. Leni and her mother have to tiptoe around his violent rages and soon, they realize that they are alone in a city with 18 hours of night and nobody to hear them or save them from Ernt.
Hannah really takes her time laying the foundation to the Allbright family and showing us the tedious work it took to survive in Alaska in the ’70s. Spending every summer preparing for the winter – canning, smoking every animal and fish in sight, hunting- and then buckling down every winter just trying to get through the harsh temperatures and snow. I really appreciated this part of the book, the slow burn, getting to know your characters and their environment. I think this is where Hannah is a genius, she weaves these tales so well that you can actually see this place that you have never been to in your mind.
I enjoyed the first 70% of this book (this book is about 440 pages), I thought it was so well written and I was already itching to give out my second 5 stars this year on Goodreads to a literary fiction novel butI think this book fell apart in its last 100 pages. First of all, I did not like how the author described love. It was like some kind of compulsion that you can’t help or get away from. The love she described in the book was outright abusive and I couldn’t understand how she didn’t see it. Cora Allbright, Leni’s mother, stays with her abusive husband because she loves him so much and she constantly tells Leni that this is what love is and how she doesn’t think she can live without Ernt so she keeps her and her daughter in this violent home.
Leni falls in love with her next door neighbor, Matthew, and tells us how she finally understands what her mother has been describing all these years. When she uttered those words, my red flags went off so much and suddenly the love story between Leni and Matthew that Hannah is trying to sell me fell apart. If Hannah really wanted to sell us the love story between Leni and Matthew she should have set it up as the exact opposite of whatever Cora’s idea of love is not parallel to it.
I also just did not feel the chemistry between Matthew and Leni, I wasn’t rooting for them. I just wanted Leni to leave such a terrible home and go off to college and find herself. I was glad that she found a friend in Matthew who she could confide in and be herself with and I wish Hannah could have left it at that. Almost every woman in this book is weak and under some kind of patriarchy influence, except of course the stereotypical strong, black woman who is big and tall and is called Large Marge.
I was holding my breath the first 70% of the book waiting for Ernt’s paranoid doomsday prepping to come to a head but the ending left me very unsatisfied and it needed an editor to clean it up. Hannah goes from literary slow burn to soap opera real quick towards the end and I couldn’t catch my breath going from one extreme to the next.
I know this is definitely going to be an unpopular opinion, as this book has a lot of good reviews. And don’t get me wrong, save for the gripes mentioned above, I can see why it has the positive reviews it received. Kristin Hannah is a fantastic writer and knows how to weave a tale but this was not the book for me. I ended up giving this book 3 stars because of the issues I had with it. I will definitely check out some of her other popular works and give her another try.
Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it? Have you read any Kristin Hannah? Let us know in the comments!!