The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah is a gripping story about survival and human resilience. The following book club questions will have spoilers so if you haven’t read the novel yet, check out my preview and review first.
The story is about a family that moves to Alaska in 1974. The father, Ernt Allbright, is a former POW that comes home from the Vietnam War a changed and volatile man. He makes the impulsive decision to move his family to Alaska where they will live off the grid in America’s last frontier. The mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for Ernt, even if it means following him into the unknown. Their thirteen-year-old daughter Leni is caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate and stormy relationship. But she hopes that the new land will lead to a better future for her family.
At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture.
Let’s get into the book club questions.
- The book starts off with Ernt inheriting a cabin in Alaska. He believes this is the new beginning the family needs. Leni says she’ll go along with the idea that Alaska will provide the “answer” because “that was what love was.” What do you think she meant by that?
- What did you think about the initial descriptions of Alaska when the family arrives? What stuck out to you the most?
- Why do you think the author decided to set this book in the mid-1970s? How did that provide a different type of story with regards to lack of technology and resources? In what ways did the chaotic and uncertainty of the world in that era reflect some similar issues now?
- While daunting at first, Alaska provides a good, new step once the family settles. However, when winter arrives, Ernt’s moods darken. What do you think it was about the winter that seemed to set him off? Was it simply inevitable wherever he lived?
- Let’s talk about why Matthew and Leni are so drawn to each other from day one.
- We see from Leni’s perspective that Cora can be a bit of a flirt. Why do you think that was? What was she trying to get Ernt to prove to her?
- While everyone warned Leni how dangerous Alaska was, it turned out the biggest danger was in her own home. Ernt is abusive to Cora but he always swears that he’ll never happen again and he’ll quit drinking, which he never does. Ernt clearly has PTSD but is there something else at play there?
- Why couldn’t Cora leave Ernt? Time after time, she goes back him. Was it simply because of love? Manipulation? Lack of confidence? Or something else?
- How would have life been different if either Cora and/or Leni would have left the cabin for good?
- Why do you think Ernt hated the Walkers so much? What did their family represent to him?
- This novel shows a place on the brink of change. Tom Walker believes that progress and more development is key, whereas people like Ernt doesn’t want anything to change. Why do you think people are so resistant to change? Do you believe this also applies to certain communities today?
- Cora tells Leni to stay away from Matthew until they both start college in the fall. But they can’t. How did this set up the tragedy that would unfold?
- When Ernt tried to beat Leni when she said she was pregnant, something in Cora finally snapped and she then shot and killed Ernt. Why do you think it took that moment for her to do something?
- Cora tells Leni to get away so that she won’t be arrested with Cora. But Leni refuses to leave her side. What do you think about her decision? How did that have lasting impact?
- Do you believe that Cora made the right choice in writing the letter that she shot Ernt? And on the same note, do you believe Leni made the right choice in going back to Alaska? Why do you think Leni couldn’t stay away from Alaska?
- What did you think about her reunion with Matthew?
- Why did Leni make a visit back to her family’s cabin?
- Have you ever been to Alaska? If not, do you have any desire to go?
- What does the title The Great Alone mean with regards to the context of this story?