Step into the rugged wilderness of 1974 Alaska, where the unpredictable forces of nature mirror the untamed turmoil within a troubled family.
Kristin Hannah’s “The Great Alone,” beckons readers to witness a true test of survival. Within its pages, we meet the Allbrights—a family in crisis seeking solace in America’s last frontier.
As they navigate treacherous landscapes and the stormy depths of their own hearts, thirteen-year-old Leni finds hope in this uncharted territory, notwithstanding the fact that beneath Alaska’s beauty hides a brutal reality, forcing the family to confront their darkest secrets.
In this discussion guide, we’ll have a look at some amazing book club questions for The Great Alone and why it’s a must-read for anyone looking to understand more about the unforgiving resilience of the human spirit, set against the backdrop of a vanishing world.
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The Great Alone Book Club Questions
- Leni grows up witnessing her father’s violent episodes and lives in constant fear for her and her mother’s safety. Cora, deeply in love with Ernt, initially tolerates the abuse, hoping for change and making excuses for his behavior. However, as the story progresses, both Leni and Cora find the strength to confront the abuse.
Discuss how domestic violence and the repercussions of tolerating it have been portrayed in the novel.
- Matthew, Leni’s childhood friend, becomes her romantic partner, offering her love and stability amidst the chaos of her family life. Their connection helps Leni discover her own strength and motivates her to stand up against her abusive father. Tom and Large Marge, the caring neighbors, act as surrogate parents for Leni, offering her a safe haven and the required counseling.
What’s your take on this unwavering support and protection provided to Leni and how it contributed to her growth and resilience, giving her the courage to pursue her dreams and break free from the cycle of abuse?
- A major part of the novel has to do with symptoms of PTSD. Ernt’s PTSD strains his relationships with his family, particularly his wife Cora, as his mood swings and violence create an atmosphere of fear and instability within the household. His inability to hold down a job due to his emotional struggles adds financial strain and exacerbates his frustrations. Furthermore, Ernt’s PTSD isolates him from the community, making it difficult for him to integrate and causing conflicts with other residents.
Do you think Kristin Hannah portrayed the aftermaths of war and PTSD in the right manner, or in reality, it is far more worse?
- Alaska, as a place of settlement, ends up being a huge challenge for the Allbright family. The harsh and unforgiving wilderness, combined with the weather conditions, isolation, and limited resources, create a challenging environment for survival, intensifying the already worse situation. Simultaneously, the vast, untamed landscape serves as a metaphor for the character’s internal conflicts and personal growth, as Alaska’s beauty and isolation provide moments of solace and self-discovery for Leni amidst the chaos.
Discuss the sharp contrast between the two situations based on the above context.
- Initially, Mathew and Leni’s shared love for books and appreciation for Alaska form a strong bond between them. Matthew becomes a trusted friend and confidant for Leni, offering her solace and understanding amidst her isolation. When Leni’s relationship with her father becomes increasingly dangerous, Matthew intervenes to protect her and her mother, demonstrating an unwavering loyalty and love, willing to abandon his own ambitions to be with Leni and support her.
Don’t you think we all need a Mathew in our lives? Also, how sad were you after hearing about Mathew’s accident?
- Leni lives in constant fear of her father’s instability and violent actions towards her mother. This fear leads to a sense of shame and isolation, as Leni feels unable to speak about the worsening conditions at home. Her fear for her mother’s safety also prevents her from pushing Cora to leave Ernt, out of loyalty and a fear of betraying her father. It is only when Leni’s own life is at stake that she begins to overcome her fear, defying her father openly and taking steps to protect herself and her child.
What’s your take on the way fear acted as a catalyst for Leni’s growth as she finds the strength to break free from the cycle of violence and transform herself?
- Leni becomes her mother’s protector, intervening to mitigate Ernt’s anger and violence. However, as Leni grows older and desires her own freedom, she begins to resent her mother’s dependence on Ernt. Despite this resentment, Leni’s bond with her mother remains strong, as she continuously pushes her to leave Ernt for her own safety.
Discuss how Leni’s willingness to hide her father’s body and providing support during Cora’s illness demonstrates the depth of their connection.
- Ernt’s darkness is intensified by the isolation and harsh conditions of Alaska. He clings to destructive patterns of thinking, becoming increasingly self-centered and detached from those around him. The environment exposes his detrimental behavior and its consequences for his family and relationships.
Do you think a person should not move to an isolated place, especially after trauma, as in the case of Ernt? Also, discuss the side-effects of isolation and solitude as portrayed in the novel.
- Leni demonstrates her resilience and dedication through various actions in the story. She initially arrives in Alaska with a willingness to help her family and adapts to the demands of living in the wilderness. Leni not only survives but also becomes an active member of the Kaneq community, working at Large Marge’s store and even serving as a substitute teacher. When her mother is in a car accident, Leni takes immediate action to seek help and save her life. Additionally, she cares for Matthew after his accident, utilizing her survival skills to support him.
Don’t you think in spite of being so young, Leni’s unwavering tenacity and selflessness made her unable to part ways with Alaska and the community she has grown to love?
- When Matthew leaves for Fairbanks after his mother’s death, he and Leni stay connected via the means of letters. Leni’s letters become a source of comfort and strength for Matthew during his grieving process. Even though Leni knows he can’t read them at the time, writing the letters is cathartic for her as it allows her to express her thoughts and emotions, offering a sense of release. Later, when they reunite as adults, he reveals that he used her letters to learn how to read again, indicating the profound impact those writings had on him.
Discuss how letters not only foster a connection between Leni and Matthew but also serve as a source of support and healing during difficult times.
If you liked this set of questions here are a few other options you can consider.
The Four Winds: Step into the haunting era of the Dust Bowl, where a tenacious woman named Elsa faces an impossible choice: fight for her cherished land or venture west in pursuit of a brighter future. A gripping tale of love, courage, and the accomplishment of the Great American Dream.
Rules of Civility: Experience the transformative journey of Katey Kontent, a young woman whose life is on the brink of change. Set in 1937, New York, a chance encounter catapults her into the glamorous world of the elite. With wit and nerve, she navigates society’s rules in this captivating and critically acclaimed novel, Rules of Civility.
Of Mice and Men: Meet George and Lennie, an unlikely duo bound by friendship and a shared dream of owning a piece of land during the times of oppression. In Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men,’ their tale captures the universal struggle against loneliness and adversity, making it a timeless classic embraced by literature, stage, and screen.
1984: In George Orwell’s timely masterpiece, “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Winston Smith’s life is transformed when he encounters Julia, a mysterious woman, and O’Brien, who promises an escape from darkness. Betrayal and suspense unfold, revealing a gripping tale of love, loyalty, and the power of the state.
American Dirt: In Jeanine Cummins’s gripping bestseller, American Dirt, Lydia and her son, Luca, embark on a harrowing migrant journey from Mexico to the United States, escaping the clutches of drug cartels. What awaits them on the other side is something far more unimaginable.