The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

“‘Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.'”

Tragic, bleak, beautiful, painful, powerful, hopeful – all are words that could describe The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. My body would tense has suspense built. My heart would break for their characters and their struggles. Old personal emotions gripped me as Kristin Hannah’s prose brought them to the forefront of my memory.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that this was my first Kristin Hannah book. I’ve heard such wonderful things, and now I’m annoyed with myself for holding off until now.

Lenora (Leni) Allbright and her parents, Cora and Ernt, move to Alaska in 1974 in search of a fresh start. Ernt drives the decision to move. As a Vietnam veteran and POW, he has returned with nightmares and a host of problems that make him unable to hold a job.

The Allbrights arrive in Kaneq, a small town in the Alaskan bush, woefully unprepared for what they’ve gotten themselves into. Winter is coming, and the locals warn of the host of dangers they will face. However, the longer they stay in Alaska, Leni finds that she and her mother have more reason to fear the dangers inside their own home than those of the Alaskan wilderness.

The Great Alone is a family saga, a tragedy, a love story and a coming-of-age tale all in one, and it is exquisite. The descriptions of Alaska alone were beautiful. The landscape is as much as character in the book as any of the people. I honestly want to visit Alaska now – there’s something so intriguing about places that are so pure and alluring but also harsh and uninviting.

I’m sure this will be one of my favorite books of 2018, and it is worth all of the hype that has surrounded it since its release. Kristin Hannah has penned a magnificent story I see myself revisiting time and again.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

“Thoughts have wings.”  – The Immortalists

In recent months, I’ve been thinking about the power of thoughts. My boyfriend says I tend to focus on the negative, that I latch on to a negative train of thought and run with it, letting it impact my day, my week, my month. To a certain extent, I’d say he’s right, and I’m working on it. However, it can be so. damn. hard.

Have you ever had a nagging thought, big or small, that just eats away at you? It consumes every inch of you, gnawing at your brain matter, distorting your reality and steadily pushing you to either a breakdown or an epiphany?

The Gold siblings know what I’m talking about. When they’re kids, the four of them – Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon – visit a psychic together, and she tells each of them the exact day they’re going to die. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin then tracks the siblings, showing the impact this knowledge has on their choices and their lives.

“Sitting in the rishika’s apartment, Varya was sure she was a fraud, but when she went home the prophecy worked inside her like a virus. She saw it do the same thing to her siblings…”  – pg. 292

I was excited and impatient to read The Immortalists due to the persistent buzz about it on Bookstagram and in the mainstream media. The story hooked me right from the beginning, but I grew unsure of the book the farther I got into it. It was probably naive of me, but I wasn’t expecting to story to be quite so tragic and sad. However, that’s more my fault than anything else.

The writing is beautiful throughout, and Benjamin does a good job of subtly making her point without beating the reader over the head. People will have their own opinions on the siblings, the idea of knowing your death date and how the prophecy works inside each character. Benjamin gives readers a lot of fodder for continued thought, which I can personally vouch for as the book has stuck with me days after reading the final page.

For me, the thing that impressed me the most about the book is that did something that rarely happens: It changed my mind about something. I have always been of the mind that more knowledge is always better, and if you asked me before reading The Immortalists if I would like to know what day I’m going to die, I would have said yes without hesitation.

However, I now find myself feeling quite the opposite. The Gold siblings show so vividly how a thought can eat away at you, how it can invade your entire life. I know that I personally would not do well with that, and I would find myself consumed by the knowledge.

Possibly more important than the debate of “Would I or would I not want to know?” is the commentary on the very nature of how we live our lives. Do we play it safe in the pursuit of a long life, or do we throw caution to the wind, living life wholly and fiercely knowing that we could meet an abrupt end? Those two options aren’t mutually exclusive, and I believe that a healthy balance between both can lead to a full and happy life.

I have found myself, though, living very safely in the former lately. That could be due to a multitude of reasons, not the least of which would be the untimely passing of my dad in 2015. Benjamin’s novel helped me face some of my unresolved feelings on his passing, as well as death in general. The book gave me a new perspective, a new lens from which to view my own life. And I find that only the best books can do that.

Have you read The Immortlists yet? Let’s discuss in the comments!