Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 344
Kristin Hannah's novel The Great Alone is a story about a young girl named Leni and her family, especially her father, Ernt, who is a Vietnam War veteran. Leni is a thirteen year old girl in 1974 when the story begins.
Ernt decides to move his family from Seattle, Washington, to his newly-owned property in Alaska. When Leni begins school, she meets a boy named Matthew Walker. Her friendship with Matthew is tested, but not ruined, when her family goes to the Walker house for a barbeque. At this barbeque, Ernt gets drunk while Cora flirts with Tom Walker, Matthew's father.
Ernt continues to cope by drinking and becoming angry. He also teaches members of their community about weapons training and how to protect themselves. Ernt's anger grows, and he hits Cora's head on a wall one night after the funeral of Matthew's mother. He continues to beat Cora, and Leni convinces her mother to leave. When they finally do, Cora and Leni get in an accident, and Cora breaks her arm.
Tom Walker, Large Marge the local merchant, Cora, and Leni encourage Ernt to take a job working on a pipeline in order to get him away from their home during the winter months.
As time passes, Leni and Matthew's friendship grows more romantic, and they kiss at a picnic. Matthew asks Leni to go to college with him. One night when Matthew and Leni are camping, a storm hits and Matthew is injured trying to help her. He suffers from brain damage. Leni learns she is pregnant and tries to keep this a secret from her father.
Cora tells Ernt about the pregnancy, and he is angered. To protect Leni, Cora shoots Ernt, and they hide his body by putting it in a frozen lake. Cora's parents try to get false papers in order to hide Cora and Leni from the police.
Leni gives birth to a boy named Matthew Junior, or MJ. After some time, Leni graduates from the University of Washington. Leni and MJ return to Alaska to find many changes.
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