(Review) The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Publisher and Publication Date: St. Martin’s Press. 2018. Paperback edition 2019.
Genre: Historical fiction. Women and literature.
Pages: 576.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: This book covers a large audience of possible readers. For example: women and literature, domestic violence, family saga, and coming of age story.
Rating: Very good.

Amazon link

Kristin Hannah’s Goodreads page

This is the third book I’ve read by Kristin Hannah. The other two books are The Nightingale and The Winter Garden.

“Some fears you carried alone.” Page 138.

Summary:
In the summary of the book you’ll read at Goodreads or Amazon it mentions the father, Ernt Allbright, is a Vietnam War veteran. It fails to mention he had been a POW for several years. This is a significant point. In the 1960s and 1970s, there wasn’t a mental health care system for veterans (not really.) The knowledge of how to help veterans, support groups, counseling, books, and medications came later. Ernt had a serious mental health disorder, it was not going to clear up like getting over the flu. He was not a person who could be reasoned with or led to rational thinking. His brain was…..what is the right word? His brain was still in that state of survival mode and anticipating threats. His wife looked to him to make rational, logical decisions, but he was not capable. He desperately needed help. Further, his wife Cora kept reflecting back on who Ernt was before the war. Ernt is not that person anymore. Yet, Cora clings to the thought of who he used to be and the hope of who he can be again. This is tragic and heartbreaking.
I feel that I can speak freely about this, because my son has PTSD from combat in Iraq. He is not able to work. He cannot make certain decisions. Most days he cannot sleep. Most days he cannot handle being around people other than his family and close friends. He takes medicine. He sees a doctor. But the David that was is gone. I’m thankful he is home and able to be with family. However, David has a hard time with life post war.
Sharing about my family is not meant to be a political statement. It is meant to share a glimpse of my family’s experience with PTSD and the after-effects of war.
Back to The Great Alone.
The only child of this sad couple is Leni. When the story begins it is 1974, and Leni is thirteen. Later the story jumps to 1978, and then the mid 1980s.
After Ernt lost his job in Washington state, the family moves to Alaska. They live in a small community of independent, resilient, hard working people.
The Allbright family learns to prep during the summer months for the lengthy grueling winters. The community helps them. They literally take the family under their wing.
Leni doesn’t fully understand the complexities of her family until later.
Leni wants a connection to someone her age.
Meanwhile, Ernt’s mental health condition deteriorates.

My Thoughts:
The Great Alone is an epic story.
It’s a story to get lost amongst the series of sad events that swirl and pile up like a huge snow drift.
From the beginning, I felt the story wasn’t going to end well. But, I wanted to know what would happen to Cora and Leni.
It’s a story with several themes and ideas running through it. All of them are heavy. Too heavy, because it left me drained.
Some of the themes are sacrifice, love, loss, vengeance, loyalty, intimacy, transformation, discouragement, disappointment, regret, loneliness, and isolation.
Some of the major ideas in the story: coming of age, war veteran, mental health disorder, living in the Alaskan wilderness, young love, codependency, domestic violence, and addiction.
Just when I thought the story was going to wrap up with the characters another chapter began in their lives.
Cora and Leni are extremely close. Their relationship alone was an idea that could’ve carried the story.
Overall I’m glad I read The Great Alone. However, it is a heavy story to digest considering the ongoing events of 2020.

(Review) Playground Zero by Sarah Relyea

Publisher and Publication Date: She Writes Press. June 9, 2020.
Genre: Fiction. Historical Fiction.
Pages: 416.
Source: I received a complementary ARC paperback copy from Stephanie Barko, Literary Publicist, I was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers who are interested in the late 1960s Berkeley, California. Readers of coming of age stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link
Barnes and Noble link
IndieBound link

Link at She Writes Press for more information about the book.

Link for the book excerpt: Playground Zero.

The manuscript was semi-finalist for the Black Lawrence Press 2018 Big Moose Prize

Author Bio:
Sarah Relyea is the author of Playground Zero, a coming-of-age story set in Berkeley in the late 1960s. Sarah left the Berkeley counterculture at age thirteen and processed its effects as a teenager in suburban Los Angeles. She would soon swap California’s psychedelic scene to study English literature at Harvard.

Sarah has long addressed questions of identity in her writing, including in her book of literary criticism, Outsider Citizens: The Remaking of Postwar Identity in Wright, Beauvoir, and Baldwin.

With her PhD in English and American literature from The Graduate Center, CUNY, Sarah has taught American literature and writing at universities in New York and Taiwan. She remains bicoastal, living in Brooklyn and spending time on the Left Coast.

Website for Sarah Relyea
Facebook
Linkedin
Goodreads author page

Summary:
1968. It’s the season of siren songs and loosened bonds—as well as war, campaign slogans, and assassination. When the Raysons’ family leaves the East Coast for the gathering anarchy of Berkeley, twelve-year-old Alice embraces the moment in a hippie paradise that’s fast becoming a cultural ground zero. As her family and school fade away in a tear gas fog, the 1960s counterculture brings ambiguous freedom. Guided only by a child’s-eye view in a tumultuous era, Alice could become another casualty—or she could come through to her new family, her developing life. But first, she must find her way in a world where the street signs hang backward and there’s a bootleg candy called Orange Sunshine.

My Thoughts:
My memories of the 1960s is helped in great part, because my four older siblings were teenagers during this era. I am 10-15 years younger than them.
I have especially strong memories of the music. Each sibling had their own music they cherished. For example, my eldest sister JoAnn loved the music from the early 1960s. She never liked the hard rock sound that the other’s loved. Frances loved the Beatles. James loved Led Zeppelin and The Doors. Bobby loved Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.
Only my sister Frances during her college years (1970-1973) took part in demonstrations in regard to the Vietnam war and women’s rights.
One last memory I’ll share. When my sister Frances came home to visit from college, she and dad had heated discussions about their different perspectives on current events. I’m a little girl at this time, but I remember being entertained and a bit impressed with how Frances held her own against dad.

Now, Playground Zero.
This is a book that gives much to review about, because it has strong conflicts and themes. Plus, the story creates conversation and opinion.

*What I like about the story is the third-person point of view. The story is told from the third person narrative (he, she, they.) The focus is on the different members of the Raysons’ family. The parents are Tom and Marian. Their children are Curt and Alice. Other characters are included, but this story is about the Raysons. Reading a third-person narrative, I was able to take a seat and watch the story unfold. In this way of telling the story, Playground Zero doesn’t tell or teach me to have an opinion other than the one in my mind. I can read the story and let it unfold, then create my own feeling and judgment.

*I like reading a story that’s out of my normal type read. This broadens my mind at the least. Whether I will end up enjoying the book is another thing.

*The Raysons’ family is an example of parents and children who are not connecting. Each person is focused on something other than each other. Each of them want to connect with something or someone whether it’s another person or an event that will fill what’s absent from their lives. In other words, each of the family members are searching for something that will bring meaning, stability, and intimacy. At times, the kids are looking to a parent for direction and guidance. They are looking for a stable and secure home, because the outside world is a scary place. Instead, the kids get zero help in the home. Is it possible that’s why the title is Playground Zero?
Connection and intimacy are themes and conflicts running through the story.

*When Alice and Curt start school in Berkeley, California, school integration has begun. This is new for them. It’s not new to have relationships with people of the African American race. It is new for African American and white children to be in the classroom together. Alice wants to be a friend no matter the person’s race. However, her good intentions are not matched with other students who are comfortable and accepting. This is an additional conflict in her life. She has a hard time finding a connection whether it’s at home, in school, or in the neighborhood.
Curt is a physical person. He’s athletic. It helps that boys regardless of race play sports together.

*The way the two races of kids treat one another was interesting. I saw a curiosity, but an unwillingness and inability to know how to integrate with one another. This is another conflict in the story.

*One of the things I had trouble with in the book is Alice is ten (and she’s twelve at the end) when the story begins. The story follows the family for a year. Her person seems older-a teenager and not a kid of ten. I had a difficult time believing that Alice is ten. If she’d been thirteen when the story began, then I’d state this story had a believable quality.

*I enjoyed the east coast versus west coast differences. The family began in Washington D.C. and relocated across the country to Berkeley, California.

*I laughed at the adults in the story who complain about people who judge others when they too judge.

*Tom and Marian have strong ideas of what they want their kids to experience. However, being strong stable parents is not one of those ideas.

*I experienced through Alice’s eyes the demonstrations, riots, and the chaos that transpired.

*The story doesn’t focus much on Curt. I wanted to hear more about his life.

*Lastly, there is a closure for the family. A big change comes and the kids are thrust to a new place. Alice has experienced big changes in the year at Berkeley, California. Her person grew in age one year, but in experience probably 30 years. Of course, I’d like to know the rest of her story!

*Final thoughts:
This is not a story that is a feel good story. It is a book that is revealing about people and moments in history. There were times when I was infuriated at the parents. I felt deep sadness for Alice. It is a book I’ll not forget. This is the last point and the main point that led me to give this book an excellent rating: it is memorable!

(Review) Winter Loon by Susan Bernhard

 

39344131Publisher and Publication Date: Little A. December 1, 2018.
Genre: Fiction. Coming of age story.
Pages: 333.
Source: Kindle Unlimited program through Amazon. Free e-book/ Kindle copy.
Rating: Very good.
Audience: Readers of coming of age stories where the narrator/character is a boy to young man.

This ebook is available for free through the Kindle Unlimited program.

Summary:
Wes Ballot is in his mid-teens when his mother died. His father left soon afterwards. Wes went to live with maternal grandparents who are like strangers to him. Wes is an only child. His mother was an only child. He has lived a chaotic and poverty stricken childhood. His parents fought. His grandparents fight. And, he is a young man who has been deeply affected by the heavy weight of anger, unforgiveness, abuse, addictions, and unspoken words in the family.
The time period is the late 1970s. The place is rural Minnesota.

My Thoughts:
If the above summary depresses you the book certainly will. Of course, I feel the book is well-written; and the book shows a hard side of life that many readers can relate to.
Several reasons why I loved this book:
•Susan Bernhard writes a perfect voice and persona of a young man. I feel that writing a story about a young man is difficult from the perspective of a female writer. But, Bernhard hits it great with Wes in Winter Loon.
•Bernhard is a wonderful storyteller. The mood and setting of winter, a winter lake, and the northern state of Minnesota. The icy cold of the environment casts a perfect stage for the icy cold of the family.
•Wes is an only child. He is alone in his thoughts. He is alone in his fears. He is alone in his home. Even though he had a mother and father, they are distracted and lost in a dysfunctional world of alcohol.
•I’ve read that in living through the hard times in life we either become bitter or better. Wes’s parents and grandparents became bitter. The story will reveal what Wes becomes.
•From the first page, I became attached to Wes. I wanted to bring him home and feed the young man. I wanted to make sure he had a safe place to grow-up.
•I’m happy to state several of the characters who are (solid and dependable) friends of Wes are Native Americans. Through their stories, I understand the plight and life of Native Americans.
•A few of the quotes stayed with me long after the book was read.
“So much went unsaid between them, like words didn’t matter when their contempt for each other was clear.”
“I would come to know the cold of my grandparents house and felt it that first day.”