Queen Anne’s Lace by Dawn Gardner

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Gardner’s debut, coming-of-age novel is set in the 1970s and she shed light on some very tough issues which teenagers face, including physical and sexual abuse, homelessness, and alcoholism. Fourteen-year-old Lacy has been hurt by and seen her mother hurt by her father too many times. In a quick act of bravery, she packs a bag and makes a break for it, after finding a photo and note from a man named Tommy in her mother’s closet. Believing that Tommy could be her real father, Lacy decides to try to find him, hoping he will allow her to stay with him. She accepts a ride with a kind truck driver, Butch, and spends a few days with he and his wife Betty, allowing them to feed her and provide her with a safe, warm bed. But when she overhears them talking about calling social services, she knows he has to leave rather than risk being sent back home to her mother and “father,” Samuel. The only thing she left behind at home is a shell of the woman her mother once was, a violently abusive, hateful man, and plenty of alcohol being consumed by both of them. After leaving Butch and Betty, she lives on the streets for a while, a scary situation where she is almost raped after trusting a drug-addicted, homeless woman who offers her helpful information about where to sleep at night. From there, she ends up hiding in a church closet. She catches a lucky break when she crosses paths with Annie at an AA meeting, after she’s been sober for 11 years. Annie provides her with a job, a safe home, and loving care, things she’s never had before. With Annie’s help, Lacy is able to face the hard truth about her mother and real father. The story doesn’t end with a tied in a bow happy ending, which I really appreciate. Lacy’s life continues to have ups and downs and there are some horrible things that happen toward the end of the story. I won’t tell you what they are, because I don’t want to spoil it for you. However, I do recommend that you read this book. It is gritty and real and it will have readers rooting for Lacy to have a brighter future ahead of her. Not recommended for younger teens due to the maturity of the content. Thank you to the author for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

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Kristin Hannah has done it again! Her newest novel, The Great Alone, which releases in February 2018, is absolutely stunning.

The story begins in 1974 when Lenora Allbright (Leni) is 13 years old and once again the new kid at school, having changed schools multiple times mainly because of her father’s wrath and inability to keep a job. Leni’s father, Ernt, was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War, and since he has been back, his own family household has become the front line of battle with his white hot anger and temper. Leni’s mother, Cora, tries to tiptoe around Ernt in order to keep their glass house from shattering, but she rarely escapes the wrath of Ernt, which Leni witnesses it all the time. Just when Leni hopes they might finally settle down in one place so her father can be happy, Ernt loses yet another job, and the family is uprooted again. This time, however, her parents pack up the VW van and the family of three heads to a remote island in the Alaskan wilderness. One of Ernt’s war comrades who passed away in Vietnam, Bo Harlan, left Ernt his ramshackle homestead in Kaneq, on the Kenai Peninsula. Ernt feels this is a sign, and a big break for the family that they must not pass up. What they don’t realize then is that Alaska will change the course of Leni’s future forever. All of their futures, actually.

Other than a few neighbors down the road a ways, the Allbright’s rustic cabin is in an untamed area of Alaska, where the winters are unforgiving and severe and the wildlife extremely dangerous. Leni and her mother get to know some strong Alaskan women, learning all they can from them regarding planting, fishing, and preparing food and adequate shelter for winter. Large Marge, a former lawyer who runs the small general store in town, takes them under her wing and provides Leni a security she has never felt before. Ernt gets close to Bo’s father, Mad Earl Harlan and his clan, and together Ernt and Earl, both paranoid quick to rage, arrange all-out crazy plans for surviving when “TSHTF” with the government.

Meanwhile, Leni starts school with the very few other school-age inhabitants of Kaneq, including the only other student her age, Matthew Walker. Matthew’s family has been very successful in Alaska for many generations, starting with his grandparents who started the town of Kaneq. Matthew’s father, Tom, plans to use some of his wealth to modernize and improve Kaneq, opening up the island for tourism. This, and the fact that Tom seems to have a keen eye for his wife, Cora, only enrages Ernt Allbright more. Ernt directs his hatred and anger toward the Walkers and anything to do with their family, including Matthew, of course. Though her father forbids Leni from seeing Matthew, Leni grows closer and closer with him, finding in him a first best friend and first love all at the same time.

For Leni, the dangers outside of the cabin and in the wilderness are much less than those she faces in her own home. As the years pass and Leni grows up, she and her mother are both terrified to stay, and terrified to leave, knowing that Ernt will track them down no matter what. Now, at the age of 18 and graduating from high school, Leni dreams of going to college with Matthew and studying photography. However, her father forbids her from leaving Kaneq, in his mad fury to control each and every move she and her mother make. He even goes as far as to build a wall, locking the family on their property and locking everyone else out. A horrific tragedy strikes as Leni is finally able to make an escape, and what happens after will keep readers on the edge of their seats through a roller-coaster of fear, guilt, regret, love, and longing.

Hannah’s description of the land and stark beauty of Alaska are breathtaking. The author’s notes explain that Hannah’s own father ended up in Alaska in search of great adventure, and they have all “fallen in love with the Last Frontier.” Her experience with Alaska is evident in the atmospheric scenes throughout the novel. The writing is raw and real. Readers will feel the naked fear and loneliness of Leni and Cora as they struggle to survive in the great alone of Alaska, trapped in a family crisis with no easy way out. I couldn’t put this book down, much like my experience with all of Hannah’s novels. The fact that the setting for this novel was very personal for Hannah made it even more enjoyable for me as the reader. I would highly recommend The Great Alone to anyone who enjoys adventure, suspense, romance, and coming-of-age novels, because this one has it all.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the review copy of this title.