Katherine Center talks Emotional Courage in THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah

Guest Article by: 
Katherine Center

If we ran into each other in the grocery store one day, and we got to talking about books, and if I said I was reading Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, and if you asked me if I liked it, I would say, without even pausing: “I love it.”

And if you asked me why I love it, I would tell you that it’s a total page-turner. It pulls you in, and buckles your seatbelt, and takes you on a ride that you cannot stop.

And you don’t want to stop.


It’s not an easy read. The characters in the story face all kinds of hardship, fear, disappointment, danger—and agonies of every kind. Especially the main character, Leni.

But the reading itself is easy. Kristin Hannah’s language, her structure, her characters, her imagery—in short, her writing—it all hooks you, and pulls you in, and gets you so lost in the story, you almost forget you’re reading at all.

That’s a gift to readers, right there.

But what stays with you is bigger than that.

Kristin Hannah writes about women’s lives—from ordinary women, to extraordinary ones, to everyone in-between. She gives voice to women’s stories. She values women’s experiences. 

Something the world we live in does not always remember to do. And something that’s good for all of us—men and women—to practice.


This novel is a complex and nuanced story about many aspects of human life. But more than anything, for me, it’s a love song to a particular kind of female courage: the courage to love the people we love, and to keep loving them, despite all of life’s inevitable suffering, sorrow, and grief.

When I call it “female courage,” of course, I don’t mean that men don’t or can’t practice it. I just mean that it’s a type of courage that women—in their roles as mothers, daughters, friends, and caretakers—are called to practice over and over, day in and day out. 

I just mean it’s one of our specialties. 

There’s physical courage—something we admire so much and so loudly—and then there’s another kind: Emotional courage.

Emotional courage is quiet. It’s internal. It’s not flashy. It’s not the kind of courage you win medals for.

It’s a type of courage that’s wildly undervalued—and hard to capture. 

We barely even notice it most of the time. 

It’s the particular kind of bravery it takes to love through suffering: to stay up all night with a sick baby, or to feed a dying parent, or to hold on tight to a friend who’s just been diagnosed with cancer. Emotional courage is the kind of courage it takes not just to be there—in suffering, in fear, in grief—but to stay there, hearts wide open with empathy, not leaving, not disengaging, but fully present with the people we love most in the world, the people we can’t imagine living without, through the darkest times of our lives and theirs . . . even through death.

It’s a different type of courage from landing on the beaches of Normandy.

But it’s courage, all the same.


Kristin Hannah sees this courage, and she values it, and she writes about it. She writes about women’s lives, and the extraordinary ways that we choose to let ourselves break for the people we love—and how we put ourselves back together. 

The Great Alone is gripping, page-turning, immersive read—but it’s more than that.

In the story, when Leni finds ways over and over to love the people she loves, even with all the suffering they create around her, she practices this courage. And when we read Leni’s story—and care about her, and empathize with her, and stay with her—we are practicing it, too. 

We bear witness to it all, and we stay. Kristin Hannah won’t let us give up.

She makes us value this courage in Leni, and in the world, and in ourselves.


Up until my son was about five, he got sick all the time. He was born a little early, and it took a while for his immune system to get up and running, and things always got so much worse before they got better. There were a few times when he got so sick, we thought he might not make it. And every time, over and over, through it all, I knew I’d never leave him. I knew I’d stay up all night forever, charting his fevers, and graphing his medications—holding him, soothing him, being there with him, no matter what happened or what came. I knew I would die myself before I’d let him suffer alone. 

We all know that courage—even if we don’t talk about it, or even have a name for it.

We know it when we feel it. We know it when we do it.

That’s what makes this novel so resonant. That’s why the story gives you a book hangover that lasts for days. That’s why Leni’s story, as dark as it is in so many ways, feels like joy, too. 

It’s joyful to be seen. It’s joyful to be valued. 

It’s joyful to see your own courage reflected back to you—courage you didn’t even know was there—and to realize that, whether you knew it or not, it’s been there all along.

Katherine Center will be in conversation with Kristin Hannah, on tour for the paperback release of THE GREAT ALONE on Wednesday Oct. 2 at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. 

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