These Are the Best Kristin Hannah Books to Start With
Kristin Hannah is an American bestselling author who has written over 20 standalone novels. Furthermore, her writing spans multiple genres and includes works of historical fiction, coming-of-age stories, family sagas, and women’s domestic life fiction. Hannah has written multiple bestsellers and has won several awards for her novel, The Nightingale. In addition to this, Firefly Lane was adapted into a Netflix TV series, while The Nightingale, Home Front, and The Great Alone have all been optioned for films.
Surprisingly, Hannah hadn’t originally intended to become an author. Instead, she worked as a lawyer for several years after graduating from the University of Puget Sound law school. However, 30 years ago, she quit being a lawyer to pursue a full-time career in writing. The decision, though, was a bittersweet one that was initially born from heartbreak. During her last years in law school, Hannah’s mother had progressed to the last stages of breast cancer. It was during this time that Hannah and her mother composed a historical romance novel together, which has never been published. However, years later, Hannah would revisit that novel and make the decision to continue writing.
Today, a little bit of that heartbreak is entwined in each of Hannah’s novels, making them poignant and powerful. Hanna’s books broach a wide variety of subjects and have touched on cancer, grief, friendship, family bonds, betrayal, parenthood, war, and PTSD. Her crossing of genres and topics means there’s a Hannah book for almost everyone. If you’re looking where to start with the prolific author’s works, here are six of her very best.
1. Firefly Lane
Firefly Lane is one of Hannah’s most recognizable novels, partly because it was adapted into a Netflix series, and partly because it is an astounding take on friendship. Published in 2008, the novel gives a very intimate look into a friendship that spans decades. Viewers are taken along for a whirlwind, heartbreaking, and heartwarming journey from the very commencement of a friendship, all the way to its end.
Firefly Lane follows Tully Hart and Kate Mularkey, who are as close as friends can be. The two are exact opposites when they meet as children, on Firefly Lane in the summer of 1974. Kate is a socially awkward 8th grader with an embarrassingly loving family and Tully is the epitome of popularity but is hiding a terrible secret. However, the two make a pact to be best friends forever and their friendship carries them through 30 years of ups and downs. Despite their history together, a single act of betrayal may just be enough to tear them apart.
While the novel is a bit long, the themes in the book are very powerful. Readers get an intimate look into the development of relationships, how friends deal with betrayal, the crushing reality of cancer, and the impact of sexual assault. Tear-jerking twists and turns are lurking everywhere in this book, but overall, it will leave you with a positive and uplifting perspective on friendship.
2. The Great Alone
If you’re looking for something that runs a little deeper and darker than Firefly Lane, The Great Alone might just be the book for you. This heartbreaking family saga was published in 2018 and quickly became a New York Times Bestseller. It also won a Goodreads Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction novel in 2018.
The Great Alone follows the Allbright family, dealing with their father’s PTSD after he returns from the Vietnam War. Ernt Allbright is a deeply changed man when he returns, and he makes the impulsive decision to move his family to the Alaskan wilderness. His wife, Cora, is a woman who loves her husband enough to do anything for him. Meanwhile, their daughter, Leni, must survive both the harsh Alaskan wilderness and her father’s deteriorating mental state.
The novel is both an ode to the landscape of Alaska, as well as an exploration of PTSD, abuse, and human willpower. Alongside the vivid portrayal of an Alaskan homestead, is the story of a family’s fight for survival—wrapping you up in a tale of a family who paid a hefty price for a war they didn’t start.
3. The Nightingale
The Nightingale, published in 2015, is Hannah’s #1 bestselling novel. The novel has been translated into 45 languages and has sold over 4.5 million copies. Additionally, it scooped up a number of awards, including both a Goodreads and People’s Choice Award. This tale of two sisters living during WWII will especially appeal to historical fiction enthusiasts.
The Nightingale follows two sisters, Vianne Mauriac and Isabelle Rossignol, living in France during WWII. Vianne lives in the town of Carriveau and struggles for survival after her husband is drafted. She begins to raise and hide Jewish children, while also raising her own daughter, and suffering abuse from sadistic soldiers when her home is used as a billet. Elsewhere in France, Isabelle has joined the French Resistance and formulates a plan to help downed, Allied soldiers. However, her role in the French Resistance lands her in a concentration camp—where she will face unspeakable horrors. Both sisters took different paths in WWII, but are united in their bravery, courage, and survival.
The Nightingale is a historical fiction novel that captures the women’s war in a way that will take your breath away. We often forget the roles women played in wars at home. And many of these women, like Andrée de Jongh (the inspiration for Isabelle), also found ways to fight in the war, putting their lives in danger. The Nightingale is a tear-jerking reminder of the war that women fought and the prices they paid for their bravery and courage.
4. Between Sisters
Between Sisters was published in 2003 and is another story that examines the intricate bonds of family. This book will especially resonate with anyone who has experienced estrangement from a family member or who is haunted by the past.
Between Sisters follows two adult sisters, Meghann Dontess and Claire Cavenaugh, as well as their mother. As Claire’s wedding date approaches, the three women prepare to see each other for the first time in two decades. Dontess has a successful career, but is haunted by the choice that broke her and her sister’s bond. Meanwhile, Cavenaugh has found love for the first time, but is daunted by her sister’s judgment. On top of that, their mother is an alcoholic who cares for herself far more than her daughters. Now, as these three women meet, they must work to put all their pieces back together and form themselves into a family.
Between Sisters does not just speak about sisters, but about family bonds in general. It tackles family estrangement, absent parents, and the loss of special bonds. Additionally, the novel shows what happens when one inevitably must confront the past, and the family they tried to leave behind.
5. True Colors
True Colors, published in 2009, is another Hannah novel that brings sisterhood into the spotlight. However, whereas Between Sisters is an emotional tale of a broken family, True Colors is a juicy, fast-paced exploration of what happens when jealousy and betrayal descend upon sisters. In True Colors, a family saga, a murder mystery, and romance all intersect into a delightful tale.
True Colors is about the three Grey sisters—Winona, Aurora, and Vivi Ann. Ever since the sisters were children, they banded together and carried each other through life. However, while their bond survives their mother’s passing and their alcoholic father’s indifference, it might not withstand jealousy. When Winona’s best friend (and secret crush) chooses Vivi Ann over her, it will kick off a series of betrayals and poor choices. However, when Vivi Ann is at her lowest moment, Winona must choose between old grudges or love for her family.
Hannah’s True Colors is entertaining, shocking, and heartbreaking all at once. The characters are well developed and very realistically flawed. Filled with redemption, True Colors is a reminder that sometimes love can forgive even the worst of choices and actions.
6. The Four Winds
The Four Winds is Hannah’s latest novel, published in 2021, and is another foray into the genre of historical fiction. However, this time, Hannah hones in on The Great Depression for the novel’s backdrop. In The Four Winds, she brings the Great Depression to life through the eyes of one woman struggling to grasp the American dream.
Elsa Wolcott’s story begins in 1921—when the American economy is surging and the future looks bright. However, since she is a woman, Wolcott feels she must marry to ensure a future. Hence, she hastily marries a man she doesn’t know—a choice she will come to regret. By 1934, both Wolcott and her country are suffering. The Great Plains are devastated by the Dust Bowls, and (an abandoned) Wolcott must fight daily for her and her children’s survival. However, as things continue to deteriorate, her only option is to journey west in search of a better life for her and her children.
Hannah’s novel illustrates a side of The Great Depression you’ve never seen before. It will bring the trials of migrants and the Dust Bowl to life in incredible detail. Additionally, the story eerily parallels today’s world in its depiction of uncertainty, isolation, and fear for the future. However, it is also a very touching story about one woman’s unbreakable resilience and courage.
(featured image: St. Martin’s Press, St. Martin’s Griffin, Ballantine Books)
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]