The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. Wendy Lamb Books, 2016.
I just loved this book. I have very little to talk about, so it’s gonna be a short review (which doesn’t happen often).
The Smell of Other People’s Houses attracted me first and foremost from the title – how great of a title is that? The cover is quite alluring as well.
The novel is a YA book that takes place in the 1970s in Alaska and follows the stories of 4 teens: Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank. The chapters alternate between their points of view, and each character has his or her own unique voice and troubles.
I love stories that contain a multitude of characters whose lives aren’t clearly connected at first, but then they all come together in the end in unexpected and complex ways. This is one of those stories.
I think what makes this book extra unique is that it deals with coming-of-age in a very different time and place than what most of us are used to. Alyce is a dancer who wants to audition for a dance school, but has to spend the summer on a commercial fishing boat with her father. Hank and his brothers are running away from abusive parents. Ruth has been raised by a grandmother who is incredibly strict and Catholic. Dora has been taken in by her best friend’s family to escape her dangerous home life. Minus perhaps the commercial fishing boat bit, these situations don’t sound too unique. But when placed in the context of 1970s Alaska, life is very very different.
The setting is definitely one of the highlights of the book. The story actually opens in the late 50’s, before Alaska was even a state. Many natives (and non-natives) were against statehood, and this becomes a catalyst for an important plot point in the book. Then the book shifts to the 70’s, when the children are now teens trying to navigate problems in a state that has poor infrastructure and whose economy largely hinges on nature and the weather. The setting made a big difference, and it was interesting to read a narrative in a historical and geographic setting I was in no way familiar with.
But what I enjoyed most about this book was the way the characters’ lives became woven together. The author’s language was quite funny at times, and quite poetic at others. The crafting of the story was flawless: as the plot drew all of the characters’ lives together, so too did the author thematically bind them as well. It was lovely.
Also, it has a happy ending, which is really cool, because it seems lots of YA books are out to make you cry/feel generally devastated, but this one was uplifting and optimistic. I would highly recommend this book to anyone and give it a solid 5/5 stars!