The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
YA – Contemporary
Published February 23rd 2016 by Wendy Lamb Books
I’ll start by saying I loved this book and what I loved most about it is just how hard it was to label. It’s about a group of kids/teens in the same small town in Alaska who are all from different socioeconomic backgrounds but find their lives connecting in ways they never imagined. I think lately I’ve been reading so many contemporary YA books that are fun and easy and all-around lovely that I forgot that just because it’s classified as YA contemporary doesn’t make it bubblegum, this is adorable and beautiful and not the kind of bubblegum I’m used to…if that makes any sense.
Alaska in 1970 is a tough place to be, especially to be a teenager and this tells the story of 4 teens whose lives all intertwine at various points and all dream about being some place else. Basically we have Ruth who lives with her younger sister and extremely uptight and catholic grandma. Dora, who comes from an extremely abusive family both physically and emotionally who lives with a ton of fear and anger about her future. Alyce, the ballerina who feels obligated to work her father’s fishing boat over the summer instead of following her career and future. Plus Hank, who flees with his younger brothers from their abusive stepfather.
Everything about this book was just so pretty. The writing style was extremely visual (can I just say pretty again?!). It’s all very lyrical and just seems to flow from one sentence and thought to another with an ease that allows the reader to just relax and focus on the descriptions of the sights and smells. Although, it probably helps that Alaska is a beautiful landscape to work with 🙂 Hitchcock is able to give all four of the main characters distinct voices which not only didn’t leave me confused but each character was a complex and whole person. My only real complaint with so many characters is I just wanted more. They were all done so well that I wanted to read more about all of them. Some stories were a little shaky but not enough to pull me out of the story. Hank in particular is someone I wanted more backstory on. As easy as it is to tell the characters apart, remembering the different nationalities was another story for me. I would remember when they were talking and then I came back to the put it was just not something that stayed in my mind. As confusing and unclear as it was to me it was an extremely important aspect for the story so I’m glad it was included.
I don’t want to just say “this book is historical fiction,” but I learned a lot about Alaska from this book. It’s interesting to learn about a landscape you think you know about but probably have no clue. l loved learning about the history of it becoming a state and the different arguments for and against that. That’s something we never learned about in high school because it was fairly recent we just never got that far (close?) and I thought that stuff was incredibly interesting and even the social hierarchy of each side and who was really representing the communities best interests and what the communities perceived as in their best interest.
Overall, this was a beautiful book. The characters felt real and like they were coming-of-age but at a time when had already lost their innocence for the most part. My one complaint (because i feel like I should have one) is that the stories were tied up a little-too-nicely at the end. I think it adds to the sweetness of the book because as dark as some parts were it was nice to see some happy endings but it felt a little off to me
“We don’t have to be blood to be family.”
“Even after your heart breaks into a million pieces and your baby is gone, I am here to tell you- all around you the world will still go on spinning.”
I don’t know, maybe just because of how different (in a good way) it was, but it’s definitely a book I would consider buying based on the beautiful cover alone.