Alaska: Growing up here isn’t like growing up anywhere else.
Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck suddenly comes her way. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.
Four very different lives are about to become entangled. This is a book about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed.
This is a beautiful piece of writing, showcasing the lives of a handful of young people as they navigate their way through their triumphs and sorrows in 1970s Alaska. The novel is told through interlocking stories, giving us windows into the various characters’ lives, while offering constantly shifting perspectives on other characters as we see how they see one another. Some of the characters are best friends; others just know each other in a friend-of-a-friend or even more remote sort of way.
Along the way, they deal with missing or abusive parents, misunderstandings, birth families and found families, and the quiet support that can come from the most unexpected of sources.
The backdrop of life in Alaska lends the stories a unique flavor. What’s most important is the human relationships, but the scenes of life in a poor neighborhood in Fairbanks or on a fishing boat or along a remote highway give the plot developments a grounding in real life that’s gritty and evocative.
The language in this book is really lovely, and I thought the way the characters’ stories weave together was remarkably well done, with many surprises along the way.
The Smell of Other People’s Houses is a relatively thin book, but it’s got plenty to enjoy and savor. If you enjoy great, emotionally powerful writing, check it out. I believe this book has been marketed as young adult, but there’s no reason that adult readers wouldn’t love it.
Reading tip: I made the mistake of reading this book during a very busy, hectic week, so I was only able to read it in bits and pieces, and I think I lost a bit of the flow along the way. If you can, I’d suggest setting aside a cozy couple of hours and reading this one straight through.
Title: The Smell of Other People’s Houses
Author: Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Publication date: February 23, 2016
Length: 240 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction