A tale of teen life in the wilds of Alaska - impactful if a little short

March 2, 2018

The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Rating: 3 stars



This book has such a strange title that it immediately intrigued me as a reader, then I saw some reviews from Booktube that said it was a good read so when I saw it as a new release in my local library I decided I definitely would give it a try. It was a short, quick read but a satisfying one for me this month. 

Set in Alaska in the 1970's it's the story of 4 different teens whose lives collide due to the cultures and limitations of their world. Ruth lives with her strict Catholic gran and her little sister Lilly. Her mother left them years before after her father died in a plane crash and now she longs for a way to exert her independence but finds it difficult in her small town with a grandmother who believes in living a humble and quiet life. From nearby we have Dora, the child of the towns violent criminal drunk she has left her family home and moved in with her friend Dumpling and her parents. She just longs for a home she feels safe in and a promise she won't have to go home again to her violent family. 

Alongside these two stories we also have Alyce, a talented dancer who has been offered the chance to audition for college scholarships in dance but she doesn't know how to tell her fisherman father that she cannot help him during the fishing season because she thinks he won't manage alone. Finally, we have Hank and his two brothers who are trying to run away from their mother and her new boyfriend to begin a life of their own. They just want to be together. 

Told from the perspectives of each teen this book was both heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure. It really highlights the isolation of living somewhere like Alaska where there are huge disparities between those who have and those who do not. There is a blending of many cultures and traditions which lead to different pockets of community and ways of life but I loved learning about how they all blend and how the young people come together to support one another no matter which they belong to. 

In this short book, we cover the span of a year in the community and the way in which the lives of all 4 lead characters change forever as they each seek a future that will take them outside the small world they have become used to and bring them together in a way they could never have expected. 

A 3 star read for me with this one, it may have been short but it was very impactful but I felt I could have done with more to flesh out parts of the story and another hundred or so pages might have allowed this.

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