The Smell of Other People’s Houses
by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
It’s Fairbanks, Alaska in 1970 and four teenagers’ very different lives are about to become entangled forever. First there’s Ruth, who lives with her harsh grandmother and is sent away to a convent after becoming pregnant at sixteen. Everyone in town saw Dora being chased out of her house by her abusive father, and she feels like she will never truly escape her past. Alyce dreams of becoming a professional ballerina, but is torn by her loyalty to her fisherman father. Hank decides it’s safer for he and his little brothers to run away than to stay at home. Told in four alternating viewpoints, each character’s story is unique and yet beautifully tied to the others.
What first drew me to The Smell of Other People’s Houses was it’s GORGEOUS cover. I feel like I could just stare at it forever. Luckily, the writing is just as beautifully captivating! I actually can’t believe this is a debut novel because everything is done so, so well.
Although four viewpoints can usually be a bit confusing, each character’s voice was so unique that I never forgot whose chapter I was listening to. It also helped that, until the end, each character had their own story line, even though the characters overlapped a bit.
It was so interesting to learn about how people lived in mid-century Alaska. Alaska had just been accepted into the union, and I had never before thought about how so many Alaskan Natives and non-natives alike objected becoming part of the United States for fear of losing their way of life. The community where our characters live, near Fairbanks, was an especially poor area of town. It was heartbreaking to hear of the characters shopping at the Salvation Army for worn out socks that have holes when it’s 40 degrees below zero! I can’t imagine being that cold all the time (or ever).
I can’t pick one character that I liked best — what’s so great about this novel is that you grow to care about everyone in the story. And, the side characters are just as wonderful as the main characters! No one was unnecessary and everyone contributed something important to the story. Dumpling and Bunny’s family were so wonderful and provided much-needed warmth to the lives of the main characters.
The story is tied together so wonderfully at the end and I was thrilled to see the characters’ stories come so full-circle. All I wanted was to read more about them! This audiobook actually took over my life. I didn’t listen to my favorite morning show that I NEVER MISS because I needed to keep listening to the book!
I absolutely recommend this book to fans of character-driven books with beautiful writing! I can’t wait to see what comes next from Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. Her writing is absolutely gorgeous and she is definitely an author to watch.
Have you read The Smell of Other People’s Houses, or do you plan to? Let me know in the comments what you thought of this book!