What it’s about: The Smell of Other People’s Houses follows four teenagers living in Alaska in the 1970s, a little over a decade after it becomes a state. Ruth is desperate to escape a life of poverty with her strict grandmother and suddenly finds herself in an unexpected place of love. Alyce has grown up fishing commercially, but just wants to be a dancer and spend more time with Sam, the boy she rescues out of the sea while on a fishing trip. Dora loves living with Dumpling’s family because it’s a reprieve from the darkness of her own home. And Hank and his brothers strike out on their own to escape their family problems, but find themselves separated, hopeless, and unable to return to each other. Each of the four teenagers’ lives overlap, tying them closely to each other and their homes in unexpected ways.
Why I liked it: The Smell of Other People’s Houses was one of those books that started out being good and ended up nearly perfect. Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock managed to interlace the lives of four characters in a way that I felt empathy and interest for each storyline, and enjoyed those little shocks of literary delights when the stories intersected. Beautiful, sad, and occasionally upsetting, the chapters are written simply and engagingly. I finished the book happy-crying like an idiot on my porch, so delighted by how she managed to pull it all off. Literally, the last few pages
(and specifically the last few lines) are pure genius that makes the whole journey worthwhile. I was so grateful to have read this book.
Also captivating is Hitchcock’s understanding of Alaska– as a fourth-generation Alaskan, she creates a world that was very foreign to me, but obviously deeply familiar and beloved for herself. Being from Maine — another remote state that people often ‘escape to’– I connected with her characterization of the landscape and it’s rural flavor, while still being enticed by the other-worldliness of Alaska.
Read if you liked:
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Northern Exposure (TV Show)