The Smell of Other People's Houses
by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Publisher/ Year: Wendy Lamb Books - February 2016
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
I'm thrilled to be part of the blog tour for The Smell of Other People's houses, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's impressive debut that came out yesterday, February 23, 2016.
My best friend from high school went to graduate school at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. When she would visit we would pepper her with questions about living in Alaska. Her answers made Alaska truly seem like a whole other world. One that I was excited to read more about.
The Smell of Other People's Houses takes place in that whole other world. In 1970 four Alaskan teenagers' lives will slowly become entwined. The novel is told through the perspectives of these four seemingly unrelated characters. Ruth and her younger sister live with her grandmother, and she's drawn to less-repressive homes. Alyce's dreams of dancing conflict with her time with her father on his fishing boat. Dora is trying to escape the nightmare of her past. Hank and his brothers stow away on the ferry.
It is difficult to express in words the simple elegance of Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's novel. I love books like this that create a quiet, contemplative mood and that only comes with superb writing. The language in this book is exquisite. The reading experience is beautiful both in content and in execution.
As would be expected in a book like this, the setting is a huge part of the book. There are plenty of Alaska-specific traditions and customs that add to the overall feel of the book. (I especially enjoyed my time with Alyce on her father's fishing boat.) Yet the characters themselves are never overwhelmed by the setting.
Every character in this book is dealing with some big issue. Truly, many of them are in heart-wrenching situations. Despite those issues the book remains very character driven. With the combination of tough issues, lovely writing, and heartfelt characters it should be no surprise that this book delivers some powerful emotions. I'm glad that I read it.
Here are some connections that The Smell of Other People's Houses shares with other great novels:
Drowning is Inevitable and The Smell of Other People's Houses: The local flavor of the deep south and the far north. These books feature girls who live with their grandmothers, runaways, difficult lives, and bad choices.
Okay for Now and The Smell of Other People's Houses: These two books take place in 1968/9 and 1970 respectively and the feel of that era is conveyed so well in each.
The Snow Child and The Smell of Other People's Houses: Both books are set in the Alaskan past, 1920s and 1970s, respectively.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and The Smell of Other People's Houses: Native American traditions, culture, and interactions with white Americans.
How to Save a Life and The Smell of Other People's Houses: Teen pregnancy and adoption.
Up to this Pointe and The Smell of Other People's Houses: A ballet dancer on the ice of Antarctica and a ballet dancer in the fishing waters of Alaska.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock was born and raised in Alaska. She worked many years fishing commercially with her family and as a reporter for Alaska Public Radio stations around the state. She was also the host and producer of “Independent Native News,” a daily newscast produced in Fairbanks, focusing on Alaska Natives, American Indians, and Canada’s First Nations. Her writing is inspired by her family’s four generations in Alaska.
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