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The Smell of Other People's Houses
Ruth wants to be remembered; Dora wishes she were invisible. Alyce does not want to leave, and Hank cannot wait to run away. Set during 1970, several years after Alaska received statehood, this is the heart-warming story of how four lives become intertwined. It is a tale of triumph over adversity, as each character faces difficulties within their everyday life and struggles to make the right choices for themselves and others around them.
The Smell of Other People s Houses begins with Ruth, and the loss of her parents, which leads her (and her younger sister) to live in the quiet Frontier town of Fairbanks with their strict and overbearing Gran. While she has her adopted friend, Selkie-obsessed Selma, to amuse her, Ruth - a wild and free spirit – misses the smell of woods and trees and has a sinful relationship with a boy named Ray. When she discovers that his mother had to marry early because of her behaviour, Ruth feels disgusted and breaks up with him... only to discover that she is pregnant. I quite liked Ruth. She was a passive girl, never arguing with anyone or anything, but still very strong. Her greatest attribute in this novel, I think, is her ability to endure. She deals with whatever happens to her, and she does it with her head held high.
Alongside Ruth, we meet Dora, a troubled teenager with a father who has been imprisoned for his violent behaviour. Dora, though having her own home, prefers the quiet and loving environment of her friend s house. Her past has made her somewhat quiet and judgmental, always looking for the negatives, which comes across as being horrible and selfish at times. She is perfectly happy however, to remain in the background, shopping at the Salvation Army and exchanging tokens, but when she wins the Ice Classic, akin to the lottery, this changes, and suddenly she begins to get attention from all sides. Especially, as she is considered a native of Alaska.
While Dora, Dumpling and Ruth have their troubles, so does a young girl called Alyce, also a resident of Fairbanks. Alyce loves her parents, even though they have been divorced for a long time she lives with her mother and goes fishing with her father every summer. But this summer, something has changed. Alyce really wants to audition for a place at a dancing school, so she can enjoy her further education. However she does not want to disappoint her father, so joins him on his annual trip…
As though fate has other plans for her however, Hank and his brothers, Sam and Jack, have decided to run away from their hometown and have stowed away aboard a cruise ship. Escaping their home and the neglect of their mother, they are planning to find a better way to live. Not all goes according to plan though, as Sam falls overboard, and Hank is left to believe his brother is gone. You feel for Hank in the novel. He is always trying to be the man of the house, the breadwinner, the father figure for his brothers. Bonnie Sue Hitchcock does a fantastic job within the novel of making him very independent, but vulnerable also, without appearing arrogant. Hank is a charming character, who has a lot of empathy for others.
All four lives become entangled, as Ruth is shipped off to a convent and Dora fights her personal demons. Alyce saves a fortunate young boy with the help of an Orca and Hank gets a shock in a stream, receiving a pretty ribbon as a gift and a promise. Even Selma gets a happy ending.
I really enjoyed this book. It is a beautiful (if sometimes sad) story about family and friendship, and the bonds people make and share through time. The characters were realistic and the story was entertaining, having me gripped throughout. In some places, I even had a tear in my eye!
Posted on: 28th April 2017 at 10:59 am