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Mrs Ellyard, Glossopdale Community College

The Smell of Other People's Houses

This is an amazing story set in Alaska in the mid twentieth century. It gripped me from the start and I enjoyed it. It is told from the point of view of four main characters: Ruth, Dora, Alyce and Hank. As their stories unravel, the connections between them become real and you get to know each one as they journey through a part of their lives. It is a bit like reading 4 short stories, until the very end.

Ruth lives with her gran and her younger sister Lily. She gets involved with Ray and soon gets pregnant. Her gran is not easy to live with, and has a specially brusque, almost cruel way about her.

Dora lives at her friend Dumpling's house as her mother spends most of her time at a bar with her crazy friends and her dad is in prison. She has a stroke of good luck when she wins the 'Ice classic' (an annual bet about when the river will start to melt).

Alyce loves dancing but every Summer her dad relies on her help with fishing. She was born on the boat and loves it and is torn between the life at sea and dancing. When she meets Sam she is smitten.

Hank is a boy who has to run away from home to save himself and his two brothers from his mum's nasty boyfriend.

Other characters are briefly drawn and the main ones bounce off these. I think I like Ruth best - she makes some bad decisions, but she is honest and thoughtful and her harsh upbringing makes her a strong personality. She has some experiences that are way beyond her years and comes through as a lovable girl.

You feel a whole spectrum of emotions throughout the book, and the author is an expert at hinting at dark deeds and bad situations, so even without graphic details, you can imagine the cruelty, hardship, anger, frustration and boredom of the inhabitants of the story. I loved this about the novel. The 'families' are all disjointed. People look out for each other and family units 're-blend' and make up a society and setting which were completely unfamiliar to me before I read this book. It taught me a lot about the resilience of people.

Posted on: 3rd April 2017 at 03:28 pm

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