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Segway Gai, Aylsham High School

The Smell of Other People's Houses

This fascinating, unique book provides a wonderful insight into the lives and relationships of people living in Alaska, on the other side of the world to me, a place rarely explored in fiction, in a style also rarely exhibited in fiction. This book was all about the connections between a series of characters in different, yet subtly similar ways. I think I would classify this book as an ensemble of coming of age stories between four teenagers. What is brilliant about this novel though, that I’ve never seen done done in collections of stories, is that each one seems to be told from the point of view of the land itself, as that is the thing that links each one together and runs like veins through each story. This was a really engaging concept to think about in my opinion.
The narrative switches from the points of view of: Dora, whose life is lived in fear of her father, still at large; Ruth, who has a teenage pregnancy then has to find a way of dealing with the consequences; Alyce, who is too afraid to tell her fisherman dad that she would rather spend the summer dancing than on his boat; and Hank, who runs away from his mother with his brothers. Each story is set in and around a small, poor town in 1970s Alaska, and though each at first is rather separate, it is delightful to watch as each one begins to interact with each other in charming, compelling ways that will make you giggle or cry.
As I began this book, I was a little bit confused due to the unclear, constant switches between people. However, as I got the gist of the layout of the novel, I also grew more attached to each of the characters and the pages flicked past as I attempted to uncover the journey each person would go through, and the linking factors between each one. Though these were often predictable, I remember getting excited when I uncovered each twist, and smiling with glee when I realised how each connection worked. I will also admit that at the very end, where all the stories came together with each other in a heart wrenching scene, the tiniest of tears escaped my eye.
The style of writing wasn’t complicated or difficult to understand. However, it still packed depth, particularly when it came to character interactions and actions, I truly felt as though everything anyone did was for a reason that was always consistent with their character traits and goals. Though I felt that at times that the world they were in wasn’t quite fleshed out nearly as much as it could’ve been, I didn’t quite, I felt, get enough insight into the presumably beautiful, and at times upsettingly poor landscape surrounding these people, which was surprising since it was the running thee throughout the book.
I would recommend this novel to anyone year six upwards, because though the writing is easy to understand, the plot does have some adult themes at times, and I think that to understand the depths of this book, one must be a little more adept at inference and be able to think beneath the surface when it comes to people’s emotions and reasons for their actions. Overall though, I thought the book was great, and I would love to explore more from Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock.

Posted on: 26th May 2017 at 12:18 pm

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