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The Smell of Other People's Houses

The Smell of Other People's Houses is one of the worst titles for a book I've ever seen. It both sounds odd, doesn't fit the story and the concept of it is only mentioned once or twice outside the opening chapter. But, nevertheless, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's debut novel is still original, creative and entertaining.

The Smell of Other Peoples Houses is a sort of collection of four short stories following four different teenagers in Alaska in the year 1970. The stories start out fairly independently before becoming more intertwined as the book comes to an end. Firstly, there's my favourite character, Ruth. Her story is about her accidentally becoming pregnant at the age of 17. She's then sent away by her strict Grandma, whom she lives with, and papers are soon signed for the baby to be adopted, as she gradually discovers more about her Grandma and why she did this. I like Ruth the most because she is the most unexpected, most original character and I find Ruth to be the most interesting character with how desperate she is to stand out from the crowd.

Dora is a girl from one of Alaska's native groups. Her father is in prison and she now lives with her friend Dumpling, who's from another native group. Dora is essentially the opposite of Ruth, with how she simply wants to fade into the background, but her complicated life prevents her from doing so. This story is also interesting with how Dora learns to stand up to people and how she struggles to realise that she's not the first person to have problems like this.

Alyce is easily the worst of all of them. In her story, she goes to stay on the coast of Alaska with her Dad, a fisherman, whilst desperate to go to a ballet performance back at home, but is simply too scared to ask. However, it all changes when Sam, a boy her age, gets saved by their boat. He ran away from home, and urges Alyce to ask her Dad to go whilst she remains to scared to ask. I don't like this one that much because it feels slower and a little disconnected to the rest of the book.
It simply feels like, aside from rescuing Sam, not much happens in it. I simply remember getting to Alyce's chapters feeling desperate to move on to the next.

Finally there's Hank, who's actually Sam's brother. He, Sam and their younger brother Jack all stowed away on a ship looking for a new place to call home. This is the most radically different from the rest of the stories, with it being more focused on Hank and Jack (after Sam fell off the boat) looking for an new home rather than looking into the main character's internal struggles like the other ones. His chapters always come directly after Alyce's, and I always find it to be a welcome change of pace. Also, until around halfway into the book, his story is almost completely separate from the others, which I found interesting yet unusually enjoyable nonetheless.

The book is structured on a sort of relay system, where it alternates between each character every chapter in the order that I explained them. I definitely like this better then just telling each story one at a time as it gives you a better understanding of what's happening when the stories meet. The best example of this is when Ruth and Hank meet for the first time, though I won't tell what actually happens, it is very clever and creative.

One thing I really like is how the stories of each character meet in more ways than just them meeting, often with connections to other characters. Selma, for instance, is Ruth's adopted friend who's desperate to know where she comes from. I'm not going to tell you what it is, but I'll just say this: it's from one of the most unlikely of places, and isn't revealed in Ruth's story.

In conclusion, The Smell of Other People's Houses is an incredibly clever and unique collection of four very different people's lives, each one intertwining with the next. And even Alyce's story keeps to the themes of the book well enough for me to like it. If I compare it to the Carnegie books I've already read, I think it's much, much better than Wolf Hollow, but still not as good as Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth and definitely not Railhead. However, don't let that put you off, as this is an incredibly entertaining read and one I definitely recommend looking into.

Posted on: 8th June 2017 at 06:57 am

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