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James, Chobham Academy Book Group

The Smell of Other People's Houses

This book achieves a somewhat difficult objective of entwining the tales of four young people’s lives and their hardships. The author promotes the belief that we are all joined by ‘gossamer threads’ - invisible links that connect us all. The story is written from four points of view - multiple storytelling perspectives can sometimes be a confusing format, but in this book the story flows and was, on the whole, believable.

While the book is set in 1970’s Alaska, the events and style of the author could be applied to modern times - there is no great association with this decade, other than the book opens with the interesting recollections of Alaska becoming the forty-ninth state. The location of its setting may be interesting for some as the book delves into elements of Alaskan culture. One character, an Inuit descendant, is living in a native Athabascan household, giving a small element of cultural diversity.

The author’s tone is slightly removed - Hitchcock uses some emotive language, yet does not demonstrate great sentimentality. The descriptions, however, are not particularly challenging, neither is the vocabulary. Although the story is fast paced and easy to read, I was slightly disappointed at the author’s ability to gloss over seemingly major events or suggest consequences. For example, Ruth, one of the main characters, is pregnant as a teenager. She is sent to a remote convent in Canada to give birth to the baby. After the birth, the infant is given to parents who will adopt the child; the author does not show that Ruth has a sense of remorse that her baby will not be raised by herself, or apprehension for the welfare of the infant. Hence this storyline seemed unresolved.

Some of the events in the book are predictable, including the knowledge that the characters will all meet and aid one another positively. Although the characters all experience some form of hardship, whether it is being abused by family or becoming pregnant as a teen, happiness is restored in the end for all.

In conclusion, while this book was at times an emotive read, it was not particularly thought - provoking and lacked challenging descriptions and vocabulary. It is not a book I would necessarily recommend, however for older children it has some redeeming ideas that might comforting to those in similar circumstances, especially the hopeful ending.

Posted on: 9th June 2017 at 02:51 pm

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