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Dominic, Chobham Academy Book Group

The Smell of Other People's Houses

An element of this book I cherished was the way that Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, the writer, wove the stories and troubles of the four main characters into the novel, to come together in one beautifully moving book. I read in the author's note that at first she had written them as short stories. I was surprised because all the characters' tales were wonderfully intertwined. My reading group have not been discussing this book, or Beck, but despite the adult themes, I really enjoyed this book. My first impression was unsure, but life in Alaska then was so different to how it is now – I couldn't put it down.

There are four main points of view: Ruth, Dora, Alyce and Hank.

Ruth lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, with her Gran and younger sister Lily. Her father died in a plane crash, so Ruth looks back to before, when her dad brought back deer and her mother laughed and put flowers in whiskey bottles. The prologue is titled: The Way Things Were Back Then. Ruth is always wistful, with only her Gran. She is an outsider with many of the children in the town, especially Dora. At the beginning of the book, Ruth sleeps with a boy called Ray, and her unwanted pregnancy is a problem she struggles with constantly. Who will look after the baby? Won’t people treat her as an outcast? What will people think? Her story grasps the issue but also brings her closer to her Gram, and learn more about her. It changes both hugely.

Dora lives with her friend Dumpling, after her father put in jail. However, Dora knows they can't keep her forever. She needs somewhere safe, with a lock on the door and someone to look after her. Alyce has lived with her mother after she divorced from Alyce's father. Every summer she goes to her father's boat and fishes. She wants to dance though and go to college, but worries that her father would struggle without her.

These stories all weave together; when Alyce and Sam, Hank's brother, meet unexpectedly, all four worlds collide. It is about family and love. It is about letting go and coming together. It is a story where problems and worries help people to confide in each other. It is a truly wonderful book which I hope you read, but it does have adult themes, so I don't think it is quite right for a children's award, but still a very good book. I would rate it 4.7/5 stars.

Posted on: 12th June 2017 at 07:08 pm

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