The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publication Date: February 2016
Guys, I finally read the Smelly Houses book! You were right; it’s brilliant. I’m pretty sure this is my new favorite book of 2018 (so far).
“Sometimes you can be inserted into another person's life just by witnessing something you were never really supposed to be a part of.” – The Smell of Other People’s Houses
This book is short (240 pages), but there’s a ton of stuff packed into it. How does the author do everything so well with so little space? It’s kind of unbelievable. The characters are well-developed and all have their own plotlines, the setting is vivid, the book is beautifully written. Just . . . how? What are your secrets, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock?
If you’re a writer who wants to know how to develop setting, read this book. Alaska in the 1970s comes alive in this story. There’s a quote on the back cover from Eowyn Ivey that says “This book is Alaska,” and I fully believe that. There are beautiful descriptions of the landscape, but the setting goes deeper than that. The author shows the values and lifestyles of small-town people. She also shows the cultural differences between the white characters and the native characters. It all feels very authentic.
“Catholics are pretty good at keeping Jesus nailed to that cross, rather than focusing more on that happy bit where he rose from the dead and freed us from sin and evil.” – The Smell of Other People’s Houses
The characters are products of their environment, which makes them realistic. Even though they’re teenagers, they have to deal with the rampant poverty and alcoholism in their community. A few of the teens come from families who have been living off the land for generations. The kids are expected to grow up and live the same lifestyle as their parents, but what if they don’t want to? I love this book because rural families are such a big part of it. The setting is so important that this story wouldn’t exist if it was set anywhere else. I wish all books were like that. Setting is important, people! Where we come from has a big impact on who we are.
The plot is a bit all over the place, but not in a bad way. It jumps around to focus on different characters, and each character is the hero of their own story. I didn’t find any of the plotlines boring. I flew through this book because I always wanted to know what happened next.
Speaking of the plot, I’m surprised at how not-depressing it is. These kids have to put up with some awful crap (that I’m not going to tell you about because spoilers). The story could have been a downer, but it’s not. It’s surprisingly hopeful.
“It suddenly dawns on me that there is a big difference between feeling tired and being weak.” – The Smell of Other People’s Houses
I only have one complaint about the book. There are a lot of characters, and I had a hard time remembering how they are related. It was annoying to keep flipping back to the character list at the beginning of the book. That’s a small complaint. The pros heavily outweigh the con in this case.
“We don't have to be blood to be family.” – The Smell of Other People’s Houses
If I didn’t make it obvious enough, I’m impressed with The Smell of Other People’s Houses. I will happily pick up whatever the author writes next.
TL;DR: Read this book.