Saturday, May 12, 2018

Review: The Smell Of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock || This Is How You Write Setting


The Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock


Pages: 240
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publication Date: February 2016

Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck suddenly comes her way. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

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).

The structure reminds me of Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins, but this book is better in every way. It follows a group of teenagers in 1970s Alaska whose paths keep crossing. Ruth has gotten herself into serious trouble, and her secret will soon be revealed to the whole town. Dora finally has enough money to help her family out of poverty, but the money may cause more problems than it solves. Alyce is stuck on a fishing boat when she’d rather be auditioning for college dance programs. Hank and his brothers have escaped from their abusive parents and need a place to hide. This is a story about the impact that people can have on each other’s lives. Sometimes small gestures can mean a lot.


“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. 













26 comments:

  1. Dude, seriously how did Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock make this book make total sense in such a small page count? I don't know but it's impressive. Also why doesn't she have any new books, I'll buy 'em! I adored Smelly Houses (this is what Val called it and it kind of stuck hahha), and I agree, my only complaint about it was the same one you had, I got a weeee bit lost in the "who-is-who" thing. Also, cover goals. Awesome review, glad you enjoyed it too! Hopefully people will stop sleeping on this book!

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    1. YES! I hope more people read this book. I don’t see it often enough in the blogosphere. It’s really good, people!

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  2. I was immediately drawn to the title and setting for this book, so I downloaded this one this past week. Great review!

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    1. YES! Hopefully you love it as much as I did!

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  3. Loved your review so much that I now want to find this book.

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  4. Shannon raves about this book, so I bought it. Now I just need to read it! One more awesome review to add to the pile...

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. I agree with Shannon. It’s a very good book, and you should read it.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  5. This book has been on my TBR for an eternity. I cannot think of one book I have read set in Alaska, and you know, I was actually alive and remember the 70s, so, nostalgia. Excellent review. I am shortlisting for September, when my review books slow down.

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  6. I had an arc of this book and really ended up enjoying it. I love the title and the cover is gorgeous but what is in those pages is really just as good. I am so glad you enjoyed it!

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    1. YES! Everything about this book is perfection.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  7. What a lovely review! I have heard so many good things about this book from fellow bloggers for so long now, but for some reason I haven't picked it up just yet. It sounds brilliant though, and I so want to read it now, discover this gorgeous setting and the characters. I'm not a fan of tons of characters in books though, but... I'm willing to forget about that for a little while, that book sounds too good to pass up :)

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    1. This book does have a lot of characters, but I didn’t mind very much. It was awesome enough that I could overlook my issues with remembering who’s who.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  8. I've never heard of this book before but you make me want to read it. The cover is so pretty. I like stories of hope with a good story line. Glad you enjoyed it!

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    1. Isn’t the cover the best thing ever? If you read it, I hope you like it!

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  9. This one had passed me by, but now I really want to read it! It sounds like just my sort of book. Thanks Aj :-)

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  10. Ahh I LOVED this one so so much!! I absolutely feel like rereading now omg *remembers all the feels* I also liked how vivid the writing was....sooo easy to get sucked in. 😍

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    1. The writing is sooo good! I need to find more books like this. Or the author needs to write more books like this.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  11. I love a short book that really delivers! The setting on this one sounds amazing, as well.

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    1. YES! The setting is my favorite part. The shortness is my second-favorite part. Short books are the only way I can succeed at my Goodreads challenge.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  12. So glad to hear that you loved this one!! I've had it on my shelf forever, but haven't taken the plunge yet. I somehow didn't realize it was set in Alaska. I guess I'll finally have to read it!

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    1. Yep, it’s very Alaskan. I hope you like it!

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

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  13. Great review, AJ.

    I borrowed this book from the library, around the time when 'everyone' was reading it, however didn't actually even start it before it was due back... I thought no great loss. But now you make me want to go and borrow it again after this review, especially with how you talk about the detailed characters & setting. Also, I'm loving books set in Alaska right now, including Eowyn Ivey's two novels. I think it is meant to be that I take a trip to the library... Hmm.

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  14. YAY! I loved this book! The whole 1970s in Alaska thing was incredible.

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