ARC Reviews, Book Reviews, Contemporary, Young Adult

Book Review: The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

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After seeing the gorgeous cover and the odd title, I knew I had to pick this one up.  The Smell of Other People’s Houses?  What’s that all about?

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thesmellofotherpeopleshousesAuthor: Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

Genre: Young Adult •  Contemporary

Version: eBook

Publisher: Random House Kids

Source: NetGalley

AmazonGoodreads

Book Description

In Alaska, 1970, being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. 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 strikes. 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.
Four very different lives are about to become entangled.

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MyThoughts

Told through the alternating perspectives of 4 Alaskan teenagers, The Smell of Other People’s Houses is one of those books with multiple story lines happening simultaneously.  Ruth has a secret, one that she is desperately trying to hide from her ultra conservative Catholic grandmother whom she lives with.  Dora finds herself staying with friends to escape from her toxic parents.  Alyce spends her summers helping her father on his fishing boat, but longs to further her dance career instead.  Hank is on the run with two brothers in tow to get away from a bad situation at home.  It isn’t clear at first how the stories are going to intersect, but little by little we make little connections between the characters until the end when everything comes together.

I know people have tagged this as historical fiction based on the setting, but it’s definitely more of a YA contemporary.   This isn’t necessarily a criticism, just that people shouldn’t really expect much historical contextIt is more about the characters, their relationships, and their journeys, hence contemporary. 

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One of the best aspects of this book, in my opinion, would be the portrayal of Alaska living.  It all felt very authentic, which isn’t a big surprise as the author was born and raised in Alaska herself.   Growing up in general is hard, but we discover that growing up in Alaska has its own specific set of challenges and hurdles: harsh climate, economic hardship, travel limitations, reliance of hunting & fishing for food and livelihood, small population living in close proximity etc etc.  The author’s portrayal of living in Alaska felt very much like “small town” living where everyone knows everyone, thus they all know everything about each other.   Secrets don’t stay secrets for long in a place like this.

 The Smell of Other People’s Houses is definitely not a “fluffy” YA contemporary.   This book touches upon so many heavy topics like poverty, abuse, alcoholism, and teen pregnancy.   This is very much a coming of age story where each character must overcome their own personal struggles.  There is also almost zero romance in this book, which suited me just fine, but if you like your YA contemporary packed full of love, you are not going to find it here.  This book focuses more on other types of relationships: friendships, sibling relationships, parent relationships, grandparent relationships, etc.  

I was surprised to learn that The Smell of Other People’s Houses was a debut novel from Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock.   Her writing felt very developed and beautiful.  It truly was a sensory experience.  This book is not the typical fast paced & action packed YA.  Since it is more of a character driven story, the pacing is on the slower side.  I felt that the writing and the pacing of the novel complimented each other nicely.

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Because it is such a short book, coming in at 240 pages, The Smell of Other People’s Houses almost felt like a short story.  My biggest critique would be that I wish the author would have taken 100 more pages and expanded this story.  Since we had 4 converging story lines with so many heavy topics, the shortness of the book contributed to the book feeling a little “busy” at times.  Again, just extending the book and expanding upon the different stories and themes would have helped make the book not feel so chaotic.

I also would have liked to see more historical context in this book.   The Smell of Other People’s Houses is set in Alaska in the 1970s, BUT I often found that it didn’t always FEEL like the 70s… While this book touches upon some of the resistance of the native people regarding the annexation of Alaska by the United States, it really isn’t a big part of this book.  I really wish the author would have gone into a little more depth in this topic as I feel it would have enhanced the story line.  I, like most U.S. citizens I’m sure, never really thought about the native people of Alaska being opposed to Alaska becoming a state… I would love to read more about how becoming a state affected the native people.  More historical context would have given this book that little extra “umph” I felt it was lacking.

Despite a few shortcomings, this is a very solid debut YA novel by an author that I am sure will have a promising career.  I know I personally will read more of her work, and look forward to what she puts out next.

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MyRating

5-Star Rating System

3.75 Stars

I really struggled with my star rating for this one.  While I did enjoy the book, I felt like it had the potential to be so much more.  4 stars felt a little high, and 3.5 stars felt a little low, so I settled in the middle with 3.75 stars.

*Yes I did just rate a book with a 3.75…It’s my rating, I’ll do what I want 🙂

Big thanks to Random House Kids for providing me with a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author

Bbonnie-suehichcockonnie-Sue Hitchcock was born and raised in Alaska. She worked many years fishing commercially with her family and as a reporter for Alaska Public Radio stations around the state. She was also the host and producer of “Independent Native News,” a daily newscast produced in Fairbanks, focusing on Alaska Natives, American Indians, and Canada’s First Nations. Her writing is inspired by her family’s four generations in Alaska.

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31 thoughts on “Book Review: The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock”

  1. The title of this novel reminds me of a short story by ZZ Packer entitled “Brownies.” A troop of black girls arrives at the Girl Scout camo at the same time as a different troop made up of white girls. One of the black girls tells her friends white people smell like Chihuahuas. I think a lot of authors forget about scent, and when they remember, it’s smells I’ve never encountered, like ginger and white roses, or something weird like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Melanie– Amanda’s points about how the era not being reflected in this text remind me of your review for This Will Go Down On Your Permanent Record. It’s amazing how critical those little details are. Particularly for those of us who remember those moments in history. O_o

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Most definitely. And I know from taking so many creative writing classes that the balance is hard to find. Too many references to the time period, and it sounds like you’re trying to cram the decade into the reader’s face. Too few, and it could be “Anyplace” from “Any time.”

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Excellent review! I am not always into contemporary (it is a mood thing for me), but you have captured my interest. I have to admit that I am a fan of stories that sort of piece themselves together as they good. I am reading a book right now where I am eagerly anticipating the revelation of the connection between the characters. I also love the idea of an Alaskan setting 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this is a solid YA contemporary, but had the potential to be a little more had it just been a little longer. I tend to only read contemporary that isn’t centered around romance. Give me all other types of relationships as the focus! I’m all for a little romance, but I need some “meat” in my plots 😉
      The Alaskan setting/lifestyle was a great part of this book 👍🏻 The author grew up there, so we know it’s legit 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Gurl, you can rate a book however you want. This is *your* blog! You can do what you want. 😀 I completely understand the conflict when it comes to rating books like this too. I have been there so many times.

    I love books where stories intersect but you aren’t certain how they will. I think that’s a common trope in contemporary novels, but I adore it. I appreciate that you call out the lack of historical details. Often, we allow Goodreads to dictate a genre for a book, but really their genre tags on the right are just calling out how often others have shelved those books. Also, wow, are the 1970’s considered history?! Yikes.

    Great review– I will be keeping an eye on Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right? I consider something “historical” when it’s a good 50+ years old. BUT as i say this the 70’s were 40 years ago 😳 The 70s don’t feel like they are old enough to be historical but they are getting up there. Wow time is flying by. ((I talk like I was alive in the 70s but in reality wasn’t born until 1987 lol))

      The Goodreads tag system drives me bonkers because it can hurt a book rating when people pick it up expecting one genre, but it isn’t what they get. Luckily I didn’t have any expectations as I only requested this based off the cover lol It didn’t fall short bc I was expecting historical context, BUT I think this would have enhanced the book had it been included.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The whole Goodreads tag system has definitely hurt book ratings before, you’re right! I put off A Monster Calls and Miss Peregrine’s School for a long time thinking they were horror (Thanks Goodreads). At this point, the only reason I haven’t read them yet is because my TBR is far too long. Oops!

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  4. The title is definitely intriguing! I like the sound of this one, although it’s good to know there isn’t much historical context like I would have thought after quick browsing. It’s a shame though, because learning more about Alaska would definitely be interesting. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it is definitely a solid book, and worth while read. It just had the potential to be much more you know? I did think it was a very unique title and really enjoyed how the author playing into the smells of people’s homes… I’m very interested in seeing what this author will put out next.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure if the author was going for a “timeless” feel or what… but if this was the case why set it in the 70s and not today? I’ve read somewhere that some authors will do this so they don’t have to write about modern technology (internet, smartphones, etc) which can make a plot messy… so basically it’s taking an easy way out. If that makes any type of sense lol

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It makes sense actually XD Sometimes I’m watching an old film and I’m like: this wouldn’t have happened if they had smartphones…

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  5. This sounds really good to me. I struggle with YA – I’m not into the YA romance stuff, so that’s a plus for me! Also, the Alaska setting sounds really interesting. I think I’m going to have to read this as I’m supposed to be reading more YA this year (one of my reading goals, which I’m doing HORRIBLY at so far.) Thanks for reviewing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m was so excited to see you review this one, Amanda! I’ve had it sitting on my Kindle for (mumbles) overayear. Hmm? What? I’m really intrigued by the Alaskan setting–it’s not a place I know or have read much about. And I’m quite excited by the lack of romance. It’s a shame about the lack of historical context, but I’ve been grumping that so many books feel about 100 pages too long these days, so this one might suit my short attention span. I’m bumping it up my reading list! Thanks for the great review! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s definitely a solid YA and very worth while read! If I’m looking at it for what it is, I’d say it’s pretty good HOWEVER I think there was potential for it to be GREAT! She is definitely a talented author, and I’m interested in seeing what she puts out next. I’d be very interested in seeing your thoughts. I struggled wondering if I judged it too harsh, or if I am right that it is missing that little extra something…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Beautiful review, Amanda! I heard good things about this book a while ago and had forgotten about it -with all the books around…can you blame me ahah-, but I am so glad you’re talking about it again now. It sounds like a lovely read and one I could very much enjoy especially knowing that you felt like it read more like a contemporary than a historical kind of book. If that part was kind of missing for you, I’m not too fond of these kind of stories… Well, I guess if I read the book I’ll maybe find myself needing this little historical context as well. Great review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Marie! I just wonder why the author chose to set it in the 70s if she wasn’t going to put more historical context into it? Was she going to a timeless approach? Or did she want to avoid the hardship of technology and modern day conveniences? As a YS contemporary, I felt this book was pretty good! I just wanted a little bit more so the story didn’t feel so busy and fast… if that makes sense lol

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah I get it – it would have been more interesting to know why she wanted to use the 70s as a setting, incorporate more elements of this time.
        It does make sense ahah 🙂

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  8. I didn’t realise how short a story this book is, especially when you have 4 plot lines to navigate. I’ve seen this book around the blogosphere for a while now and I’ve been drawn to it but I feel like it’s one of those books I have to be in the mood to read.

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  9. I had no idea this one was a YA book but I have seen it listed on Bookoutlet & contemplated purchasing a copy. It’s sad though that it didn’t get off that 70’s vibe in regards to current events that took place during that time. I don’t know much about Alaska which means I’m all the more intrigued. Seems like this one was a character driven book which I love but I can see the shortcomings. Wonderful review Amanda 😉

    Like

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