The Smell of Other People’s Houses Review

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In a Nutshell…

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.


My Thoughts…

When you hear the title The Smell of Other People’s Houses, what image does your brain conjure? I envision fresh sheets out of the laundry, the scent of cleaning liquid, a palpable aroma of baked goods. Likely your own experience with those words varies vastly from my own, a unique spin on childhood nostalgia. And that phenomenon, that universal experience, perfectly encapsulates the sheer genius that is the basis of Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s first novel. Though it’s about many things (love, loss, grief, and guilt to name a few), the common thread is how our lives entangle in every way. You are never as alone as you may feel. This is a very noble, lofty takeaway for a book written with a young adult audience in mind. However I can’t imagine this story any other way, resigning itself to content traditionally deemed “teen friendly”. It reminds me of an author quote via Pinterest, one that said “I write for the adult in all young people”. However, in the interest of complete transparency, know there are a lot of technical issues that would normally sway me towards a mediocre rating. In the end though, this unfeeling grinch can’t bare to see this beautiful story receive anything less than 4 stars. With that disclosure out of the way, let me  cut to the chase.


Ruth’s story is what really sent this book above and beyond my expectations. Out of all four tales hers receives the most page time, and it definitely shows when reading. Each of her heartbreaks felt so genuine to me, her triumphs so real. Hitchcock managed to cut through all the tropes that historically mangle her storyline, and present readers with a universal message. This book is one very much about family, and the reason I believe Ruth’s chapters soared while others fell flat is the  incorporation of that theme so openly. Her journey is equally about finding herself as it is coming to understand her mother and grandmother. It was fascinating to say the least, and what truly allowed the book to come full circle. Bottom line: I have never spent a mere 70 pages with a character, only to love them so fiercely and fully. I wish I could say more eloquently why this is, but when you know it the feeling can’t be mistaken. Coming close to that level of emotion is Dora, whose scars show much more visibly. Her story is entirely different in tempo, spirit, and demeanor, yet it shook me all the same. It’s a swirl of newfound happiness and demons that refuse to be shrugged off, but always managed to be the ray of sunshine in this oftentimes dark novel. I didn’t connect with her emotionally on the same level as Ruth, however she’s an integral player whose presence must be noted. Unfortunately (though the heart of the aforementioned characters more than makes up for it), I feel compelled to mention the aspects I found subpar. I just couldn’t get behind what Hitchcock was selling for the characterization of MC’s Alyce and Hank. Their chapters always felt stunted and cut too short, intent more on delivering arbitrary details than actual development. I never understood what made them tick, nor grasped the message our author was trying to deliver. I felt the two were simply placeholders, meant to connect the ending as a whole. This brings me to my next point; Hitchcock is so desperate to bring everything together as one core story, that she neglects necessary backstory/closure/etc.  Honestly I would have preferred it if these were all unrelated journeys that just had a central theme, for the sake of more dimension given to each individually. Keep in mind these are all very, very, very, VERY minor gripes given to satisfy my grumpiness. The positives definitely outweigh any shortcomings, and I would recommend this book to all! These are just some things that could have elevated the book from 4 stars to “OMG I’m reading this to my children and grandchildren and basically the entire world.” You know, making it my writer religion 🙂

So what do I want the major takeaway from this review to be? Basically just read The Smell of Other People’s Houses stat. I can pinky promise you won’t regret it. It’s a historical setting that non-historical fiction fans can still appreciate, it’s got some romance, some family drama, some action, and pretty much all the right stuff to satisfy any genre lover. Plus, it’s a mere 280 pages (though by the end I guarantee you’ll be begging Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock to double the length). Oscar bait at its finest, secure the film rights now!

-Keep Calm and Read On

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