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

Monday, February 22, 2016

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

This book has a title that makes you stop and feel. As someone who has trouble titling things, I was intensely jealous when I first saw it. I knew I'd read the book before I even knew what it was about, but I'm happy to report that the story more than lives up to the amazing title. (Also, look at that BEAUTIFUL cover!)

The Smell of Other People's Houses is told from four different perspectives over the course of one year--1970--in Alaska. Ruth's storyline begins the novel, when her father dies in a tragic plane crash and her mother is unable to care for her and her little sister, sending them to live with their grandmother in Fairbanks. As a teen, Ruth seeks comfort from the sadness in her life wherever she can, unprepared for the consequences. Dora's own sad family history has sent her seeking shelter with her best friend's family, but she still doesn't feel safe, even when things go well for her. Alyce is terrified of change, and so she adheres to old routines and denies her own desires for a future outside of Alaska. Hank is prepared to do whatever it takes to keep his brothers safe, but when one of them goes missing, Hank must risk asking for help.

The mystery of other people's lives and the uncertainty of the future is the driving force behind this beautifully-written debut novel. Hitchcock digs deep into each character--their histories, their desires, and their emotions--to explore their individual stories of fear and hope. The power of this novel doesn't come from plot (which is pretty light), but from the characters and how their choices, both large and small, slowly bring them all together in the very end. They pay off isn't something grand and dramatic, but something more subtle, more realistic, and more poignant.

I also adored the Alaskan setting, partly because it's one that we don't often read about in YA, but mostly because Hitchcock does a brilliant job at making this particular time and place come to life on the page. The setting has just as much presence as any of the four POV characters, and I was completely entranced. By highlighting shared histories and memories, Hitchcock portrays a diverse community surviving and thriving on the edge of wilderness.

This is one book I feel as though I can confidently recommend to any reader, teen or adult. It has a timeless pull to it that transcends YA/adult categorization. It's one of my favorite reads of 2016 so far.

Review copy provided by publisher! Many thanks!

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