Wednesday, 10 February 2016

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

The Smell of Other People's Houses
Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Wendy Lamb Books
[February 23, 2016]
ARC from ALAMW

In Alaska, 1970, being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. This deeply moving and authentic debut is for fans of Rainbow Rowell, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, and Benjamin Alire Saenz. Intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America’s Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare talent.
 
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. This unforgettable book is about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed. 
It's ALAMW. I already have more books than I really intended to grab that day. I'd just walked away with a handful from a different booth after talking with someone who worked there when I pass by Random House. They've just put a bunch of books out, including one I'd been excited about, when I see someone restocking Anna and the Swallow Man. I half-jokingly ask if they've been warning about the need for tissues when read that one. She says she's been warning about Anna AND this book. I look at the gorgeous cover and soak in the beautiful title. I've seen them around, but never looked TOO closely. But I always love hearing what people in booth are excited about and I'm always down for books that make me cry, so I pick it up. A few days later, I'm way behind on my Book a Day for January goal and this one's short, so I pull it from the stack.

It was an excellent choice.

I fell completely in love with this book. But love may not be the right word. The thing is that it's not my kind of book. I don't tend to like the more recently set historical fiction - anything later than WWII generally - and I don't tend to like "issue-y" contemporaries. It's a story that's important for some people, but not for me. But I fell into its grips entirely. Hank and Alyce and Ruth and Dora's stories gripped me. I had to put it aside for a few days to read a blog tour book, which usually kills my desire to read something, but itched to pick it back up again instead. This book has this quiet weight to it, this importance. It's not my kind of book, but it could be such an important book for so many teens.

It's the story of teens - some white, some Eskimo, some Native American, and growing up in the aftermath of Alaska becoming a state, against many of their parents' wishes. Their families are poor and unconventional and they have annoying younger siblings and make bad decisions. They also have friends that are like siblings and want to help their families as best they can. They're all so real and they tell a story we don't see a lot in YA. There are stories about unconventional families, but not so many of them at once. Not when they're also poor. Not when everyone in the family has to chip in and there are other people to help raise them. Often it tends to be all or nothing, but in The Smell of Other People's Houses, there's a whole lot of grey.

It was also, undoubtedly, beautifully written. I'm always a sucker for pretty prose and this was so enthralling. It was stark and honest and created this amazing image of Alaska that I don't really think about. I could taste and smell some of the things described and could just see it all so clearly. It always stands out to me when I have that kind of experience.

Even though this wasn't a book for me, it was still an incredible book. And it's going to be so important to a lot of teens and I think it does kind of change the game of YA. There's nothing like this out there right now and I really, really encourage you to pick it up and pass it to the teens in your life.

--Julie

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