By Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock; published by Wendy Lamb Books, 2016
Do you remember that moment when you realized your family was different from all others?
I came across this title when my local library announced it as its 2018 Community Read. There were plenty of copies available, so I thought, “Why not?” Young Adult books are not what I tend to gravitate too (and it was the first YA nomination for the Community Reads list) so I was excited to stretch my horizons with something new.
The first things that drew me to take the plunge were the gorgeous cover (can we take a moment to savor the beauty that it is?) and the fact that it is set in Alaska. Having been to Alaska, I can recognize the scent of mountain wilderness and the faint, fresh whiff of salmon as it rolls over the Puget Sound when the wind is right. I have a colleague that spent quite some time on a fishing boat sailing the Bering Sea, and when he tells his sea stories it is as if I can smell the salt and wet. I feel a bit of electricity in the air when he talks about the times he narrowly kept his life because of the weather, or the fact that someone was not paying attention.
The Smell of Other People’s Houses is told in five person narrative – each beautiful voice is intertwined with the others, but are independent enough to almost be their own short story. Some intersections are quite subtle, so I recommend reading this novel in as few sittings as possible (average read time on my kindle was about four and a half hours). I happened to get busy and easily distracted so I think I may have missed a few things, but still really enjoyed it.
The story is tied to the seasons and culture of Alaska, which are quite fierce, and while the characters deal with the seasons of nature, they are also struggling through the seasons of life. The characters in the novel are quite young, but are dealing with very real-world problems written in a very realistic way. I completely forgot that I was reading YA while my heart broke for them; I think the phrase “coming of age” is a bit cliche and very overused, but the theme that runs through the story was one that stuck out for me in my own childhood.
Do you remember that moment when you realized that your family was different from all others? Children start their childhood thinking that everyone’s house is like theirs, from the scent of the floor cleaner to their mother’s hair, but then there is the moment when the magic is broken, and the realize the rules of their world do not necessary line up with reality.
This moment happened for me when I discovered pepperoni pizza (not nearly as harrowing as anything the character’s experienced, but…). My parents always ordered mushroom and black olive with cheese, and because the world told me pizza was “cool”, I always got excited about it and chowed down like a champ. But one day, I was at a friend’s house when their parents brought in pepperoni pizza and my world was turned upside down. It was so delicious that I felt lied to for having not been given the opportunity to experience the heaven that it was. For a six year old, the idea of being lied to by omission was just too much, and I have never eaten another slice of pizza with mushrooms and black olives. To this day, I question the sanity of my parents for choosing such a terrible combination (this was also where I discovered my aversion to mushrooms). But I digress…
This was a solid debut that is worth reading, regardless of your age – and y’all know how much I love a good debut novel! I am so looking forward to following Hitchcock’s career as an author. She is one to watch.
*Note: This post was not sponsored in any way.