Review: The Smell Of Other People's Houses

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock - The Smell of Other People's Houses
Published: February 23, 2016 by Wendy Lamb Books
Genres: Realistic Fiction, Young Adult
Pages: 240
Find on: Amazon, Goodreads, Book Depository
Rating: 3/5

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.

WARNING: Beware the spoilers. They may be deemed potentially uncool.
No offense to Alaska, but I've never been crazy about it. I wouldn't move there. Or visit. I'm not exactly fond of the cold or the idea of hunting season.

This story just so happens to take place in Alaska, but instead of the current day, it's the '70s. Ruth and Lily live with their dreadful Gran. Their only solace being their best friends, Dumpling and Selma. Alyce just wants to dance. Dora, Hank, and his brother are trying to escape their ugly home lives.

Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock has mastered the art of the debut. She is a native Alaskan, but there were also dozens of unanswered questions and I feel the need to bring them up.

- After giving birth to her young'un, Lily, Ruth and Lily's mom has "mentally checked out." That's all I can describe it as. It's made known at the beginning of the book, their father passed away and the children are casually given to the grandmother. Seriously, what happened to their mother? Was she confined to a mental facility? Could she not go on with her life? She's never brought up again.

- Gran is abusive and it's perfectly fine. She shears Ruth's head in front of a whole dance class, full of children, and no one says anything. That scene was so disturbing, and to make it worse, no one calls CPS.

- Early on in the book, Ruth discovers she's pregnant and automatically knows she is. My mom had my sister in '79. She went to a doctor to find out. Ruth discovers her pregnancy, overeats, and is like: "I'm obviously pregnant duh."

- Their best friend, Dumpling, gets in a serious accident (?) and winds up in a coma, but that accident is casually brushed by.

- Ruth was saying: "Lily brought bus tickets to Canada. She wants to escape there. She packed a suitcase, etc." Before you know it, Ruth is shipped to a nun convent because Gran is ashamed of her pre-marital pregnancy while Lily is still stuck in Alaska.

- Last thing: Ruth has her baby and names her after her grandmother? Really? The woman abused her all those years and shipped her off? Also, why the hell would she not even tell the baby's father about the adoption, then pop back into town, like: "Hiiii!"? Don't even try to fool the people, Ruth. You ain't even sacred. I've always hated in these stories, where mothers simply don't tell the child's father about the pregnancy and still try to blame them. Messy. 

Honestly, I was only attached to Ruth's story. Though they were well-developed, Alyce, Dora, and Hank's stories were boring. Extensive. They were almost always talking about Ruth, anyway. I wasn't totally pleased with Ruth's decision of not telling the father, but I was glad to see her make the right choice in the end. Still, a lovely debut.