'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 20 July 2016

Review: The Smell of Other People's Houses

Fairbanks, Alaska, in the 1970s isn't exactly a progressive town. The 'natives' and the rest of the population tend not to mix much. The cold, harsh, beautiful landscape has fostered a resilient, tough people with a tendency to look the other way when trouble comes around, and where alcohol has a grip on far too many.

Dora's father is in jail for a drunken stunt that saw him blasting away with a shotgun when he shouldn't have. The day he was taken away was the best of her life — now she and her mother are safe from him. It's a pity that Dora's mum spends all her spare time in the bar, but at least Dora gets to live with Dumpling's family — kind, loving, the opposite of her own.

Ruth and her sister Lily live with her gran. Her mother wasn't able to cope with the death of Ruth's father in a plane crash; her mind simply 'went away'. Ruth has no idea where her mother is now but she both misses her and resents her for abandoning them. She'll do pretty much anything to feel loved — which is how she finds herself pregnant.

Alyce is born to be a ballet dancer. She has one shot to get a dance scholarship to College. The only problem is that the audition takes place during the summer fishing season. Every year that she can remember she's spent the summer fishing on her father's commercial trawler. Since her parents separated, that tradition has become even more important to her, as it's the only time she gets to see her dad. She's can't not go fishing with him, and she can't ask him to interrupt the fishing season to let her come back and audition.

Hank is the oldest brother in the trio that is Hank, Sam and Jack. They've fled their home, escaping the violent, abusive man who now lives with their mother since their father died in a fishing accident. Then Sam goes missing from the ferry they've stowed away on, and Hank fears another member of their family has died at sea.

Four very different teenagers. Four very different stories. Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, in her debut novel, weaves their lives together masterfully in a book that mesmerises from start to finish. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the four — in a distinct 'voice' that captures their character perfectly. Never forced, the narrative unfolds entirely believably, touching on issues of identity and what it means to belong. And as Ruth, Dora, Alyce and Hank come to realise, '[you] don't have to be blood to be family'.

Title: The Smell of Other People's Houses
Author: Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Publisher: Faber & Faber, $16.99
Publication Date: July 2016
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780571314959
For ages: 13+
Type: Young Adult