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

‘Are you sure?’ an acquaintance enquired when I had told her of Bookwagon’s commitment to recommend only good books to readers from babyhood to young adulthood. Maybe it seems a tall order, but I am motivated to find, share and sell the best books according to the needs of each specific reading ‘band’.

Young adult, or in Bookwagon speak ‘Challenges’, pose the biggest ‘challenge’. This stream can appear isolated like an Eel Pie Island, between children’s and adult’s books. In both areas are wonderful titles that cross over and satisfy the reader. Then again, there are certain titles that hit the young adult reader spot succinctly. We aim to find and sell these at Bookwagon.

I have just finished reading ‘The Smell of Other People’s Houses’ by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Faber and Faber) and assert we’ve another title that will leave a lasting, positive impression on our young adult readership. 

The four adolescent narrators- Hank, Ruth, Dora and Alyce- tell their stories over a period in the late 1950’s- 60’s when Alaska was newly admitted to the United States. They have their own obstacles to work through, from abusive and/ or absent parents, running away, conflicting opportunities, to identity. Like the Fairbanks setting, its mid- 20th century timeframe, places, events, people and routines are different, real and fascinating.

There is no sense that ‘The Smell of Other People’s Houses’ exploits this genre, something I fear most in this age range, for there is compelling authenticity, pride and strength in the author’s storytelling. I liked each of the characters and their understudy families and friends. As Brexit Britain triggers Article 50, the aftermath of the Alaskan secession seemed particularly relevant to me, as the residents and native peoples awaited an adjustment to their lives. There was a sense that the narrators felt powerless, but the course of the story ignited an understanding that each of them was able to stand up to their fears, uncertainties and oppression in order to move forward- ‘It’s hard to think about the river thawing when it’s still forty below. But when spring finally does come, it rushes in like a band of robbers.’

This is a tremendous, satisfying, long-lasting story that I recommend to any young adult or adult reader without exception. I look forward to Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock’s next title, details of which she will not, superstitiously, share. Her debut, already shortlisted for both the 2017 UKLA and CILIP Carnegie Awards, is outstanding. Bronnie 

One thought on “The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

  1. […] hurt, rather like the main characters. This is meaningful, respectful, real and beautiful writing; ‘An Island of Our Own’ by Sally Nicholls, in which the lead character offers the sort of […]

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