8 June 2020
Filed under Books   No Comments

Before I start properly writing this post, I’d like to clarify I don’t really review books. The last time I’ve done this was probably during school, and I don’t often read reviews either. I do read a lot, though, and I’d like to get better at putting thoughts into paper (or keyboard?), so here goes nothing.

I started reading The Smell of Other People’s Houses, written by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, after I nosily saw a friend recommend it to someone else on Twitter. I have a habit of stealing book, movie and TV show recommendations through all types of social media, specially Goodreads – which is kind of the main reason I use the website. I admit what hooked me was the title. I am mostly attracted to book covers, and this one doesn’t disappoint, but it’s rare that I want to read a story just for the title it was given. I didn’t even actually read the summary before I started.

So I won’t read the summary now that I am done, either, and will instead write one myself. This is the story of many characters that live in Fairbanks, Alaska, told from the perspectives of the teenagers Ruth, Hank, Alyce and Dora. Although they are all interconnected through different aspects of their lives – such as family, neighborhood, school, fishing – they are not friends. A quick Google search will tell you that Fairbanks is the largest city in the Interior region of Alaska, but you don’t see much of it through the eyes of these characters. The world as seen by them feels small and claustrophobic, even though not much time is spent in the description of their surroundings, with the exception of their own houses. The people are the focus of this narrative.

Ruth moves in with her grandmother and her little sister Lily after a tragedy takes their parents away. She lives near Dora, whose parents seem to be constantly drunk and whose house is a source of anxiety rather than comfort, and Dumpling, whose little sister Bunny is Lily’s best friend, and whose house is warm, much like the people in it. Ruth’s best friend is Selma, whose cousin Alyce spends her summers helping her dead and uncle on their fishing boat. Hank doesn’t actually live in Fairbanks, but his story does intertwine with everyone else’s when his brother, Sam, falls off from a ferry boat as they are running away from home with their younger brother, Jack.

It feels wrong to say that the beauty of this book is in its simplicity, because I don’t really believe it tells a simple story. The writing isn’t flowery, though, and the book isn’t long. With about 240 pages, I actually feel it might be too short. Once I realized I’d be reading about several characters from the get-go, I got slightly nervous thinking I could have a problem following along – I really am not great with names, ages and dates in general. Surprisingly, after a few chapters I knew everyone by their names and had already understood how they were connected to one another.

It’s easy to care for these characters because they are so honest regarding how they feel about their lives and the people around them. There is no villain and the dots connect nicely, with no rush, which makes the story feel real even for me, a person who’s not really sold on the concept of fate.

I read this book in a few hours, split into two days, and it felt like it was even less. It’s hard to put into words why I liked it so much, but I honestly did, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes to read about simple lives. There is no excessive thrill, excruciating drama or mind-blowing romance, but there is adventure, sadness and love, and no big time jump is needed to understand how or why these characters are maturing from one chapter to the next.

The version I read was for Kindle, which costs about $6,00 and can be bought on Amazon.

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