The Smell of Other People’s Houses

Rating: 
Author: Bonnie Sue Hitchcock
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Pub Date: Feb. 2016 (June 2018)

I picked this up on book outlet because a) it was super cheap, and b) look at how gorgeous that cover is!!! But it was a mistake to read this right after reading The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. The Great Alone is gorgeous perfection and made me fall totally in love with Alaska, so after having never read a book about Alaska in my life, I decided to follow it up with the only other book in my possession about Alaska. And they just happen to both be set in the 1970’s (what are the odds?!)

To be fair, whatever I read after The Great Alone was probably going to pale in comparison, but reading another book set in the same place and time period was poor choice on my part. I really wanted to love this, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it was just too short. Hitchcock has created 4 protagonists and a huge cast of secondary characters that just totally overwhelm this short 200 page book.

This was way too ambitious and the author tries to create this heavy cathartic response at the end of the story which just fell totally flat for me because the author did not spend enough time developing any of these characters. If you’re going to have each chapter focus on 1 of 4 characters and only write 200 pages, that’s only 50 pages per character, you’re just not doing to be able to do any of them justice. I felt like I barely knew any of the characters and then they’re all suddenly having epiphanies and learning all these deep things about themselves, but I never went on any journey with them to get there, so it wasn’t meaningful for me and felt way too forced.

Plus I didn’t even find most of these stories engaging. I really liked Ruth and her story arc, which makes sense because the author started and ended with Ruth, so her story feels a little more developed than the others, but I still thought it was lacking overall. A whole novel on just Ruth may have done her justice, but I felt like she barely did anything at Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow and now she suddenly has this brand new perspective of her grandmother? I didn’t get it. Her gran was straight up abusive in my opinion and I didn’t really learn anything about her to change my mind. Sure it’s devastating to lose your own child and I know it’s hard raising 2 girls when you’re old, but people literally do this all the time without emotionally abusing their grandchildren.

Dumpling intrigued me, but I found Dora, Alyce, and Hank’s stories pretty boring. This book has so much potential with so many native characters in it and with the whole set up about how many Alaskans didn’t want to become a State and how many of them fought actively against it. But the book doesn’t really delve into this conflict at all, instead focusing on juvenille issues. I thought the whole thing between Alyce and her dad and the ballet audition was laughable. Like what was even the point of that whole story line, it totally lacked any kind of antagonist. I also thought Hank’s reaction to what happened to him early in the story (don’t want to spoil it) was totally unbelievable and lacked any emotional response. I would have loved to get some more background about what their life was like before running away, but apparently context isn’t that important to the author.

It was definitely an intriguing concept and this book had potential, but it really suffered from a lack of development. There were way too many characters and way too few pages for me to care about any of them. It tried to evoke emotion, but without context and proper development, it felt forced and lacked meaning.

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