- The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Library ed. ISBN 978-0-553-49779-3 $20.99
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-553-49778-6 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-0-553-49780-9 $10.99
Reviewed from galleys Ad Gr. 8-10
It’s Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1970, and four teenagers are leading very different lives. Ruth is sent away to a convent when she becomes pregnant; Dora is taking refuge from her abusive family with loving friends; Alyce longs to dance ballet, but her obligation ties her to helping on her father’s fishing boat; Hank and his brothers stow away on a ferry to Canada but encounter a disaster that changes their plans. Hitchcock, an Alaskan herself, draws a loving and dimensional portrait of Alaska of the era, with relationships among Athabascans, Inupiaq, and whites ranging from tension to deep friendship, and with the region’s recent change to statehood still vivid and sometimes regretted by residents. The stories touch on poignant notes; Dora’s is especially moving, as she wins good fortune in the local lottery but struggles to break free of her grasping family. However, there are too many plot strands and too many characters, making it sometimes hard to place the names and interfering with the story’s momentum, and there’s a fair amount of contrivance in the interweaving of the four stories as well as in some of the melodramatic details. Readers fascinated by life outside of the contiguous 48, however, may find this a dramatic picture of Alaska in an underdepicted era, and this could be an [End Page 419] interesting successor to Dagg’s portrait of a slightly earlier Alaska in Sweet Home Alaska (BCCB 3/16).