Published by Faber & Faber, Allen & Unwin on June 22, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Historical, Fiction
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Alaska, 1970: growing up here is like nowhere else.
Ruth wants to be remembered by her grieving mother.Dora wishes she was invisible to her abusive father.Alyce is staying at home to please her parents. Hank is running away for the sake of his brothers.
Four very different lives are about to become entangled. Because if we don't save each other, how can we begin to save ourselves?
Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's extraordinary, stunning debut is both moving, and deeply authentic. These intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America's Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare and wonderful talent.
I’ve never read a book set in Alaska before, so when The Smell of Other People’s Houses came about, I knew I had to get this glimpse into a different life.
Being historical fiction, the book is set in the 1970s, told from the perspective of four very different teenage characters. It has a wonderful small town feel about it, with gossip and reputation of certain characters being told from different angles. Everyone knows how sad Ruth’s family is, with a deserted mother and a father who has passed away. There’s also Dumpling who is Indian but has extremely nice parents that everyone covets. It was interesting hearing the rumours about these characters, but also hearing from some of their perspectives as well.
Having never been to Alaska and not knowing much about it, I loved hearing about how different their icy lives are from my own sunny Australia one. Most of the families are poverty stricken and going to the local Salvation Army is usual for them. There’s buzz over the Ice Classic, which is a lottery based on the exact time that the ice will break, signalling warmer weather. Fishing and hunting is the primary source of food for the Alaskan natives, and it was interesting hearing about Alyce’s fishing adventures and swimming with the orcas. It’s written in a really evocative way, vividly describing smells, senses and the icy landscape that felt really warm and homely, despite the setting.
I remember my dad saying that sometimes you can be inserted into another person’s life just by witnessing something you were never really supposed to be a part of.
I was most invested in Ruth, who the story starts with and who struggles with a broken family and a teenage pregnancy. Her experience living in a nunnery was enlightening and endearing. I also liked Alyce’s point of view, even though she seemed slightly snooty. She’s a pretty ballerina who also spends her time gutting fish for her family’s business, which was an interesting juxtaposition. While I liked Hank as the only male point of view, his story didn’t seem to add much to the rest except for his reunion with his brothers. Dora’s perspective is mainly about her best friend Dumpling and about her abusive dad.
While I enjoyed the setting of the book, I found the multiple point of views difficult to connect to, given how different all four of their lives were. Each of these characters live mostly separate from one another, so there’s another set of characters within their lives to adjust to. There’s a difficult learning curve, especially where their perceptions about each other would differ from character to character. It’s hard to get invested when the perspective switches so frequently, over such a short number of pages. Upon reaching the end, I felt like some of their perspectives were pointless.
I’m glad the novel gave us a great glimpse in the different cultures that made up The Smell of Other People’s Houses though, and how everyone’s in it together. It’s a very family oriented novel, and each family here is diverse and has their own troubles.
The Smell of Other People’s Houses captures historical Alaska in a warm and vivid way. While I enjoyed the evocative point of view and how charming the events were, the multiple perspectives within the one book made it difficult to connect to any one story.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Thanks Allen & Unwin for sending me a review copy of this book! Out now at all good Australian bookstores for AUD $16.99.This Is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang
Published by Greenwillow Books on March 22nd 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Psychological Thriller
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Janie and Micah, Micah and Janie. That’s how it’s been ever since elementary school, when Janie Vivien moved next door. Janie says Micah is everything she is not. Where Micah is shy, Janie is outgoing. Where Micah loves music, Janie loves art. It’s the perfect friendship—as long as no one finds out about it. But then Janie goes missing and everything Micah thought he knew about his best friend is colored with doubt.
Using a nonlinear writing style and dual narrators, Amy Zhang reveals the circumstances surrounding Janie’s disappearance in a second novel.
This is Where the World Ends reminded me of Paper Towns, but much less infuriating and written in a more engaging manner. Amy Zhang has a flair for writing unpredictable contemporaries with unlikable characters who get turned on their heads.
With switching perspectives between Janie (before) and Micah (after), we find out the events leading up to Micah waking up in hospital. All he remembers is a bonfire and Janie in his life beforehand. As we piece together parts of the plot, there’s an underlying mystery – what happened to Janie and where is she?
The relationship between Micah and Janie is enthralling and toxic, as we witness their reckless, thrill-seeking behaviour which escalates throughout the story. Janie is bright, beautiful and unpredictable, and she’s focused all her attention on Micah like a siren. She’s made him believe that they’re soulmates, yet Janie ignores him at school because she doesn’t want to be seen hanging out with an outcast.
“She’s my soul mate…My soul mate. Or not soul mate. She said that we shared a soul. What does that mean? She said that we were an atom. I don’t know, Dewey. I think she’s crazy.”
As you can tell, the characters aren’t very likable and I found both of them were as bad as the other. While Janie’s already emotionally committed to Micah, she starts dating the angel-like handsome Anders out of curiosity. She was never fair to either of these guys, yet her inflated sense of self made it seem like she was entitled to them. Micah, on the other hand, knew exactly what Janie was doing yet also disregarded her actions. He didn’t treat his best friend Dewey very nicely and looks down at him, despite Dewey being a damn good friend to him.
Although Janie and Micah were unlikable, I was fascinated by the nature of their toxic friendship. You can tell they’re both totally obsessed with each other; Janie with a sense of entitlement and wrapping Micah around her little finger, and Micah being willing to do absolutely anything for Janie. We witness the love-sick Micah in Janie’s point of view from before, but the after Micah who is fraught with separation anxiety after the accident. It’s the compelling mystery that ties the plot together, as we wonder what will become of the Janie and Micah disaster.
Sure, Ander fills me full of butterflies that get all tangled in my heartstrings, but Micah adds gravity to all of my black holes. He waters my weeds.
Although This is Where the World Ends features unlikable characters, the mystery, the switching perspectives and the toxic friendship kept me glued to it’s pages. I’m a sucker for books featuring toxic friendships because they’re so unpredictable.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Thanks Harper Collins Australia for sending me a review copy of this book!