Double Review: The Smell of Other People’s Houses & This is Where the World Ends

June 24, 2016 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 3 stars, Books, Reviews

Double Review: The Smell of Other People’s Houses & This is Where the World EndsThe Smell of Other People's Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
Published by Faber & Faber, Allen & Unwin on June 22, 2016
Source: Publisher
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.

epilogue

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

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Thanks Allen & Unwin for sending me a review copy of this book! Out now at all good Australian bookstores for AUD $16.99.

Double Review: The Smell of Other People’s Houses & This is Where the World EndsThis Is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang
Published by Greenwillow Books on March 22nd 2016
Source: Publisher
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.

epilogue

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

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Thanks Harper Collins Australia for sending me a review copy of this book! 

Jeann-Sig

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Jeann is an Aussie blogger, gamer, reader who loves to read, write, fangirl, geek out and eat food. You can find me glued to one of my many mobile devices 24/7, or fangirling over the latest YA book, TV show, movie or game. Chat with me on Twitter @happyindulgence

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28 responses to “Double Review: The Smell of Other People’s Houses & This is Where the World Ends

    • Yeah, it's definitely not a favourite book for everyone hehe. The Smell of Other People's Houses is a well loved book, but I guess I felt kind of ambivalent about it. The setting was interesting though!

  1. I'm glad you enjoyed these, despite the multiplicity of problems you had in them Jeann. Like, I don't think I can read This Is Where It Ends because I try to stay away from toxic and obsessive relationships. And unlikable characters. LOL. Although I might try out The Smell of Other People's Houses and hope for the best! I know Jenna really liked it.

    • Thanks Aila! Yeah, lots of people didn't enjoy This is Where the World Ends but I found it fascinating lol. I'm keen to hear where you stand with The Smell! (LOL)

  2. aentee @ read at midnight

    I was eyeing The Smell of Other People's Houses at the library the other day but put it down in the end because my bag was getting way too heavy with my greedy hoarding ways. I dislike it when multiple POV feels disjointed (since the whole point of them is to connect and give you different perspective on the plot) so sorry to hear that this is the case here.

    You know my thoughts on This Is Where The World Ends. Beautifully written words wasted on a protagonist that's an absolutely asshole.

    • LOL you made me giggle with the greedy hoarding ways…you and I have the same problem Aentee! Yeah, the multiple povs definitely weren't related very well in that way. Oh man, it's weird because her writing is so beautiful but she loves writing unlikable protagonists!

  3. Cyn @ Bookmunchies

    I'm intrigued by The Smell of Other People’s Houses, that's too bad that you didn't quite connect with any of the perspectives. I'm not usually a fan of toxic friendships, but I'm glad This is Where the World Ends still held your interest! Great reviews, Jeann!
    My recent post Review: Sweet Little Lies by Jill Shalvis

  4. Hold up. 1970s is considered historical now? Like, up to what decade does it not count as historical? I was born in 79, so that's depressing to hear. Like a couple years a go my son's friend needed a song for her recital and it had to be an oldie. I said "like 50's or 60's"? She said the 80's. *sigh* Anyway, I'm rambling. I'm actually super curious about the second book.
    My recent post And I Darken by Kiersten White

    • Yeah, it kind of is depressing especially since the other day someone was bringing up how much I knew about "millenials" like they were some new fandangled breed that no one understood!

  5. I haven't read This Is Where The World Ends, and I'm not sure if I want to. On the other hand, I really liked Smelly Houses! I also connected with Ruth more than the other characters, mostly because I found her storyline to be a little more interesting. But yes about the setting of Alaska! I don't really read many books set in historical Alaska, so it was nice reading about the fishing and the town this was set in!

    Awesome reviews Jeann!!
    My recent post Review: Run

    • Yeah, I think your review was the first time I came across the book! I'm glad you liked the setting, it was definitely interesting reading about this place and time!

  6. I felt the same way about This Is Where The Word Ends Jeann, their friendship was toxic, but I felt sorry for Micah in that situation as she knew he was in love with her and it seemed more of a convenient reliance on her part. There was definitely something very Alaska about her, seeking adventure while covering up for a very troubled young woman. I think the most enjoyable part for me was the writing, even though I didn't connect to the storyline, the writing was raw and beautiful. Great reviews Jeann, really enjoyed them.
    My recent post Diversity in Fiction – Not everyone is white, wealthy and straight

    • Yeah, I haven't read Looking for Alaska (and not sure I would tbh) but she just seemed a lot like Margo from Paper Towns (the movie of course). The writing was definitely beautiful as usual! Thank you Kelly.

  7. irena_bookdustmagic

    I also read The S ell of Other People's Houses and my thoughts are similar to yours. Ruth's story was the most i teresting although not one ofthem kept my attention high.
    I haven't read any of Amy Zhang's books, but I'm hearing good things, especially for her debut, so maybe I'll give her a try!

    • Fair enough, yeah Ruth was definitely the one I connected to the most – I thought the switching povs didn't really work too well for me. Thank you lovely!

    • Yeah, I was the same Bee. I heard mixed things about This is Where the World Ends but I ended up surprisingly enjoying it which is good.

    • I'm glad to hear that you're keen to read that one – lots of people loved that book! Yeah, Kat Zhang's books are a mystery to me too, but her writing is so beautiful.

  8. Angel @Angel Reads

    My head hurts from all the characters in The Smell of Other People's Houses – multi Pov's are okay – if they are all connected in some way, but then they aren't – I feel like it's different stories.

    Thanks for the post girl.