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The Smell of Other People's Houses
Cover of The Smell of Other People's Houses
The Smell of Other People's Houses
"Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's Alaska is beautiful and wholly unfamiliar.... A thrilling, arresting debut." —Gayle Forman, New York Times bestselling author of If I Stay and I Was Here "[A] singular...
"Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's Alaska is beautiful and wholly unfamiliar.... A thrilling, arresting debut." —Gayle Forman, New York Times bestselling author of If I Stay and I Was Here "[A] singular...
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  • "Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock's Alaska is beautiful and wholly unfamiliar.... A thrilling, arresting debut." —Gayle Forman, New York Times bestselling author of If I Stay and I Was Here

    "[A] singular debut. . . . [Hitchcock] weav[es] the alternating voices of four young people into a seamless and continually surprising story of risk, love, redemption, catastrophe, and sacrifice." —The Wall Street Journal

    This deeply moving and authentic debut set in 1970s Alaska is for fans of Rainbow Rowell, Louise Erdrich, Sherman Alexie, and Benjamin Alire Saenz. Intertwining stories of love, tragedy, wild luck, and salvation on the edge of America's Last Frontier introduce a writer of rare talent.

    Ruth has a secret that she can't hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she's always known on her family's fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it's safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

    Four very different lives are about to become entangled. This unforgettable William C. Morris Award finalist is about people who try to save each other—and how sometimes, when they least expect it, they succeed.

    William C. Morris Finalist
    Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal
    Tayshas Reading List—Top 10 List
    New York Public Library's Best 50 Books for Teens
    Chicago Public Library, Best of the Best List
    Shelf Awareness, Best Children's & Teen Books of the Year
    Nominated to the Oklahoma Sequoya Book Award Master List
    Nominated to the Colorado Blue Spruce Young Adult Book Award
    "Hitchcock's debut resonates with the timeless quality of a classic. This is a fascinating character study—a poetic interweaving of rural isolation and coming-of-age." —John Corey Whaley, award-winning author of Where Things Come Back and Highly Illogical Behavior

    "As an Alaskan herself, Bonnie Sue Hitchcock is able to bring alive this town, and this group of poor teens and their families that live there." —Bustle.com




  • From the book

    Chapter One

    The Smell of Other People's Houses


    At some point I stopped waiting for Mama to come back. It's hard to hold on to a five-year-old dream, and even harder to remember people after ten years. But I never stopped believing there had to be something better than Birch Park, something better than living with Gran.

    When I was sixteen Ithought maybe it was a boy named Ray Stevens. His father was a private detective and a hunting guide in the bush. His family had just built a new house on a lake where they parked their floatplane, and in winter they could snow-machine all the way down Moose Creek from their back door.

    The Stevenses' whole house was made of fresh-cut cedar. All of Ray's clothes smelled like cedar, and it made me sneeze when I got close to him, but I got close anyway.

    Cedar is the smell of swim team parties at their house and the big eight-by-ten-inch Richard Nixon photograph that hung in the living room. Cedar is the smell of Republicans. It's the smell of sneaking from Ray's older sister's room (Anna also swam on my relay team; I befriended her out of necessity) and into Ray's room, where I crawled into his queen-sized bed facing the sliding glass doors that looked out on the lake. How many sixteen-year-old boys had a queen-sized bed? I'm guessing one, and it had sheets that smelled like cedar and Tide, and they held a boy with curly blond hair, bleached from the swimming pool. He was the best diver in the state and I was only on a dumb relay team, but he sought me out anyway. We could have drowned in our combined smells of chlorine and ignorance—guess which part I was?

    He knew how to French-kiss, which tasted like a forest of promises once I got used to it. Because I was Catholic, and smelled stiff instead of wild, he promised not to do anything but touch me lightly and only in certain places, where the smell wouldn't give me away when I went back to my own house, which held nothing but the faint scent of mold in second-hand furniture—also known as guilt and sin.

    At the Stevenses', everything was fresh, like it had just been flown in from Outside, and there were no rules. Their shag carpet was so thick that in the morning I followed my deep orange footprints back to Ray's sister's room and pretended I'd been there all night.

    I only joined the swim team because ballet hadn't worked out. Gran was sure that any kind of dancing was just a slippery slope that butted right up to the gates of vanity. In her opinion, there was nothing worse than being vain. Lily and I paid for our vanity little by little. We paid by hiding good report cards, deflecting compliments, and staying out of sight. We paid in the confessional on Sundays. "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I smiled at myself in the mirror today."

    I did that. Once. Felt so good about myself that I smiled into a mirror and twirled and danced as if I held the world in my six-year-old hands. I was going to my first dance class in my fancy pink tutu and my long blond hair was all the way down to my butt. It really was so thick and long that it made this cool scritchy-scratchy noiseacross the mesh fabric of my tutu when I swung my head from side to side. It was the tutu Daddy had bought me Outside. You couldn't get a tutu like this in Fairbanks, and I don't think Gran knew that it was special, or she never would have let me have something the other girls didn't. I was so excited, and as I came up to the studio, I remember another girl and her mom going inside, too. Alyce was wearing a black leotard and plain...

About the Author-

  • Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock was born and raised in Alaska. She worked many years fishing commercially with her family and as a reporter for Alaska Public Radio stations around the state. She was also the host and producer of "Independent Native News," a daily newscast produced in Fairbanks, focusing on Alaska Natives, American Indians, and Canada's First Nations. Her writing is inspired by her family's four generations in Alaska.


  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 9, 2015
    Set in Fairbanks, Alaska, in the 1970s, this lyrical debut follows four teens whose stories gradually converge through a well-plotted series of loves, tragedies, and adventures. Dora only wants to find a safe home and loving family, but when good fortune strikes, it may be her downfall. Ruth misses her parents and hopes to escape the harsh life she has endured with her Gran, but a relationship with a popular guy at school might not be the escape she needs. Stowing away on a ship proves dangerous for Hank, who seeks a safe haven for himself and his brothers, and Alyce must choose between her love of dancing and her father’s expectation that she continue to spend summers fishing with him. Using alternating narratives, debut novelist Hitchcock deftly weaves these stories together, setting them against the backdrop of a native Alaska that readers will find intoxicating. The gutsiness of these four teens who, at heart, are trying to find their places in the world and survive against challenging odds, will resonate with readers of all ages. Ages 12–up. Agent: Molly Ker Hawn, Bent Agency.

  • Booklist, Starred "An exquisitely drawn, deeply heartfelt look at a time and place not often addressed. Hitchcock's measured prose casts a gorgeous, almost otherworldly feel over the text, resulting in a quietly lovely look at the various sides of human nature and growing up in a difficult world."
  • Publishers Weekly "Using alternating narratives, debut novelist Hitchcock deftly weaves these stories together, setting them against the backdrop of a native Alaska that readers will find intoxicating. . . . will resonate with readers of all ages."
  • Shelf Awareness, Starred "An affecting story of fractured love and surprising redemption."
  • Kirkus Reviews "The Alaskan author depicts places and an era rarely seen in fiction for teens....All benefit from her journalist's eye for detail."
  • The Horn Book "Grounded in emotional honesty."
  • Eowyn Ivey, author of the New York Times bestseller The Snow Child "An honest, gritty, and moving portrait of growing up in Alaska. Only someone who knows and loves this place through and through could tell this story. This book is Alaska."
  • Tim Tingle, author of the series How I Became a Ghost "As only a native of Alaska can, Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock blends narratives of indigenous and non- into a buffet of pain and beauty. Highly recommended."

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