Parents' Guide to

The Smell of Other People's Houses

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Poignant coming-of-age tale about four 1970 Alaskan teens.

The Smell of Other People's Houses Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this book.

Community Reviews

age 16+

Based on 1 parent review

age 16+

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (1 ):
Kids say (2 ):

Fourth-generation Alaskan Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock conjures realistic, stunning descriptions of 1970 Fairbanks and environs, making her simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming story come alive. All the narrators are equally as compelling, whether it's figuratively orphaned Ruth, who doesn't know how to handle a personal crisis when her grandmother treats her like she's invisible; dancing Alyce, who saves Sam only to realize he's saved her as well; angry, bitter Dora, who gets lucky with a bet but has no idea what she'd use the money for when all she wants is to be a full part of Dumpling's family; and strong, determined Hank, who just wants to keep his little brothers safe and away from their mother's boyfriend. At times it's obvious how the stories overlap, but other times it's a sweet surprise.

Author Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock suggests that above all else, Alaskans are humble, frugal, unassuming people who work hard and don't draw unnecessary attention to themselves. In one early and terrible scene, Ruth's grandmother chops off her beautiful long blond hair after she vainly replies to a compliment with "I'm pretty all over." In the hierarchy of sins, vanity is at the top to Alaskans like Ruth and Lily's Gran. Perhaps that's the reason why Hitchcock's writing is beautiful but economical -- no flowery or purple prose, only gorgeous and to-the-point sentences. One almost wishes for an epilogue to ensure that these poor, thoughtful, caring kids get a happy future, but the glimpse of happiness is enough; anything more would be an indulgence.

Book Details

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate