THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES: A Review

If novels had background music, this one would play It’s A Small World After All.

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Confession: I love small-town novels. As a Canadian, most of our novels are about small towns, because that’s namely what we have here. I especially love when small towns are woven together with nature, like in Prairie books. The Smell of Other People’s Houses is very much a small-town book, but instead of the prairies, it occurs in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. This, of course, means it is my ideal kind of book.

Let’s start of what I liked:

This novel is very much about setting, but it is also about movement. Every character moves around, skipping from one place to the next. No one is static. This gives a sense of the nomadic, of the people who used to live in Alaska and the Yukon, and the people who still do. I love how important tradition was to this book, like fishing and the Native people. I also really liked the form: there are 4 stories that happen simultaneously, and they all twist, overlap, and combine. The fact that all these stories, which happen in all different places, are able to come together as one really emphasizes the “small world” theme, and the feeling of small towns: no one is isolated, and we all are a part of each other’s story. So I really loved the themes, and I really loved the structure.

And now for what I didn’t like:

It’s way too short. The novel clocks in around 230 pages, which is not enough to tell four individual stories. We only get about 50 pages per character, and I feel like by the time you are able to adjust yourself to the character and their life, their story is already wrapping up. The problem with its brevity is that the characters come off very flat. I did not connect to anyone, because by the time I got to know them, they were already different people, changed through their experiences. While the plot was strong, with its interwoven stories, the characters were not, and this is where the novel fails.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses is a decent read, and it’s the kind of book you want to curl up with as winter turns to spring. Just don’t expect it to change your life.

3 fish out of 5.

THE REST OF US JUST LIVE HERE: A Book Review

If you’ve ever read a book and thought to yourself “I wonder what the characters watching this think is happening” then this is the book for you.

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Patrick Ness is becoming one of my favourite authors. In just over a month, I have read 3 of his novels, and he really does not disappoint. While The Rest of Us Just Live Here is definitely the weakest of his works that I’ve read, it’s not a particularly bad book. It just didn’t grab my heart and rip it to shreds.

The premise is incredibly intelligent. Stylistically, this book was outstanding. The book takes the concept of the “hero” plot, and reduces it to the sideline: the chapter titles tell you what’s happening in the hero plot, but the novel itself is about the lives of some kids while this hero plot is going on. While these special kids (called the “indie kids” in the novel) are out saving the world, the protagonist Mikey and his friends are just trying to make it to graduation. Mikey, living his so-called normal life, of course sees that this hero plot is going on, and even gets a bit swept up in it sometimes, but that plot isn’t his story. His story is about dealing with OCD, friendships, and what he feels is unrequited love while trying to understand (but not get involved in) whatever the hell is happening in his home town.

It’s really, really, really great.

I mean, Ness takes the peripheral characters in a normal novel, and he makes them the mains, examining their lives and their stories. I hope some other authors follow his lead, and we see more books like this, about people who exist on the sidelines, living full lives while right beside them, the world is about to fall apart (literally).

I love how chill Mike is, and I love how jealousy is his defining trait. I love that he’s unlikable in many ways, and extremely relatable in others. I like how the book thoroughly examines his OCD, and his family’s many, many problems. I like how he’s chill about sexuality, and how he’s self-centered and insecure, and I absolutely love Jared. It’s about the normal kids, the kids who could be special and talented, but really, truly just want to live normal lives, which I think is awesome.

But it didn’t capture my heart. While I liked it, I didn’t love it, and it is the format rather than story that is going to stay with me. A valiant effort, and a really good book, but it’s not beautiful. But maybe it doesn’t have to be.

3 chosen ones out of 5.

 

WE ARE THE ANTS: A Book Review

Books that make me sad are the only books I want to read.

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I don’t know what I expected from Shaun David Hutchinson’s We Are The Ants. I knew, the moment I read the summary, that this was a book that I was going to love, and I did, but it completely surprised me. I finished it a few days ago, and I have to admit that I’m rather speechless. I did not expect the sadness that seeped into its every page. I did not expect to have to stop reading because I felt too much pain in my chest.

I don’t want to scare you away. While this book is sad, it’s not heartbreaking. You won’t sob every other chapter, or threaten to throw the book away. It’s not melodramatic, not in the least. The book is real and its sadness is an effect of living, not a plot device.

It’s kind of funny to talk about how “real” this book feels when it’s about a boy who gets abducted by aliens.

Speaking of which, I want to talk about that. One of the most brilliant moves this book does is include the aliens. They might seem strange and needless to some, and I understand why. In a book about deep issues like suicide, grief, mental health, and blame, why include something like aliens? Doesn’t it just make the rest of the book less effective? But no, the aliens make everything become so much more. When you’re suffering a pain so deep and hard to deal with, isn’t the easiest thing to do is dissociate? To create an alternate universe in your head where you hold all the control over everything?

Isn’t part of living learning how to deal, no matter how unhealthy your coping may be?

So I love the aliens. I love the darkness of this book, and how no one seems to get what they really deserve. I love how unjust everything feels, and how much you just want everyone to be happy but it isn’t happening. And I love how when things finally start looking up, it all comes crashing down.

But you know what I love most? Hope.

The reason I love young adult fiction is because, above all else, these books have hope.

Hopeful, I think, is the perfect word to summarize We Are The Ants.

(after ‘sad,’ ‘artful,’ and ‘beautiful’ of course).

4.5 aliens out of 5.