How to describe the homes of other people or places you remember? For Ruth it is by their scent. The home she remembers before her father’s death is rich and warm, her Gran’s house in Birch Park ‘smelled like an old person’s home’. For Dora, home is cigarette smoke and alcohol; Alyce is surrounded by the smell of a fresh catch of fish; while Hank remembers his father’s aftershave. These four teenagers living in 1970’s Alaska tell their stories as they try to find their way through the complications of life as they move towards adulthood
Each of the protagonists speak directly to the reader. This might have resulted in a very bland narrative with little distinction between the four. However, without adopting extreme speech characteristics, the author succeeds in creating subtle differences between the voices. And their characters are very distinct; again cleverly conveyed through their attitudes and comments. Originally written as short stories and here expanded to create a linked narrative, Hitchcock has kept the concise approach of the originals. There are no long explanatory descriptions; the reader discovers background, histories, connections through the eyes of whichever teen is talking. One is drawn into their lives, approaching incidents from different angles. And each, as they speak, step off the page to draw one into their life. As distinct and beguiling – or terrifying – is the Alaskan setting of the 1970s – wide spaces and a beautiful but unforgiving landscape with very close communities boasting mixed cultures, staunch friendships and great prejudices. The place is as important as the characters.
This is one to recommend highly to any reader who wants to meet real people facing very difficult but recognisable situations while allowing one to hope. A great – and unexpected – read.