Seventeen-year-old Russell grew up in the Hothouse. He wasn’t literally raised in the local firehouse—more like metaphorically. His father was a firefighter and so was his best friend DJ’s dad, and the two are practically like family. For as long as he can remember, Russell has considered himself a firefighter too, training with the Young Firefighters and eating, sleeping and breathing the brotherhood-culture of it all.
But when Chris Lynch’s Hothouse opens, Russell’s and DJ’s dads have been killed while fighting a house fire. The men are revered as heroes, and the entire community rallies around their families. In fact, the whole first half of the novel is a cavalcade of hero stuff: speeches, memorials, rituals, bonfires on the beach and a concert where the boys are lifted up over the heads of the audience. It’s hard for Russell to keep his composure, but he’s fairly swelling with pride for his dad.
It’s a real surprise, then, when the story takes a dark turn. An inquiry into the accident is made, and Russell must come to terms with the fact that his dad had some un-heroic tendencies. Unfortunately, the community that had at first embraced them is much less forgiving.
In many ways this is a difficult story: These kids live with the specter of death around them all the time, and they have a wisdom and world-weariness beyond their years. Yet Lynch’s writing has a lyrical, almost musical quality. With intelligence and sophistication, he explores what it means to be built up and then torn down, how painfully capricious other people’s opinions of us can be. But underneath this, buoying the story all along, is a fighting spirit, a humor, hopefulness and passion for life.