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Like Chris Lynch, I live in Boston, where, a couple of years ago, tributes to heroism and bravery following the deaths of two firefighters in the line of duty eventually became more complicated and less adulatory. Even in a city the size of Boston, residents were rocked by revelations that emerged from the tragedy. But what would happen if these same events took place in a smaller community, one in which not only the firefighters' families and their colleagues but also the entire town felt that the fallen heroes were "their own"? This is among the questions that Lynch explores in his powerful, painful new novel, HOTHOUSE.

Russell has never doubted what he will do with his life: "I have been a firefighter all my life. In my mind, and with all seriousness, this is how I've seen myself. There was never a moment, from the time I figured out what life was and who my old man was, that I did not want to be, more or less, him." More than anything, Russell wants to be one of the mustache-sporting, strong, brave, fearless heroes like his dad, and like the father of his former best friend, D.J. Their dads have been firefighters --- and best friends --- as long as Russell and D.J. have been alive.

But then, all of a sudden, their "Outrageous Courageous" dads aren't there anymore. They've been killed in the line of duty, trying to save an old lady from a fire. The whole town lauds their fallen heroes in ceremonies, on plaques, in heartfelt tributes in the local paper. Only D.J. and Russell, however, know exactly what the other one is going through. Might their shared experience of loss bring these once-close friends back together again? For Russell, the loss of his father simply redoubles his conviction to become a firefighter. For D.J., the experience of loss seems more complicated and also darker somehow. But as new information about their fathers comes to light, Russell's understanding of his father, his dad's profession, and his whole definition of heroism and courage all must be reexamined as well.

In one of Lynch's previous novels, INEXCUSABLE, a young man must reevaluate his own behavior when other people start to put frightening labels on it. HOTHOUSE, too, explores many of the same themes. Is it possible to still admire someone, warts and all? Does idolizing someone necessarily involve being blind to their weaknesses and shortcomings? Is it possible to redefine your life as your own, when it's always been tied up with someone else's?

In many ways, the experience of reading HOTHOUSE mirrors Russell's experience of understanding his father. Just as Russell comes to understand that his father's life --- and the lives of other firefighters --- was a lot more painful and complicated than he had always imagined, the reader is asked to reevaluate childhood notions of heroism, to look behind the big black boots and shiny hard hat to the men and women who wear them.


Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 18, 2011

by Chris Lynch

  • Publication Date: August 24, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: HarperTeen
  • ISBN-10: 006167379X
  • ISBN-13: 9780061673795