Monday, January 23, 2012


Chris Lynch, in his YA novel, Hothouse, provides a glimpse into the culture of contemporary heroes, the brave firefighters whom we depend on to save our lives.

The plot, told in the review linked to the title, concerns the main character, named Russell, who is about to start his senior year in high school. He plans to be a fire fighter like his idealized dad.

But after his Dad is killed in a fire, and after the community commemorates him as a hero at a huge barbecue, Russell learns a painful truth: that his father may have died because his judgment was clouded by pain killers and alcohol. Russell learns, as all kids eventually do, that their parents are human beings and they sometimes have problems. Sometimes they are less than heroes. But it doesn't mean they are demons, either.

There is a lot to think about here. First of all, as we read, we learn much about what it might be like to live the life of a firefighter. What is it like to put yourself in serious danger to save lives and property every day? What is it like to be part of a male culture where it isn't possible to show weakness, to live a myth, really, that you can handle anything? Police officers and soldiers, it seems, live in such cultures as well, as go-to individuals when impossibly bad happenings occur.

Firefighters are frequently injured. Strains, sprains, burns, fractures, and head injuries are just some of the injuries that are part of the job. After years of this kind of work, as Russell's father demonstrates, they might take pain medication and continue to work when they shouldn't.

In my opinion, Russell's dad is a charming, wonderfully complex and engaging character, a loving Dad. They are playful together. The silly conversations Russell has with his Dad, after his shift, would begin like this:

"Are ya winnin', Russ?"
"I'm winnin' Dad."
"But are ya really winning'?"
"I'm really am, Dad."

Russell's dad just should have retired a little earlier. He had saved numerous lives for many years, until the last fire took his life, along with the life of another firefighter and a woman victim they failed.

This novel I think might help teens envision all that it means to be a firefighter, or the child of one.

1 comment:

  1. Janice, I'm so impressed with your posts, and love how you keep your blog focused. It's great to discover new books. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on HOTHOUSE.