Monday, December 13, 2010
When Life becomes a Big, Hot Mess.
Sometimes there are books that deceptively seem like they are for younger readers, but in reality they are much deeper than they appear (kind of like the puddle you thought was shallow until you got wet up to your knees). Hothouse by Chris Lynch is much like that puddle. You know it is going to be wet and messy, but you had no idea just what you were getting yourself into.
Russell's dad is a firefighter. A hero. DJ's dad is a firefighter in the same house- The Hothouse. Growing up, DJ and Russell's families were so close, DJ was named after Russell's dad and Russell was named after DJ's dad. Since childhood, DJ and Russell have grown apart, but their father's chosen profession has always left them connected in a way no one can understand unless they lived in a firefighter's household.
The story begins with the funerals of DJ and Russell's fathers. They were killed in a horrible fire while saving an elderly woman. The town is anxious to memorialize both men. DJ and Russell find themselves local heroes by association: no one takes their money for anything, everyone wants to be near them, and people can't stop telling them how wonderful their fathers were. While Russell seems to revel in this attention and feels special for having the father he did, DJ seems to shun the attention. He wants to move on and desperately wants the town to stop glorifying everything his father ever did.
When an investigation begins over the deaths of their fathers, both boys are confused, but they are assured it is all routine to investigate any death in the line of duty. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that their fathers weren't as saintly as the town wanted them to be. Haunted by their lives and what they had seen, both men may have entered that fire intoxicated and with drugs in their system. Russell doesn't know how to deal with this information. He still loves and respects his father, but the news and the harassing phone calls make him doubt his father and his love for his father. DJ isn't quite as surprised, though.
This book is not only difficult, it's heartbreaking. You really want to just let both men be heroes without the investigation, especially after they lost their lives, but the fallen hero is a compelling story. The story shows that even the heroes can have flaws and even the flawed can be heroes. This is a great story to elicit some thought-provoking opinions, assignments, and discussions.
The writing is fairly low-leveled, but their are some adult situations and adult language throughout the story. I would think this story would be good for an older student who has low skills, but needs a more mature story. Since it is primary character driven, it isn't the best story for a kid who needs a lot of action. It is also a more abstract story, so the concrete thinkers might not appreciate it as much as others. In all, this is a great story for a specific niche within your student population. It is very hard to find mature books with lower reading levels, so this book is certainly a gem. Beware, however, that there are no easy answers from this book- it is a hard one to digest, but worth the necessary Tums to get it down!