“Are ya winnin’?” So begins “Hothouse” by Chris Lynch, and I can’t think of a simpler or more beautiful way to set up this story because Russell, our protagonist, isn’t winning anymore. After his father, star firefighter and community hero, died, his best friend seems distant and the community seems intent on raising his father onto a pedestal that Russell can’t compete with. But just when he’s getting used to all of the attention, one twist changes everything, and if there’s one thing Russell knows, it’s that he doesn’t know anything.
In a word, this book was beautiful—light, sweet, and fleeting; looking problems in the eye without drawing you so far into them that you’re left with gut wrenching and heart pounding at every twist and turn. There are a lot of twists and turns, but what I loved was that not a single one felt contrived—it was one of the very best kinds of stories, where the characters become so real that it is as if you’re watching these events happen to friends. Your heart aches for them, of course, but you don’t lose sleep over it. Generally, detachment is a bad thing, but when it’s done with as much skill as it is here, it’s a wonderful respite from all of those “riveting, jarring” books out there, that are, while good, quite a violent experience to read.
That’s not to say it isn’t readable, though. At a smooth 208 pages, “Hothouse” flew by. I had brought it to a convention I was attending in New York City, figuring it would make for good reading on the plane if I got bored looking out the window on the way back—turns out, I devoured it before I even made it on the plane home, staying up late in the hotel bathtub turning the pages till the water turned cold.
Another great thing about this book was that it was a “boy book,” something I would love to see more of in publishing. Although I am a girl, I am a big fan of “boy books,” i.e., ones that involve guy protagonists and a plot relevant to guys, as it is the ultimate look into someone else’s head in fiction. Unfortunately, they’re hard to find, and good ones are even harder to find; luckily, this one was definitely a good one. For parents, librarians, or anyone else looking for a book to give to a teen guy, this would make an excellent candidate! I hadn’t read any Chris Lynch before this novel, but I certainly plan to now.
All in all, I loved “Hothouse” by Chris Lynch. It might have gone by fast, but it’s not one I’ll forget, one that 100% deserves all the attention I hope it gets. It’s the kind of book that makes me want to sing, that makes me think that publishing is not going down the drain, and that good books for teens beyond just the blockbusters will continue to be published. Just read it!