Book Review: Hot Season by Susan DeFreitas

Hot SeasonUndergrads navigating a desert year during the Bush Administration frame this debut novel from Susan DeFreitas.

Deep Canyon College is an environmentally-focused mecca in the historic Wild West town of Crest Top, Arizona where three roommates try to find their path. Jenna, the freshman soil science major, doesn’t know how to leave a stagnant high school relationship. Katie, eager to escape the shadow of her pseudo-liberal politician mother, finds herself drawn to activism. The graduating senior of the house, Rell, tries to decide where her life will lead as she finishes her senior thesis on pyrophitic plants. Pyrophytes are native Southwest species that thrive in the intense heat of the desert. They produce inflammable oils to encourage the spread of wildfires and must burn in order to germinate. It’s an apt metaphor for the women as they struggle through these formative college years, but the environment is much more than a useful mirror for DeFreitas’s characters.

The central conflict of the book charts the battle over the Greene River. Developers want to drain it in order to build another hundred thousand houses in Crest Top, causing concerned citizens to protest by every means available. One of the major strengths of HOT SEASON is the range of character reactions to the threat to Greene River. In the consciousness of this college town, where residents raise goats, live in tree houses, and climb mountains to sit at the invisible shore of a long-extinct ocean, environmentalist is a word that quickly loses any power to distinguish. We meet a spectrum of people concerned about the desert they call home, and each of them wrestles with their individual responsibility. Should they protest, sign petitions, rally at a court hearing? Do they turn their back in frustration or become the aggressor, sliding into the illegal realm of “eco-terrorism?” These questions resonate with readers, we who also struggle with the nuance of our beliefs and finding the balance between doing what’s right and the exhaustion of making those choices in a society designed against them.

DeFreitas superbly brings the college world to life for Jenna, Katie, and Rell, complete with the details we all remember: the brief encounter with the guy wanted by the FBI, the spontaneous night out at the club, relationship turmoil, and the looming question always in the background of every undergrad’s mind—What will I do next? The next thing for us as readers is simple; enjoy the gorgeous prose and thought-provoking narrative in HOT SEASON, and wait for the next novel from this talented writer.

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