“I have a secret. And everyone knows it. But no one talks about it, at least not out in the open. that makes it a very modern secret, like knowing your favorite celebrity has some weird eccentricity or other, or professional athletes do it for the money, or politicians don’t actually have your best interests at heart.”
Sprout’s mom died of cancer when he was twelve, and then he and his father moved from New York to the absolute middle of nowhere. Now he’s a Kansas resident, a freak with defiantly green hair, living in a vine-covered trailer with his semi-alcoholic father-who just so happens to be dating his English teacher. To make it even more awkward, Ms. Miller has also been coaching Sprout in the fine art of essay-writing. She sees Sprout’s talent with words, and wants him to enter the statewide essay contest, where he might have a chance to win a scholarship. However, there’s a catch. (There’s always a catch!) She recommends that he keep his sexual orientation secret, and not to write about it for the contest, saying that it could hurt his chances for winning. Sprout’s not sure what he wants to do.
Then, there’s Ty, with his terrifying father who believes the end of the world is coming. Ty’s family moved to Kansas to hide from the apocalypse and the taxmen. Ty’s father is not someone you want to anger, so when Sprout and Ty develop feelings for each other, it is a dangerous situation indeed. They spend the school year sneaking around, kissing in the woods and in the janitor’s closet, all the while afraid of being caught. It’s a complicated life: full of out-in-the-open secrets, a pregnant best friend, ostriches, electric fences, and a bloodthirsty St. Bernard.
Sprout’s voice is funny and sarcastic; I think you will love the interesting words he uses. (I learned what a nidus is!) While this book is a little less realistic than other realistic fiction novels, it is fun, creative, and engaging. I did find the characters to be a little crowded-it was a little difficult for me to keep track of Sprout’s best friend, his former make-out partner, and the back stories of both main characters. However, it doesn’t bog down the story, and the many eccentricities of the characters will make you smile, I think. You know what else will make you smile? Quotes like these: “I stared at him. We’d started out with the cave canem and ended up with the horsemen of the Apocalypse, except they were ostriches, not horsemen, and then something about plums and Methodists.” Hilarious.
I am usually very liberal in my appraisal of young adult literature; I think it is normal and healthy to discuss issues like sex, drugs, drinking, and suicide. However, I did take issue with the presentation of drinking and driving in the novel; it just seemed unnecessary to the plot. It would still have been an excellent book without the inclusion of that particular scene. I would cautiously advise against using this as classroom reading; it would be well-placed in a high school or classroom library, but I imagine that it would be a fairly controversial choice for assigned reading. That said, this is a fresh and amusing read, and it does focus on one of my favorite trends in literature: GLBTQ stories about characters who have already dealt with and accepted their own sexuality. It also won several awards; it was a Stonewall Book Award finalist, as well as a Lambda Literary Award winner.
Author’s website: http://dalepeck.com/
Peck, Dale. Sprout. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009. 277 pp. Ages 16 and up.