Sometimes, regardless of plot or characters or even how the book ends, a particular voice in a book (or of a book) totally and completely wins you over. Sprout is one of those voices: observant, witty, sarcastic; yet full of heart, longing, and desire. He completely won me over, in spite of the meandering plot and Kansas stereotypes in the book.
In fact, Sprout’s observations — on his friends, his life, and eventually his love, Ty — are the reason to read this book. After his mother’s death, Daniel Bradford — Sprout — and his father move from Long Island to Hutchinson, Kansas. His father has not dealt with the death well; he drinks and collects stumps, preferring to hide in the trailer on their land outside of Hutch than get a job. Sprout takes out his anger in words — on the page, in carrying around his mother’s dictionary — and in making himself as unique as possible, hence the green hair. It’s only when, during the summer before his junior year, Mrs. Miller — the English teacher in charge of getting students ready for a state essay competition — singles him out as someone who can achieve greatness, that Sprout begins to confront his inner self. Which not only includes dealing with his mother’s death, but also his gayness in a community that is not known for its tolerance, and finding first love with someone who is more broken than he is.
Hands down, my favorite passage was this:
“Without missing a beat, Mrs. Miller rattled off a stream of obscenities so fully and completely unexpected that I fell off my chair. Mothers were defiled, and their male and female children, as well as any and all offspring who just happened to’ve been born out of wedlock. As for the sacred union that produced these innocent babes, the pertinent bodily appendages were catalogued by a list of nicknames so profoundly scurrilous that a grizzled Marine, conceived in a brothel and dying of a disease he contracted in one, would’ve wished he’d been born as smooth as a Ken doll. The act itself was invoked with such a variety of incestuous, scatological, bestial, and just plain bizarre variations that that same Marine would’ve given up on the Ken doll fantasy, and wished instead that all life had been confined to the single-cell stage, forever free of the taint of mitosis, let alone procreation.”It’s not an easy book to read; especially near the end, when Sprout’s and Ty’s lives get entangled, it’s difficult and depressing. But, ultimately, Sprout finds something we’re all searching for: an inkling of a place and hope in his own life.
Rated: High — when considered in light of our tigher “young readers” standards, or a strong moderate by the adult ratings standards; it contains strong allusions to both swearing and gay sex, but nothing actually (except for one f-bomb near the end) “on screen.”