I bought Sprout quite a few years ago, but just never got around to reading. Having now read it, I so wish I had picked it up when I first bought it! Sprout is a brilliant, moving and witty story of one boy's less than perfect life.
At 12, after the death of his mother, Sprout's father up sticks and drags Sprout from his home and friends in New York all the way to a town the middle of nowhere, Kansas. Four years of being the new guy and suffering taunts because of it, when Ty starts at his school he couldn't be happier; someone else to take the flak. Little does Sprout know that Ty will come to mean more to him than reprieve from the bullying.
There is so much more to Sprout than what I said above, but quite a few things happen that summarising it all would be pretty difficult. Sprout is such a fantastic character; he has such a unique voice with his observations, his love of language, and his wit. His humour is such that it covers up the elements of his life that would ordinarily be quite heavy; his alcoholic father who behaves eccentrically and can't seem to get over his grief for his dead wife, Sprout's own grief, his issues over coming out about his sexuality, and his first sexual experiences. Sprout makes light of it all with his witty turns of phrase, and it doesn't even occur to you until later that, wow, Sprout has a difficult life.
Sprout is gay, and he doesn't have a problem with it. However, he doesn't want to come out at school. He feels if he did, he will be labelled. Without coming right out and saying it, Sprout doesn't want to be defined by his sexuality. As he says to his friend Ruthie:
'"I don't want to be that guy, okay? The gay guy. The token homosexual. The school fag. I don't want to try out for every stupid school musical, wear pink triangle pins, and start a letter-writing campaign to bring my boyfriend to prom. I just want to be me."' (p115)Sprout's Dad knows he's gay, but doesn't want to know, doesn't want to talk about it, and treats his sexuality with something close to the saying "out of sight, out of mind" - if they don't talk about it, then he can pretend it's not true. Saying that, he does care in his own way. It's pretty telling when he leaves a condom and a note for Sprout in his room saying, '"I don’t want to know. But I don’t want you dead either."' (p135) It may not show it so well out of context, but in context, this was one of the sweetest things! His Dad is deeply troubled, but despite that, and despite not being pro-Sprout-being-gay, he doesn't disown him or shut him out, he still loves him and remembers to be a responsible father, wanting to keep his son safe. This simple action brought tears to my eyes because of what it meant.
Sprout is also the first book I have read for LGBTQ YA Month where the main character is gay that actually covers sex between same-sex couples, and I only realised it when Sprout started discussing his sexual experiences. I found it quite surprising, not because of the sex itself, but because it's the first book to even really mention it in any serious way. The Perks of Being a Wallflower made small mentions to cruising, but this is the first book that actually really talks about it. We never see Sprout having sex, and nor is it discussed gratuitously or graphically, but is talked about with pretty much the same attitude and tone as non-LGBTQ YA romances would discuss sex. What I mean by that is it doesn't come across as gay sex - homosexual sex is different from heterosexual sex, we know that, and there are small references to this, but on the whole, it's just teenagers first experiencing sex, Sprout's sexuality not really making a difference to the universal thoughts and feelings surrounding a teen's first time:
'"Because it's not just about flesh. Bodies fitting together like puzzle pieces. There's an alchemy that happens during sex that causes 1 + 1 to add up to so much more than 2, even as those halves meld in an almost magical way to form a single unit that's more complete than either of them alone. I don't know, maybe it's just endorphins, but I've run an entire marathon and it didn't make me feel that good... And so anyway, yeah: sex. Awesome."' (p235-236)There's so much more in this book too. The wonderful relationship between Mrs. Millar and Sprout, the issues of sexual confusion and self-disgust that are also covered. I would have liked more about Sprout's friend Ruthie and the bully Ian Abernathy, they seem to have their own issues, and it would have been great if we got more of their stories. I was left a little confused by the ending, but overall, Sprout is such a beautiful story, at times heartbreaking, but with so much humour and insight. Its an amazing book, and I couldn't recommend it enough.
Published: 1st June 2009
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