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Daniel Bradford, otherwise known as Sprout (because of his short, green hair) has a secret. He’s gay, but that’s not his secret. His father is an alcoholic, but that’s also not his secret. Neither is the fact that his mother recently died of cancer. His secret is so deeply buried inside of him that he doesn’t even know what it is. But he is on a quest to find it.

Sprout’s father tries to drown his sorrows in bottles of alcohol, but they can’t stop the pain or the memories of his wife. So he wakes up his son at 6:53 one morning and tells him to pack “everything you need.” Twelve-year-old Sprout asks, “Well, how long are we gonna be gone?” He replies, “Pretty much forever.”

The two hastily cram their belongings into the back of a small U-Haul trailer. As Sprout says, “Anything that didn’t fit we left behind. Somehow all the things that didn’t fit belonged to my mom.” Sprout manages to grab a few photos and his mother’s favorite book. His father drives the two of them to Kansas and buys a piece of ground outside the small town of Hutch, where they live in a cramped trailer. According to Sprout, “I’m not even sure Kansas was our destination. Maybe it’s just where he realized he couldn’t run away from his memories.”

Sprout enters a new school and begins a new life. An English teacher, Mrs. Miller, recognizes Sprout’s writing abilities and grooms him for the state essay contest. She is sure he can win by writing an essay about life or family values or intelligent design, something that will appeal to the panel of white, middle-aged, middle-class educators who will judge the event. But Sprout wants to write about being gay, a subject that’s taboo in Kansas.

Many parts of SPROUT are written as essays, or beginnings of essays, as Sprout prepares for the big contest. It’s like the narrator is telling the story as he is writing it. The end of the novel takes you back to the beginning of the tale, in an almost full circle, which makes for a rather unique book. And it’s written in such a manner as to make it easy to imagine that Sprout is sitting right beside you telling his story. It’s very real and personal.

However, I was dissatisfied with a couple of scenes near the end of the book. They were well-written, but left open some issues that I felt should have been dealt with before the story concluded. When Ruthie, Sprout’s best friend, tells Sprout her big news, it’s an anti-climax to the chapter (actually the last sentence of the chapter) and never mentioned again. I think her situation should have been discussed in some manner before the story wrapped up.

Overall, though, SPROUT is a great book, and one very much worth reading.

Reviewed by Christine M. Irvin on May 26, 2009

by Dale Peck

  • Publication Date: May 26, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
  • ISBN-10: 1599901609
  • ISBN-13: 9781599901602