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Daniel Bradford, a.k.a., Sprout is the token gay kid in his rural Kansas high school. Kansas is, as Sprout points out, the home of Fred Phelps and of enforced teaching of Intelligent Design. Thus, it’s not the best place to be gay.
Sprout refuses to assimilate despite the urges of his English teacher Mrs. Miller, who has plans for Sprout to win a statewide essay contest. She sort-of accepts that he’s gay, and she’s fine with his vibrant green hair, but she wants him to rein in his personality for the sake of appealing to the less-than-tolerant contest judges.
Sprout’s father also sends mixed signals. When he finds out Sprout is gay, he destroys their computer. (They also don’t have a television, ergo, Sprout entertains himself with a dictionary.) However, he seems to mellow out as the novel progresses.
Ah, the dangers of acceptance that only goes halfway. Sprout knows he’s safe, but deep down he doesn’t know his love is right, and that makes all the difference when Ty enters the story, and Sprout does fall in love. Sprout may have an unenviable life— a drunk widower for a father and a vine-covered trailer for a home, but Ty has it far worse as his dad is a Christian extremist and physically abusive to the point that all of Ty’s siblings have left home in one way or another—some tragically.
Mrs. Miller and Sprout’s dad may want Sprout to keep his feelings in check (while they fall in love themselves, no less), but as we all know from Romeo and Juliet, you can’t tell a teen in love anything, and soon the word-master with the dictionary is stepping on land mines of his own devising. While the book doesn’t have the same level of appealing rebelliousness of Blair Mastbaum’s Clay’s Way nor is Sprout as “crush-able” as Kevin Doyle, the narrator of Brian Malloy’s classic, The Year of Ice, Sprout is an engaging and memorable character with one of the most distinct voices in current fiction. This should appeal to teens, both gay and straight, as well as adults looking for the newest twist on the calamity of first love.
Reviewed by Gavin Atlas