Daniel “Sprout” Bradford has a secret, but everyone knows what it is. He also has a dead mother, alcoholic father, increasingly absent best friend and a wicked way with words. When a high school English teacher taps him to be the representative for the state-wide essay contest, he begins writing about his own life, which the teacher encourages right up until the point that Sprout announces he wants to write about being gay. In Kansas. Meanwhile, Sprout is confused by a complicated new friend who is, if anything, even more broken that Sprout himself.
All of the reviews I’ve seen – and even the book jacket copy – claim that the secret Sprout announces he has on the first sentence is not that he’s gay. “He’ll tell you he’s gay!” proclaims the copy, and so echoes most of the reviews. But that’s not really the case. Sprout is willing to tell the reader that he’s gay. But other people? The real people that he interacts with on a daily basis? Not so much with that. I’ve even seen reviews that claim the book is not about being gay or coming out. And it’s not entirely that, in the same way that any well-written teen LGBT book published in the last five years or so has not revolved completely around coming out. Well-done literature will never obsess completely on one aspect of a character’s life or personality. But that is not to say that a large part of the book is not subtly wrapped around the fact that Sprout is gay, that there are two other boys in the school who might possibly be gay, and the tangles and complications arising from the fact that none of the three of them want to say the truth aloud to one another.
I was a little wary when I first started reading the book. Sprout’s voice is one that is very aware that he is writing. He never tries to hide the fact that what he has to say has been filtered through pen, and it makes for a very self-conscious writing style, one that acknowledges the presence of the reader and plays with words freely. Done well, this technique can be fantastic, but done badly, or even just mundanely, it tends to fall flat for me. Luckily, in this case the author manages to pull it off brilliantly. Sprout’s voice, though sometimes a little mature for his age, is fantastic. His use of language is amazing, creating images and characterizations that resonate with the reader.
The book was not completely perfect. I had a hard time believing the teachers’ reactions to Ty’s living situation. And while both boys were the same age, Sprout’s first sexual experience seemed to border on molestation, a point that he never acknowledges, since he was a (mostly) willing participant. There were a few plot points involving other characters that seemed to come out of nowhere or moved very fast, but I can overlook that since Sprout himself acknowledges that he’s skipping a lot of other stuff that’s going on his life in order to concentrate on a single relationship, since at that point in his life he was himself pretty much ignoring everything and everyone else.