Book Review: Sprout by Dale Peck

Hm…where to begin? I thought up some funny responses to this book while reading, but didn’t write them down before they crapped out the back of my brain.
Sprout (a.k.a. Daniel) is 16 and growing up in rural Kansas after being transplanted following the death of his mother and his father’s descent into alcoholism four years ago. Sound like a hard life? Toss in the fact that he’s gay and you’ve got the American Dream. Also, he has hair as green as a Wicked Witch’s titty.
Did I mention the son of an abusive religious fanatic with a dead twin as the love interest? There’s a son of a…fuck it, you get the point. (<–inside joke for those who have already read).
So, let’s break it down:
You see, Sprout tells his story through a series of journalistic exercises at the prodding of his English teacher, who thinks he’s a shoo-in for the state essay writing contest.
And just who is Sprout? The sarcastic kid who’s quick with a quip and a lexicographical addiction. See what I did there?
Alright, enough fuck-roundary (copy-written and trademarked). Every other word in this book is an exercise in how to send your audience scrounging for or, if they’re lucky enough to have it on an eReader (I looked, eBook does not exist), hit the "Look Up Word" button. I completely understand Sprout’s motivation for using every left-field synonym, but there were times I couldn’t help but feel that Dale Peck was running around his room, screaming "Look at how many words I know!" while he was banging around on his computer.
Okay, that’s harsh(ish). The word addiction is a great bit of characterization, albeit grating on the nerves, but let’s be honest, teens could stand to learn a few more these days.
But let’s go past that to the meat:
Sprout is a great read, but only once you get to the middle. The first half of the book is really a bunch of vague references to Sprout’s life that aren’t addressed until much later on, so make a mental note of every eccentricity. Plus, it isn’t until the last half that the real love element comes into play and when it does, it’s done very well.
And brush up on your pop culture references, kids. One moment you’re hit with Resident Evil movies and a very unfortunate Terry Schiavo mention that had me making uncomfortable noises accompanied by a bevy of facial expressions. Rectal exams are more comfortable. Of course, the only rectal exams I’ve ever had were with a…ya know what, skip it.
So here are my major issues:
The dialog gets miffy and unrealistic, especially when talking with Ty (crazy daddy guy). Sometimes it was like reading a conversation between two cardboard cutouts and all the depth that implies. Peck tried, but it fell short of the target.
Whimsy comes into play quite a bit in this book, which makes this little slice of Kansas all the more interesting, but sometimes goes a little too far and leaves the reader going "Yeah, sure. If you say so, Peck."
For those who don’t know, this book won the 2009-10 Lambda Literary Award for Best Teen Fiction. Honestly, I was far more blown away by Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary, which was up for the same award.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Peck has done a commendable job here in the growing category of Gay Teen Fiction and it is definitely worth the time.
I give the book 4 of 5 because I wasn’t particularly blown away by it, nor did I ever stop to think "Wow, I completely feel this character as a person and understand their world." But it is vastly superior to some of the other books I’ve read recently (see: My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger).
So give it a go. You’ll be entertained for a few days at the very least and I think there is something here the reader can take away and apply to their own lives.


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