Sprout Bradford has a secret. Everyone knows it. But no one talks about it. It isn’t what you think. His secret has nothing to do with his green hair, his romantic relationships, or even his dysfunctional family life.
All of the characters might know the secret at the center of Sprout (2009) by Dale Peck. But after finishing the novel, I still have no idea.
The premise behind Sprout is rather clever. Preparing to compete in a state essay contest in Kansas the chapters of the story are, for the most part, Sprout’s practice essays as presented to his writing coach Mrs. Miller. This conceit gives the novel a very meta quality–Sprout knows that he is writing the story and so do you. But in a weird, jarring way, it works. It makes the story interesting. It seems so clever.
The first part of Sprout was a blast. Peck introduces a bunch of truly screwball characters–all flawed but all somehow likable in spite of it. Or maybe because of it. Sprout’s narrations were also funny and witty. Here’s a sixteen-year-old boy you’d really love to meet in real life.
Then I got to the halfway point and everything fell apart. A new character was introduced. The writing style changed. Characters that were likable became loathsome. And I was certain that the novel would. Never. End. Because it dragged so much. I can’t really explain why, because it would be an epic spoiler, except to say I think what was meant to be the focus of the story was introduced too late. I was ready to read one type of book when the author threw a totally different type at me that I was unprepared to deal with.
Sprout is a boy who keeps himself at a remove. The strongest parts of Sprout come when he is observing his world and describing it. That aspect of the story was lacking in the second half when things verged a bit to closely to the surreal for my tastes.
After breezing through the first half of the novel, and loving it, I was truly disappointed to find the second half not only lagging but also lacking anything in the way of a true resolution at the end. The story was so open-ended that I still don’t really know what happened to most of the characters. And then, honestly, what’s the point of reading about them?