The Vast Fields of Ordinary

Title: The Vast Fields of Ordinary
Author: Nick Burd
Publisher: Dial
Buy link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary m/m young adult, coming of age
Length: Novel (309 pages); also ebook
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

A guest review by Leslie

THE BLURB

In his last summer before college, Dade is busy juggling his dysfunctional parents and his dysfunctional boyfriend when he meets Alex, and discovers in him a way to make it through the summer.

THE REVIEW

Dade Hamilton has just graduated from high school and is facing a last summer at home before heading for college in the fall. He lives with his parents in a large, expensive sub-division in Cedarville, Iowa. His father sells luxury cars; his mother works as an art teacher; their marriage is disintegrating; Dade is gay but not out; he works at Food World and wonders if this is all that life holds. Then he meets Alex, a drug dealer with a heart of gold from the other side of the tracks. All the ingredients are there for a transformational summer, which it certainly becomes. The Vast Fields of Ordinary tells Dade’s story.

I love coming of age novels so I eagerly snatched this up when I came across a review on another blog. I read it in one sitting and was ready to give it 5 stars, but upon reflection, I realize that while this was a very good story, it wasn’t perfect. So I marked my rating down a bit but I still highly recommend it for those who enjoy YA coming of age as much as I do.

This is author Nick Burd’s first novel and he is a very good writer. This is the biggest strength of the book and what kept me so easily and effortlessly involved in the reading. Interestingly, in these types of books, I usually slide right into the mind of the main protagonist but for some reason, I found myself reading this more from a parent’s point of view. I have been trying to put my finger on why exactly this is; I have come to the conclusion that maybe Dade wasn’t all well-drawn as I felt he was on my first reading. In fact, Alex is a more compelling character and I wished we could have gotten to know him better. I am sort of hoping that a sequel that features Alex is in the works.

The story effectively captures the angst and ennui that teenagers face when they are on brink of entering young adulthood, but not quite there. Even though my teenage years were way back when in the last century, I remember the feelings well, and Burd brings them to life. He does a particularly good job with Dade’s sexuality, finding the right balance between having Dade be fairly comfortable and accepting of himself, but understanding, to the extent that he can, the discomfort of those around him. Even so, he still feels like he has let people down, in particular, his father and his very closeted and occasional lover, Pablo. His feelings are complex and well-portrayed.

There is a distressing amount of smoking (both cigarettes and marijuana) and drinking in the story and some of it is presented in a very unrealistic way. For example, Dade and his father have weekly dinners at the country club—time for a little male bonding and all that. Dade, who is 18, is drinking a vodka tonic. Seriously? And how did he get served that drink? The young people in the book have absolutely no problem at all getting kegs of beer and plenty of alcohol for the various parties that are hosted throughout the summer. I know that drinking and drug use are serious problems for teens but I’d like to think that availability isn’t quite so easy. Maybe I’m naive.

Another problem, which took me a bit out of the story: at about the two-thirds point of the book, Dade’s parents make a decision which, given the circumstances they were in, was totally unrealistic. I realize it was done to set up the last one-third of the story but the implausibility sort of ruined that section of the book for me. I tried to overlook it and re-read that part several times, but it rankled enough that it was a distraction. I blame this a bit on the fact that this was the author’s first novel; hopefully, he will be able to finesse situations like this a little more expertly as he hones his craft.

Even with these complaints, this was a forceful story of the fears, anxieties and insecurities that young people feel when they take those first steps on the path to truly growing up. Comparing this to the other coming of age novel I reviewed at this site, Out of the Pocket by Bill Koningsberg: I liked Out of the Pocket better, storywise, mostly because I liked Bobby Framingham more as a character than Dade. But The Vast Fields of Ordinary is probably a slightly more realistic picture of what it is like to be a gay teen in this day and age, and for that reason, this book is worthwhile reading. Recommended.

9 comments

    • Hi John, thanks for commenting. Alex is presented as a kid who is selling drugs (and from what I can tell, it’s exclusively marijuana) because that’s a way to make money in a place where he is not afforded a whole lot of opportunities. He’s a good kid who has had to deal with a fair amount of misfortune and tragedy and hasn’t been able to catch a good break in life (yet). He’s trying to save money to hopefully, get out of Cedarville some day and maybe go to college, although at the end, I wasn’t very optimistic that would happen for him.

      As I said in the review, I found Alex to be one of the most interesting characters and I wished more about him had been presented.

      L

  • I think I’ll give this one a shot as well. I really enjoy a good coming of age story and while there are parts I see that might cause some disconcerted moments, I’d like to give it a shoot. At least I’ll be prepared for the not so good. 🙂

    *

    What really draws me from the start with this book is the title. How can you not like a book with a title of ‘Vast Fields of Ordinary’?

    • I know, merith, I loved the title, too. And it was very apropos for the book, in many ways.

      If you read this, check back. I’ll be curious to see what you think of it.

      L

    • It’s also 18 in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and points west I believe. I wouldn’t be surprised that they can get so much booze. I know when I was 16 there was always someone older willing to buy for us. Sad but true. Lots of drugs were available as well. And that was 20+ years ago.
      *
      Sounds interesting though. I’m not a huge YA fan but have read some really good ones. It might be worth a read some day.

    • Phalene
      You would think I would know that it’s 19 in Ontario where I live and 18 in Quebec (I switched them – sorry).

  • Leslie
    You made some interesting observations of why you were high on this book in the first place and then revised it down. I have that problem frequently which is why I have to re-read many books before I review them.
    *
    Re the “underage” drinking and smoking weed, this is quite normal for teens, so adults should not be surprised that it happens. If I can give you another perspective, in Canada 18 is the age of consent where teens can smoke and drink, except I think in the Province of Quebec. I guess the thinking is if they can vote at 18 and go to war to fight and kill for their country, why are teens not allowed to do everything that adults do including drinking and smoking at that age? They are adults in every sense of the word (other than the law in the jurisdiction where they live) and should probably be making their own choices, bad as those choices may be.

    *
    >>for some reason, I found myself reading this more from a parent’s point of view. < < * Could it be that the author was unconsciously writing this 1st person account as if he were an adult and not a teenager, and therefore projecting that mindset? Sometimes it comes through in a story that YA authors are not really able to put themselves into the minds of a young adult.

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