The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd
“’We’re all sick,’ Alex said. ‘I was thinking that the other night. . . . I remember in high school seeing people who seemed like they had it all together. . . . everyone thinks [they] have a perfect life and that they fall asleep every night without any thoughts or fears or whatever. But it’s not true. Everyone’s got that thing in them that keeps them awake.’
“I sat there for a while thinking about what he’d said. I thought of how many nights I’d stayed up late wondering what the world had in store for me, if I’d ever find someone that I could fall in love with. I wondered if all gay boys had nights like these, if there was a time when even someone like Alex stared up at his ceiling and wondered the same thing.’”
During the summer after he graduates from high school, Dade is going through change at a fierce pace, and while much of that can be scary, this coming-of-age novel is especially poignant. It’s a fresh take on a typical experience (and a typical plot line for a novel)—the desire to let go of the abusive (but deeply desired) love interest and find oneself in a better place with someone who loves truly, honestly, respectfully. And who is also very hot.
As the post-high-school summer begins, Dade’s life is pretty much a mess. He’s gay, but hasn’t come out yet. He has a boyfriend, or rather a guy who uses him sexually and secretly, Pablo Soto. Pablo is a football player with a girlfriend. He intends to live a ‘normal’ life, but keeps coming back to Dade. He is rude and a jerk, hurting Dade emotionally as a way to vent some of his frustrations at not being the stereotypical jock. Pablo’s girlfriend has her suspicions about Dade and both threatens and ostracizes him from the popular group.
Dade’s parents’ relationship is unraveling. His dad is having an affair; his mom is coping by self-medicating and meditating. Both are emotionally unavailable for Dade.
Dade find two people to hang onto—a friend, Lucy, who helps him navigate the uneven terrain of his coming-of-age, and Alex, the hot and seemingly dangerous, yet sweet, boyfriend.
High school housekeeping: I read The Vast Fields of Ordinary because the CHS PRIDE Club will be Skyping later this year with the author, Nick Burd. I think it’s a book that most any teen would enjoy. While it is especially poignant for students struggling with their sexuality, everyone can relate to falling for the wrong person and being brokenhearted even though they know that they have to break free in order to survive. I always like novels where someone finds a better love because they have examples of what genuine kindness is—of how people who really do love one another behave. The only criticism I have of the book is that a subplot about a missing child, meant to be symbolic, doesn’t work into the story well. And yet, while it doesn’t add anything, it doesn’t detract either, so it’s not something to keep a reader away.
That Dade is planning to go to college does add to the realism of the story. Even if he finds what he wants, he will be leaving for a new life. He is in a period of fresh beginnings, and fresh beginnings always bring sad endings along for the ride.
One more thing—Burd’s writing is lovely. It’s the sort of thing your teachers and I hope you’ll find and then continue finding. Because it’s the kind of thing that will make you a reader. Open this book and fall in.