The coming out story represents probably the largest portion of stories in LGBTQ young adult literature. It’s an important topic, to be sure, in part because trying to figure out who we are and who we want is a major part of adolescence, and Nick Burd’s novel is one of the best of the genre.
The Vast Fields of Ordinary takes place during the summer of Dade Hamilton’s last summer before college. Things aren’t looking great. His parents’ marriage is failing, his closeted jock boyfriend Pablo treats him like crap and he has a soul-killing at a grocery store. The plot follows a fairly predictable arc, but it’s Burd’s characters that make his book engaging and heartbreaking.
It was really difficult for me to read this book at times because I didn’t want to see Dade, or any of the characters, getting hurt. God, the way Pablo treats Dade. Even though Burd shows Pablo’s actions coming from a place of pain and confusion, it’s still so hard to watch the story unfold. I wanted to get into the story and alternately yell at and hug these kids.
To take a brief detour, I really love Burt Hummel on Glee, and I think the scene where he and Kurt have “The Talk” is one of the most beautiful and brilliant scenes in all of television. Every kid needs to hear this speech, every kid needs to know that she or he matters and that sex is important. Dade and Pablo need to hear this speech.
Why should you read this book? I’m certain not enough kids hear that they matter, and the actions of this play out in this story, with devastating consequences, because of it. I hope that the teens who read this book see that it’s not that they should remain celibate because they can’t handle the consequences of romantic relationships — not at all. I hope they see that they deserve to be treated with love and respect and if they’re not getting that, whether it’s from parents or lovers or friends, then something is wrong.
I think I’m making this book sound like an after school special, and it is so not as simple as that. It’s an elegant book. Burd takes the common coming out trope and turns it into an emotional sucker punch. I’m not even sure there is much catharsis, although I’m hopeful that Dade will find the love and respect he deserves
This book truly is heartbreaking, and it’s important to have good, well written and solid stories that address this aspect of adolescence, of life really, because even adults don’t get this right all the time, and Burd delivers with a story that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
Debra is an assistant librarian, grad student, fledgling blogger and wanna-be teacher. She blogs about her reading at Library Lass (Adventures in Reading), and is @threelefthands on Twitter (but mostly just to see what shenanigans @maureenjohnson and @realjohngreen are up to).