Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

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It's Dade's last summer at home. He has a crappy job at Food World, a "boyfriend" who won't publicly acknowledge his existence (maybe because Pablo also has a girlfriend), and parents on the verge of a divorce. College is Dade's shining beacon of possibility, a horizon to keep him from floating away.

Then he meets the mysterious Alex Kincaid. Falling in real love finally lets Dade come out of the closet - and, ironically, ignites a ruthless passion in Pablo. But just when true happiness has set in, tragedy shatters the dreamy curtain of summer, and Dade will use every ounce of strength he's gained to break from his past and start fresh with the future.

This is one of those lovely finds I came across when my kids asked me to take them to the library. Two wins here: one, my kids who love to read think that the library is a magical place and two, I discovered Nick Burd.

Dade is a quiet kid in a quiet town just waiting to get out.  Get out of town, out of the closet, out of a bad relationship, out of the mundane and immobile position he finds himself in. He has an awkward relationship with his parents who are experiencing marital problems. His no-so boyfriend Pablo treats him poorly. When he happens to meet Alex for about five seconds at a party, he’s smitten. He’s not even sure of Alex is gay but he takes a chance.

I was a bit skeptical about Alex initially because he screams “loser” being a drug-dealer and working at a hole-in-the-wall fast food joint. But any kind of judgment is abandoned once you recognize that this is a story about being stuck, directionless and waiting for something happen. Dade is looking for outside acceptance. He has already accepted that he’s gay and has proclaimed that to all the inanimate objects in his room. He knows he’s worth more that the crappy way Pablo used him when no one was looking. There’s a sweet moment when Dade describes how he feels with Alex, “He leaned over and kissed me…At first I was worried that I wasn’t doing something right, and then a few seconds passed and I realized that he simply wanted to kiss me. It was the first time someone had given me everything I wanted and asked for so little in return.” I almost wanted to cry for Dade at that realization. And I wanted to hug Alex for how well he treated Dade. He didn't have any unrealistic expectations of him and he too felt close enough to him to share his innermost feelings.

The other bright spot in Dade’s life is his new friendship with Lucy. She’s one of the few people who understands him and the first person with whom he can actually be himself completely. It's their friendship that stands in sharp contrast against those that he's been disappointed by. She breathes some life into an otherwise dull summer and brings him out of his shell.

What is really striking about the book is how Dade starts to awaken and realize that everyone is in the same boat. Not everyone is happy all the time or perfect. Alex puts it best when he says, "We're all sick ...Everyone's got that thing in them that keeps them awake." It's true and there are so many points in the book that so eloquently describe that struggle to break out and latch on to something that gives hope.

It's easy to assume that this is just a gay romance story. It isn't and that is secondary to everything that happens in it. Anyone who reads The Vast Fields of Ordinary will undoubtedly recognize a little of themselves in it. Whether it's during the high school years or when you're in your forties, as Dade's folks demonstrate, everyone is looking for direction.

~ Bel

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