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The Vast Fields of Ordinary
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on July 20, 2017
I try not to know too much about a book when I start reading. I don't want to be spoiled or distracted by upcoming events. To be honest, I wasn't feeling this book. I wasn't connecting with any of the characters. I started to feel like it was an exercise in reading. What I discovered was this book is a slow drip. Drip...drip...drip. By the time I was near the end, I did care. I wanted another month of summer. Dade, Pablo, Alex and Lucy along with their friends and hangers-on made me feel like I was part of the group. Just doing time, waiting to get out of the town I didn't appreciate and start my new life at college. 4.0 for sea bass
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on December 14, 2014
Before reading "The Vast Fields of Ordinary", answering the question "what's your favourite book?" was always a debacle. There were so many great books, and none of them stood out as particularly greater than the others. Now, I have a definitive answer, and if you haven't caught on yet, the answer is this one. I picked this book up because the cover was cute, the rating was high, and it fit my genre. I'll admit I had my doubts at first, because books about gay people so often turn in to 'gay books', so to speak, but this transcends that. Vast Fields presents you with a flawed, intricate, ultimately likable LGBT main character. Dade suffers an appropriate amount of angst given his situation, but not once does he come across as pitiful and not once does the reader start to think he has no problems and no life that isn't connected to his sexual orientation. Burd also introduces us to three other equally intriguing LGBT characters -- Alex, Dade's effortlessly cool love interest; Lucy, the confident best friend who helps Dade come to terms with himself; and Pablo, the simultaneously hateful and kind-of-sympathetic, closeted friend with benefits who will probably make you cry at one point or another. The juxtaposition of these teenagers' life with the disappearance of a nine-year-old girl is jarring, and at first feels random, but it works in its own weird way. At times laugh-out-loud humorous and at times completely heart-wrenching, this book will leave you completely satisfied but still itching to know what happens next.
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on January 17, 2013
Dade is an unhappy suburban teenager, harassed by his high school peers and looking forward to his imminent escape to college from his drab and stifling midwestern hometown. He's no virgin, having been secretive sex buddies for years with Pablo, a hunky stud on the football team. But that's not the gay boy's fantasy it sounds like; Pablo is abusive and scary, casting a menacing shadow over the entire story. Dade's upper-middle-class ex-hippie parents are sleepwalking toward divorce. Alex is a small-time drug dealer from the wrong side of the tracks; his dad's in jail, his mom ran off to Texas with a sleazy trucker, and he lives with his grandmother who goes to one of those fundamentalist "speaking-in-tongues" churches. (The book's setting, "Cedarville," is apparently a fictional stand-in for Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Hey, I know Cedar Rapids; a gay friend of mine actually grew up near there. But this is not the bucolic Iowa I remember; more a depressed 21st century landscape of abandoned strip malls in town and meth labs in the countryside.)

All of which hardly seems like promising material for an epic gay love story (more like a tedious and somewhat depressing "young adult" novel). And yet all the 5-star reviews here on Amazon (much as I enjoyed and agree with many of them) still do not quite capture how utterly magical this novel is (my review may not either, but I'll try). This belongs on a short shelf with Patricia Nell Warren's "The Front Runner," John Fox's "The Boys on the Rock," and perhaps a handful of others. It's a "Catcher in the Rye" for the Millennial Generation.

It's hard to believe author Nick Burd envisioned this solely as a "young adult" novel (though his publisher apparently marketed it as such); it certainly transcends that (or any) genre. I certainly hope a lot of young people read it (it's very suitable for reasonably mature teens over 13 or so). But then, I wish everyone would read it! Any gay man who doesn't is certainly missing out.

The author did not include any explicit sex scenes, and very few sexual references at all going beyond the mildly suggestive. (If you're looking for that, move along, wrong book.) Not that a great and serious novel can't have a lot of explicit sex, or that there's anything wrong with that! (See my review of "The Boys on the Rock.") And not that this novel is prudish. Far from it; I found it very sexy indeed. This writer describes kissing in a way that makes it all seem new, and then knows how to casually wind up a scene by saying, simply and perfectly: "We had sex that night in the grass." Burd can be effortlessly poetic when he wants, describing driving down a country road or the sky over an Iowa cornfield at night, but he also knows when to just say less and leave the rest to the reader's imagination.

More than anything, this is a dreamy meditation on growing up, coming of age, and falling in love. Burd is a helluva writer and this is a hellaciously good novel (remarkable that it's his first). He has that true storyteller's gift of plunging us into an alternate reality that we can only escape by reading on to find out what happens. And then, dammit, he makes us fall in love with the people there (well, not all of them; you start to hate and fear some of them), and then you never want to leave. Dade's feelings for Alex are utterly believable because Burd makes us fall in love with Alex too. And trust me, I would normally have zero patience for a drug-dealing pothead from the wrong side of the tracks. The whole "bad boy" thing has never appealed to me; as Princess Leia protested in "The Empire Strikes Back," "I like nice men!" (Like my husband!)

But Alex, like everything else in this novel, is never quite what you expect. There is tragic inevitability and foreboding here, but it's never predictable; I was continually surprised, even when I thought I knew where it was going. Yes, Alex is (in part) the sexy "bad boy" ("total sexy loser," as Dade's female bff quips). But so much more. He's also not just the stereotypical "bad-boy-who's-really-a-sensitive-gentle-soul-deep-down-inside" (see James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause"). He's reckless, hardened, and more than a little cynical. But Dade finds the key to his heart, just as he finds the key to Dade's, and they both find ours. I sound like a fool, don't I? Well, those in love often do, and I love this novel, dammit!

Not that it's perfect. Dade's bff Lucy, much as I loved her too, seems a little too perfect. She kind of leaps into the novel fully formed, and doesn't seem to grow or change as a character. Dade's pathetic mother, as screwed-up as she is, seems more real and grabbed my sympathy more. There are other aspects of the novel that still puzzle and intrigue me. But hey, any book that can make you think like this one does, and which lingers in the mind like an unforgettable dream, is something to cherish.
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on January 29, 2016
On the surface, this is an average book that is good but not bad. However, when i read this as a Gay, lonely 14 year old who just wanted a boyfriend... it was life changing and it made me cry. this is an excellent read for any gay youth or people interested in LGBTQ youth and the unique childhood/ coming of age struggles they experience. its a love story and a tragedy and not in the normal way love stories go. its a rollercoaster of emotion, starting out with the "purgatory" feel suburban summers so often give teens, and ending after a wild ride of emotions leaving you feeling.... empty and somber but not because its a bad book. i highly recommend this.
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on May 27, 2012
Dade Hamilton is a typical teen. But gay. Alienated from his school, his parents, his whole life in suburban Iowa. His parents are alienated from each other and the life they've ended up with together.

It's much better than it sounds. It is very well written, evocative of time and place. I kept thinking of "Catcher in the Rye" (which I've never liked), but this book hasn't got that grim nihilism. This is a top flight book for a young adult audience, or for fans of that (me, an old adult, loves them). It is a simple story of Dade's last summer at home before college. It is the summer when his teen alienation peaks, crashes, and reassembles into something better, stronger, more hopeful. He learns to love and to forgive. But it's not a journey without pain and joy.

If I disliked anything about this book, it's that it feels too spot-on real. As the parent of teenagers I was appalled at the thought that my kids might feel like this about me. But as a one-time gay teenager, Dade's moods and emotions resonated through me like a thunder storm.

I never quite clicked emotionally with Dade, tho' I understood him and agreed with him. In the end, I shared his hope, and came away praying that I'm doing a better job as a parent than his did.
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on November 28, 2016
I'm still in love with this book. Every time I read it, I find out more and more about myself. I think reading it now, it provides even more insight to things I had felt in high school and college. The writing is so beautiful that it just keeps you engaged from start to finish. I honestly don't know where I'd be without this book. Dade is such a relatable character and I find myself rooting for him every step of the way.

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on July 15, 2015
I liked this book hence the high rating I chose. It is about a boy who experienced different things the final summer before starting college. Coming to terms with his identity, his relationships with his friends (old & new) and his parents. The book also talks about the journey we take in life and how the roads we embarked on doesn't necessarily make sense at times. The truth is you need to keep your mind open and allow yourself to be vulnerable and tackle whatever curveballs life throws you.

The only thing I disliked the book, which makes me wary about recommending to LGBT teens, is the amount of drinking and drugs involved. Perhaps that is the reality of what today youth experience.
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on July 17, 2011
This book hooked me right away. I loved how the characters come into the book at unexpected times and they all seem real and their flaws are real too. There was nothing predictable about this book but you could imagine it happening just that way as you read it. This book is well written and not just for a first book by the author. I am eagerly awaiting his next book (I have no idea when it will come out). I simply could not put this book down and can't say enough about it. It was such an enjoyable read. I would highly recommend it for the summer!
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on July 12, 2017
Very nice book. I would say it should not be put into the hands of younger teens because there is sexual content. Still it is a wonderful book.
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on July 27, 2017
This book has this sort of airiness throughout, like a detachment from the world around. It's an excellent escape.
Growing up in the Midwest as a gay kid, literally in the same stage of my life as Dade made this book so relatable.
I think regardless of your background, LGBT or not, young or old, this book tells a story that needs to be told.
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