Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Vast Fields of Ordinary, Nick Burd.


This is one of my favorite young adult novels I've read recently, and without a doubt is also one of the best GLBT young adult novels I have read. I have read quite a few GLBT young adult novels now (although there are so many more to read!), but I feel like this is one of the more realistic portrayals I've seen, mainly through how Burd carefully crafts Dade's angst. He's able to capture that so-much-the-same-yet-so-much-different quality of the angst: it's the angst of every teenager, at the same time that it's also the angst of gay. So much the same, so much different.

The novel takes place during Dade's summer between high school graduation and college, such an interesting and underrated summer for so many people, and it has so many good summer novel qualities, the same qualities that go into a good teenage summer movie (and really, is there a more satisfying kind of movie?): aimless night drives into the wide open Midwest countryside; heartache and first loves; big rowdy parties; boring teenage jobs; lots of drinking; fireflies. There are also parts where, while still capturing the contemporary teenage voice, the writing is very lovely, which I think is easy to guess from the title alone. The Vast Fields of Ordinary: what an epic, teenage-angst title! I think what I liked so much about the angst in this novel is that it worked without being irritating, that although it crept to the rim sometimes it didn't teeter over the edge of being over-the-top and just tiring (which I felt with John Green's Looking for Alaska and a few others), and that importantly for the most part you really liked the protagonist throughout.

(I know there are many great works of literature where you're actually not supposed to like the protagonist, but I've learned I have a hard time actually enjoying a novel [as opposed to appreciating it] when I don't actually like the main character.)

Anyway, Dade's best friend Lucy is also an immensely satisfying and awesome best friend character, and the little quirky sideplots--the disappearance of nine-year-old Jenny Moore, mainly--give the novel a little more intrigue, a little more suspense, a little more well, quirkiness, than just being mainly a romantic coming-of-age story.

What also really made me like it was the fact that it didn't end the way I thought it would. Gay stories throughout history in both film and writing have an exhausting habit of always having to end up tragic, and I was worried something typically tragic would end this novel. And although something tragic did happen (slight spoiler alert), it wasn't what I thought it would be. And although in a way the tragic happening was slightly typical, I think it was also highly realistic for the very realistic situation in which it occurred. Uh, yeah. Writing about books without being specific is hard!

In conclusion, this was Burd's first novel, and I'd be interested in reading anything else he comes out with. And in second conclusion, I'd like to work on being better at book reviews.

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