Outside the Ordinary: A Review of Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary

Outside the Ordinary: A Review of Nick Burd’s The Vast Fields of Ordinary

By Tyler M. Michaud

The following doesn’t contain any spoilers

Originally published in 2009 by first-time American author Nick Burd, The Vast Fields of Ordinary is classified as a work of LGBT Young Adult Fiction. Since its release the book has had impressive success. It won the Stonewall Book Award in the Children’s and Young Adult Literature category. It was a Lambda Literary Award finalist for LGBT Children’s/Young Adult literature. It was added to Booklist’s 2010 Rainbow List. The New York Times listed it as one of the most notable books of 2009. And, this captivating novel earned Burd a place on the “OUT 100,” which pays tribute to people that make significant contributions to the LGBTQ community and culture [1]. TheVastFieldsofOrdinary

The novel explores the summer after Dade Hamilton graduates from high school—his last summer at home. Dade’s life appears to be ordinary from the outside. He works at the local grocery store, Food World. His family lives in an up-and-coming, wealthy suburban neighborhood. He’s socially awkward and the target of insults from the cool crowd, but his “boyfriend,” Pablo, is popular, so ideally he’d be safe.

Except, things aren’t as they appear. In fact, the more we learn about this suburbia, the more we realize that life beneath the surface is quite complicated. Dade is a closeted homosexual. His parents are on the brink of divorce. His job at Food World is anything but the stereotypical low-stress, part-time job. The cherry on top? Pablo refuses to openly acknowledge their relationship, probably because he’s dating one of the popular girls, which explains why the in-crowd targets Dade. 

The Vast Fields of Ordinary is a gay coming-of-age novel. Over the course of the summer, Dade comes to terms with the different layers of himself and the world around him. He falls in love with the dreamy Alex Kincaid, who teaches him to live in the moment and for himself. The “troubled girl” from down the block, Lucy, turns out to be wholly wonderful, and the best friend which Dade never knew he needed. By the end, Dade figures out that life is hard, but it’s also elastic; it’s able to bounce back.

This is my second time reading it. The first time was my sophomore year of high school. At that time, I considered it to be the novel to trump all novels. For years, everything I read was compared to it. To say I loved this book would be an understatement. Now, as a senior in college (~five years later), I decided to reread it, although I feared that, in my mind, I’d built it up too much. Plus, the thought lingered, what if I hated it? Alas, I really, really liked it. But, it’s not the perfect novel younger me labeled it.

My major thoughts are as follows (I’ll spare you a word for word review of the novel.): First, I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Dade. Although, in my opinion, he’s not the most dynamic character, he’s true. His voice is unique and convincing. He struggles with love, friendship, self-discovery and acceptance, all of which are universal issues. Most interestingly, I noticed that rereading this book has changed my perspective on pretty much every character. Dade, for example, is incredibly self-involved (Did I not notice this because as a teenager I was the same way? Oops. Sorry, Dad.) It’s not that he’s unkind, but he views everyone’s problems as they relate to his own.

Alex, the love interest, is a manic pixie dream girl (MPDG), if you will. The MPDG is a common trope in pop culture: 

Film critic Nathan Rabin, who coined the term after seeing Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown (2005), describes the MPDG as ‘that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures’. MPDGs are said to help their men without pursuing their own happiness, and such characters never grow up; thus, their men never grow up. [2]

However, this is arguably why Alex is enchanting. Actually, when I start to think about him realistically, I find that his charm completely melts away, exposing something quite ugly. Yet another way my perspective has changed—younger me loved Alex.

Pablo is by far the most dynamic and unique character in this novel. I used to hate him, although I’ve always been able to sympathize with him. However, now he’s my favorite character. Throughout the novel Pablo changes from the selfish guy that uses Dade to explore his sexuality, to somebody broken and aching for a fix, and, finally, to a person that’s all too real—however terrible this may be. The way Burd weaves Pablo into the story is interesting, because Pablo isn’t overly present in the action itself; rather, he’s ever-present in Dade’s thoughts.

Early-on in the novel, the secondary plot is introduced. A girl with autism goes missing from her yard. This story arch is threaded throughout the whole book. It’s done in a way that make me believe that it serves a larger purpose than how I currently understand it, that being it adds action to a social-based story. I did and still feel like I’m missing something. Maybe reading it a third time will help? 

Burd’s writing is beautiful, eloquent, and sincere, and yet unforced. It’s capable of tugging at your heartstrings and awakening your mind without the gratuitous voice some authors wield:

“I stopped wanting to float away from my life, because in the end my life was all I had. I’d walk the Fairmont campus and look up to the sky and I wouldn’t see myself drifting off like some lost balloon. Instead I saw the size of the world and found comfort in its hugeness. I’d think back to those times when I felt like everything was closing in on me, those times when I thought I was stuck, and I realized that I was wrong. There is always hope. The world is vast and meant for wandering. There is always somewhere else to go.” [3]

Just like the first time I read it, after finishing the novel I had to separate myself from the book to calm down. I would recommend this book to anybody interested in realistic young adult fiction, people interested in LGBT issues, and people that want a story that is more driven by character than plot. It doesn’t surprise me that it made such an impact in the YA and LGBT communities—it’s exquisite.

The Vast Fields of Ordinary

Nick Burd

309 pages. Published by Dial.

Hardcover: $12.67, paperback: $6.51 (amazon.com)


1. “The Vast Fields of Ordinary.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 09 Aug. 2014. Web. 27 Sept. 2014.

2. “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 27 Sept. 2014.

3. “Nick Burd Quotes.” Goodreads: Nick Burd Quotes (Author of The Vast Fields of Ordinary). Web. 27 Sept. 2014.

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