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A Different Light: The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd

Welcome to the 2nd post of A Different Light, a regular feature on The Hub highlighting books with LGBTQ characters in YA lit.

Check out the previous post for more information about the mission of this feature and Malinda Lo’s recent blog post for recent numbers on LGBT titles in YA lit. If you have a title or a theme that you would like to see explored in A Different Light, please use the reply feature below to comment.

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After an summer of catching up on The Hunger Games trilogy, picking up The Vast Fields of Ordinary exemplifies what fall means to me: resetting. Resetting back to this time (present day) and place (Iowa). Resetting the speed of life to a quiet and often dreamy pace (“In the absence of its light our front yard had become shades darker than the rest of the yards on our block, and later that night I dreamt our dead lamp grew arms and legs and lurched down the street like a robot.”). Burd’s vast and often touching metaphors swallowed me whole from the first chapter and I was hooked. Like a previous post written about the protagonist from Marcelo in the Real World, Dade Hamilton is the kind of character I wish I could sit and conversation with. Wait — I take that back. Dade Hamilton is the kind of character I wish that I could enjoy quiet moments with, like drifting on a pool in a raft nearby or staring at the night Iowan sky amongst cornfields.

Dade’s solitude, introversion, and the honest/authentic tone of his internal dialogue are universal. Burd has created a “last summer” before college story that really captures the universal feeling of loss, change, and transformation – all embedded in a layered story of sexuality, bullying, abuse, and self-discovery.

The fact that Dade is gay is central to the plot and the way that he wrestles with his sexuality is incredibly open and endearing: “I practiced saying I was gay to inanimate objects around the house. I told the soap dish in my bathroom, the ceiling fan above my bed, the blue drinking glass I favored above all the others simply because over the years its entire family has perished one by one during various interactions with hard surfaces around the kitchen and I’d convinced myself that our solitude was linked.” However, Dade’s story is neither cliché or dramatic. He feels real, tangible, and very human. While my initial reason for picking this book to review was because it won the 2010 Stonewall Book Award, I wouldn’t dare pigeonhole this title into simply LGBTQ YA lit.

I especially applaud Burd for introducing Lucy into the story. Rejected by her parents in L.A., she is sent to Iowa to live with her aunt and uncle who are neighbors of the Hamilton’s. Too rarely do we ever see LGBTQ literature – for teens or adults – with gay men and lesbian characters in the same book. Lucy becomes an excellent friend for Dade – really, his first true friend. She stands up the bullies, she listens to his boy trouble, and she is there for the fun and the hard times. Burd could have easily made her a straight character, but he stepped outside the box by making her a lesbian.

I’m interested in hearing from readers if you…

1) know of other titles with gay and lesbian characters as friends in YA lit

2) can recommend other “summer before college” titles – with or without LGBTQ characters

3) read the book. What did you think of the ending? This was the one piece that I thought fell flat in the book. For a novel that so meticulously maneuvered language throughout the story, the afterward felt rushed. I would have been fine without learning what happened to Dade in college. But the ending didn’t take away from all that I cherished from Burd’s debut effort. I look forward to reading more from him.

— Cristina Mitra, currently reading Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher

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3 Comments

  1. This sounds really good – I will definitely check it out. But, I am curious about the cover – does it fit the story? Is there any chance the reader who would most love it will find it?

  2. bookhouseboy bookhouseboy

    I loved this book. I thought it was sexy and adventurous and dramatic, and still felt real and true and honest. As for books with gay boys and girls as friends: Geography Club (and sequels) by Hartinger. My Invented Life by Bjorkman. Boyfriends with Girlfriends by Sanchez.

    And I also loved Marcelo in the Real World. What else do you recommend? Apparently we have the same taste. :)

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