Skip to main content

The Best Fields

Review

The Best Fields

Welcome to the school of hard knocks, Gary Paulsen style. Driven from home by the sexual advances of a drunken mother, a teenage boy closes the door on life as he knows it when he runs off in the dark of night. The 16-year-old boy, who goes the length of the novel unnamed, soon finds a job thinning beets in the fields of North Dakota with a group of migrant workers from Mexico. The boy is given little shelter, little food, and the labor is backbreaking; and the fees charged by the farmer for food (dry peanut butter sandwiches doled out by the farmer's crab of a wife) and the use of a hoe eat up what little he earns.

Before long, one of the Mexican men takes the boy under his wing and invites him to partake of their tortillas and beans. The boy marvels at the Mexicans' easy camaraderie and ability to transcend their intensive labor. Through them, he learns that good food, friendship, and a little music go a long way in easing the rigors of life.

When he's offered a permanent summer job on a nearby farm, the boy accepts after seeing the farmer's lovely daughter. Although he never gets a chance to speak to her, he dutifully plows the fields and does what is required of him without comment. The boy avoids town while accumulating quite a bit of money for his work, aware that the law may be looking for him because he is a runaway. A corrupt sheriff's deputy eventually rounds him up and steals his hard-earned cash, but leaves him unattended in an unlocked cell. Spurred on by his fellow inmate, a drunken old man, the boy walks out of jail without looking back.

Before his 16th summer is over, the boy has witnessed a fluke death, worked as a farmhand and substitute son for a widowed woman, learned the "carny" (carnival) trade and been initiated into the wonders of sex. What more could a teenage boy ask for?

Modeled on Paulsen's own life, THE BEET FIELDS is as simple and straightforward as you can get. Although certain readers might be sensitive to the novel's sexual content, this optimistic and honest coming-of-age story is sure to please Paulsen's posse of ardent fans.

Reviewed by Tammy L. Currier on September 12, 2000

The Best Fields
by Gary Paulsen

  • Publication Date: September 12, 2000
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0385326475
  • ISBN-13: 9780385326476