The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard
A Novel

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It's a Tuesday morning in Brooklyn---a perfect September day. Wendy is heading to school, eager to make plans with her best friend, worried about how she looks, mad at her mother for not letting her visit her father in California, impatient with her little brother and with the almost too-loving concern of her jazz musician stepfather. She's out the door to catch the bus. An hour later comes the news: A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center---her mother's office building.

Through the eyes of thirteen-year-old Wendy, we gain entrance to the world rarely shown by those who documented the events of that one terrible day: a family's slow and terrible realization that Wendy's mother has died, and their struggle to go on with their lives in the face of such a crushing loss.

Absent for years, Wendy's real father shows up without warning. He takes her back with him to California, where she re-invents her life: Wendy now lives more or less on her own in a one-room apartment with a TV set and not much else. Wendy's new circle now includes her father's cactus-grower girlfriend, newly reconnected with the son she gave up for adoption twenty years before; a sad and tender bookstore owner who introduces her to the voice of Anne Frank and to his autistic son; and a homeless skateboarder, on a mission to find his long-lost brother.

Over the winter and spring that follow, Wendy moves between the alternately painful and reassuring memories of her mother and the revelations that come with growing to know her real father for the first time. Pulled between her old life in Brooklyn and a new one 3,000 miles away, our heroine is faced with a world where the usual rules no longer apply but eventually discovers a strength and capacity for compassion and survival that she never knew she possessed.

At the core of the story is Wendy's deep connection with her little brother, back in New York, who is grieving the loss of their mother without her. This is a story about the ties of siblings, about children who lose their parents, parents who lose their children, and the unexpected ways they sometimes find one another again. Set against the backdrop of global and personal tragedy, and written in a style alternately wry and heartbreaking, The Usual Rules is an unexpectedly hopeful story of healing and forgiveness that will offer readers, young and old alike, a picture of how, out of the rubble, a family rebuilds its life.


About Joyce Maynard

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Joyce Maynard has been a reporter for the New York Times, a magazine journalist, a radio commentator, and a syndicated columnist, as well as the author of six novels, including To Die For and Labor Day, and four books of nonfiction. Her bestselling memoir, At Home in the World, has been translated into eleven languages. Her previous novel, Labor Day, is being adapted for film by Academy Award-nominated director Jason Reitman. The mother of five children, she makes her home in Mill Valley, California.
Published February 18, 2004 by St. Martin's Press. 400 pages
Genres: Political & Social Sciences, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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But when the whole mismatched crew gets together for an oddball Thanksgiving, it’s touching, as is Wendy’s ultimate realization that “something had begun to grow back in her .

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Publishers Weekly

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The lack of quotation marks to set off dialogue makes the text difficult to read at times, and Louie seems a little too adult, even for a precocious child, but the intense subject matter and well-crafted flashbacks make for a worthy read.

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Book Reporter

Yet it is easy to become lost in Wendy's story, and Maynard's unique voice becomes more comfortable to read as the novel progresses.Maynard's novel is many things --- a coming-of-age story, a story about discovering family, a story about healing --- all set against a national tragedy of singular ...

Feb 18 2004 | Read Full Review of The Usual Rules: A Novel

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