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The Usual Rules: A Novel Paperback – February 18, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Wendy, the 13-year-old heroine of Joyce Maynard's The Usual Rules, lives in a happy, haphazard Brooklyn household with her dancer/secretary mom, her jazz musician stepfather, and her eccentric little brother. Life for Wendy is fraught with the usual teen angst until September 11, when her mom heads off to work at the World Trade Center and never comes home. Wendy struggles through the days with stepfather Josh and brother Louis until on Halloween night her estranged biological father shows up and offers to take her home with him to California. On the West Coast, Wendy devises her own healing process of skipping school, hanging around with an unwed teen mom, and spending hours loafing at a bookstore. Maynard is very good on Wendy's grief. She tries on one of her mother's dresses and realizes with a shock it still holds her mom's perfume. She's undone for a moment, then reaches "for the bottle of aftershave on Josh's bureau and patted some on her neck and arms. If you were going to smell like one of your parents, it was better to smell like the one who wasn't dead." She's equally convincing when she writes about Wendy's developing relationship with her loner dad and her growing understanding that Josh and Louis are now her real family. This graceful book about loss and adolescence is marred only by its use of September 11 as its milieu. Maynard sketches in some scenes at Ground Zero and some firefighter characters, but in the main the book is really about a girl and her dead mother. Using the Trade Center tragedy as a jumping-off point doesn't deepen the story; in fact, it seems a bit opportunistic. Maynard should have trusted the elegant, compassionate material at the heart of her book. --Claire Dederer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

While the first 50-odd pages of Maynard's (To Die For; At Home in the World)new novel are emotionally harrowing, perseverance is rewarded. Set both in Brooklyn and the small town of Davis, Calif., following the events of September 11, the book tells the coming-of-age story of a girl whose mother goes to work one morning and doesn't come back. Wendy, who must bear the burden of having the last conversation with her mother end in anger, must also help care for her four-year old half-brother, Louie, while her stepfather, Josh, struggles to deal with his own grief. Attempting to escape her depressing surroundings and numb state of mind, Wendy leaves her family and best friend to live in California with her estranged father, Garrett. There she meets a colorful cast of characters, including Garrett's cactus-loving girlfriend, Carolyn. She also encounters bookstore owner Alan, who affectionately cares for his autistic son; a young single mother struggling to parent her newborn; and a homeless skateboarding teenager in search of his long-lost brother. 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. Though some may be tempted to charge Maynard with exploiting a national tragedy, most readers will find the novel an honest and touching story of personal loss, explored with sensitivity and tact. Maynard brings national tragedy to a personal level, and while the loss and heartache of her characters are certainly fictional, the emotions her story provokes are very real.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (February 18, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312283695
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312283698
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #673,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I've been a writer all my life. Over those years, I've worked as a newspaper reporter, columnist, radio commentator (I was Liberal-of-the-Day on CBS radio at the age of 19, on a show called Spectrum) . For eight years, I published a syndicated column about my life called "Domestic Affairs", but when my life got increasingly complicated (I got divorced) and my children grew to the age where it was no longer a good idea to write about them, I ended the column and turned to writing fiction. One of my novels, To Die For, was made into a terrific movie, directed by Gus van Sant , in which I can be seen in the role of Nicole Kidman's lawyer.

My memoir, At Home in the World, published in 1998, engendered a fair amount of controversy at the time of its publication --still does, in some quarters, because I chose to write about events in my life that involved a famous and revered older author, J.D. Salinger, who had decreed that I should never speak of him. This past September a new edition of At Home in the World was brought out, with a new introduction (and for the first time, I recorded the audio book of that one.) It's a story I hope will speak to many , but particularly to women.

In recent years, I've published four more novels--The Usual Rules , The Cloud Chamber, Labor Day, The Good Daughters and my latest, After Her. (A number of my older books , including a collection of my newspaper columns and my first novel, Baby Love, are available on e-book now too), as well as a number of essays that can be found in various collections. (Read over the titles--aging, divorce, anorexia, miscarriage, disastrous midlife dating--and you may get a picture of my life, I suppose, though a number of the more cheerful aspects --more enjoyable to live through, but less good as material--would be missing.

Labor Day has been made into a film, directed by Jason Reitman , and starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. If you like the novel, I think you'll be happy with the film. I certainly am.

You can learn more about my work, and my tour schedule (also my writing workshops on Lake Atitlan, in Guatemala) on my website, www.joycemaynard.com

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Wendy is thirteen years old and a fairly typical teen living in Brooklyn with her mother Janet, her stepfather Josh, and her half-brother Louis. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Janet goes to the World Trade Center where she is a secretary and, in the devastating events of that day, is lost to her family forever. What follows is a heart wrenching insight into the numbness, the hopelessness, the rage that filled those left behind.

Anyone who reads this book will have a hard time forgetting Wendy putting up fliers with her mother's picture on them, her regrets for all the ugly remarks she ever made to her mother, and most of all, her beautiful and haunting memories of time spent with her family.

Wendy's biological father has been pretty much of a no-show in her life thus far, but when he learns Janet is missing he turns up and takes Wendy back to California with him and away from the only family she has ever known.

What follows is the story of a strong young girl, a survivor of the highest order. Truly remarkable are the secondary characters that fill this story. Joyce Maynard has done a wonderful job of giving us three-dimensional characters we come to love and appreciate, people who help Wendy and reveal a lot about the basic goodness and terrible failings of human nature. A young mother wrestling with giving up her baby, a middle-aged woman reunited with the child she gave up twenty years ago, a book store owner dealing with his autistic child, a drifter in search of his brother, a good friend who spills the secret about Janet's best friend, and a young clarinet player experiencing first love are some of the memorable characters that people this story. But it is Wendy's two fathers, Josh in New York and Garrett in California, that are pivotal to the story.
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Format: Hardcover
For decades, fans of writer Joyce Maynard have known what her newest novel The Usual Rules is about to reveal: she is a gifted writer who illuminates what happens when ordinary people meet extraordinary, even, in the case of her newest novel, horrific circumstances. "The usual rules," Maynard whispers in her newest work, "do not apply."
The usual rules are that a mother goes to work and comes home. That is the rule, unless the day is September 11, 2001, and the mother works in the World Trade Center. On that day, the usual rules ceased to apply for 13 year-old Wendy.
From there, this story tears at both our hearts and our hopes. Wendy reluctantly leaves her much-love brother and step-father to travel to an unfamiliar father and an inner strength she doesn't know she possesses. This is both the story of a girl growing up and a girl growing old beyond her years.
As she did in her widely syndicated column and her bestselling "To Die For" and "At Home in the World," Maynard embraces subjects that are too painful, too hearbreaking for less sturdy writers to touch. In taking on the World Trade Center tragedy, Maynard artfully convinces us that we are more than the hand fate deals us. There is in all of us, an ability to cope with unimagined hardships and unbearable sadness.
Reviews at times trivialize Maynard's writing, saying that she deals with "little themes," unimportant subjects. But, as the attackers of September 11 taught us, it is those small subjects which ultimately create the most lasting and signficant outcomes.
Wendy's story of what happens after the darkest day in all of our lives is the stuff that great novels are made of.
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By A Customer on February 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This was a great book! I feel like the characters became my friends and I miss them since I finished the book. Your heart will ache for the pain that Wendy, Josh and Louie feel.
I know this was a novel but it feels like a true story. Joyce Maynard has taken a tragic event in history and made it deeply personal. In addition to feeling the personal sadness for anyone who lost a love one on 9/11/01 this book is also a coming of age book for young people. I highly reccommend this book as a way to open dialog for blended families.
Old fans of Joyce Maynard will enjoy this book and those less familiar with her will want to read eveything she ever wrote.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having lived through Washington's chaos following September 11, I admit to being curious how master storyteller Joyce Maynard would handle the situation, from the New York perspective, in a novel. I stayed up all night to devour "The Usual Rules."
This may be Joyce's best book yet. It's for mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, friends who build their own families, and anyone who has watched a green shoot poke up from the ashpit of loss. I think that covers just about everyone.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought this book because I had read and enjoyed previous works by Ms. Maynard. When I first heard that the story was about the September Eleventh disaster I hesitated. I wasn't sure how much more I wanted to know about that subject. However, when I got into the book, I realized that that horrible day was merely a bit player (not to mention an excellent metaphor for the `emotional disaster' that preadolescence is for all young females) in a warm and wonderful story about a young girl coming of age without the aid of `the usual rules'. My heart ached for the travails Wendy had to go through but warmed at her ability to survive and even thrive in the face of them.
The characters were so well drawn and fully dimensional that I felt that I knew them, or at least someone like them. This would be a great book club choice or a wonderful piece to be read by a mother and daughter together so as to better understand the issues facing them both. I ordered a second copy to give my mom for mother's day. Hope you all enjoy this lovely novel as much as I did.
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