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on April 11, 2005
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. Both loved Janet and both feel the need to take care of Wendy in quite different ways. And most of all, there is Louis, the young brother who is such an important part of Wendy's life. They shared a mother, but will they ever be able to live together again when they have such vastly different fathers who each live on opposite coasts.

Out of sorrow and terrible tragedy comes a heartbreaking story that will have you in tears and yet hopeful. You will be immediately pulled into this story and feel a part of the happy family life that is about to explode. You will follow Wendy in her journey to California and ache with her as she misses not only the mother she will never see again, but the brother and stepfather now 3,000 miles away and removed from her life. This is a novel about families, how they support us and how they fail us, and how, in the end, it is our inner spirit that sustains us when "the usual rules" no longer apply.
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on February 4, 2003
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. With her gift for words and her fascination with people, Maynard again eschews the great unimagined for the love of everyday possibilities by chronicling who we were, who were are, and who we have a capacity for becoming. Like Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Judith Guest's Ordinary People, Joyce Maynard's The Usual Rules gives us an unforgetable voice grown too old and wise too soon.
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on February 7, 2003
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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VINE VOICEon February 15, 2003
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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on February 4, 2003
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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on February 14, 2003
I have loved everything Maynard has ever written, but this time I think she's written a book that will reach new readers and turn them into devotees like myself. What a bold topic, building a family dynamic around the tragedy of 9/11, but moving forward in the challenging step by step way that would ring true for any death,no matter the circumstances. Instead of the World Trade Center disaster overpowering this novel, the inner workings of an adolescent girl really hold the key to the story. There is hope where it's not expected, humor in the most subtle places and healing where it's most doubtful to occur. Just like real life.
Joyce Maynard is a gifted writer, and her use of language is flawless. She understands the interior world of children and is at her best when her young characters project their feelings and innocent observations onto adults. Like Maynard's parallel to Anne Frank, the reader appreciates the essentially positive attitude of the thirteen year old protaganist Wendy, and hopes that the world will catch on to the power of forgiveness and starting over.Could this be Maynard's well-deserved best seller? I hope so.
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on March 30, 2003
I just finished The Usual Rules this morning. I am still kind of breathless. I absolutely loved this book. I love the main character Wendy. She is an inspiration. I have never read a book by Joyce Maynard before. She is an excellent writer. I won't summarize the plot you can see that above, but suffice it to say this was one of the best reading experiences of my life and I hope this book finds a very wide audience. It is really something special! I am so lucky to have read it. I feel deeply touched by this experience. Thank you Joyce Maynard.
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on December 30, 2003
A while back I finished Joyce Maynard's The Usual Rules. It's impossible to say one looks forward to reading or enjoys a book that takes as its kickoff the destruction of the World Trade Center. In a very basic way, I think that nearly each person, certainly everyone I know, feels as though they somehow own the events of that day. In my case, by virtue of sheer geography, I'm just two degrees of separation away, meaning that I didn't lose anyone directly, but the number of those lost by people I know is obscenely huge. And then there are the pictures of the commuter lots in the towns I know so well with all those cars belonging to people who never came home.
Rarely when reading a book have I been so aware of how the stylistic decisions an author makes affects the reader. Usually, I get annoyed with writers who don't offset dialogue in quotes; the absence of what is really itself a device somehow feels artificial and affected. But here that decision is a mercy. It creates just enough distance that the reader can get through the first 50-100 pages, knowing that Wendy, the 13-year-old girl who forms the heart of this story, will lose her mother when those planes hit. It's also a mercy having the tragedy occur relatively early on, so that both the reader and Wendy have sufficient time to recover.
In terms of plot, afterwards, Wendy negotiates her New York life with her stepfather and halfbrother and her California life with her birth father, who she's hardly seen in years. It's a true coming-of-age novel, turning on the greatest American tragedy in recent memory.
From what I remember of what little I heard people say of this book before I read it was that by virtue of subject matter and some people's impressions of the author, it must surely be exploitative. While I'm sure that as time goes on there will be exploitative novels written on the subject, this book isn't those books. It's not in the slightest exploitative; or, if it is, then every novelist who's ever written anything, sincere or no, is exploitative too. Rather, it impresses as being one person's attempt to use her art and talent to make sense of the incomprehensible.
One finishes the book admiring Wendy's strength and spirit, and wanting good things to happen to her and to all those who lost so much on that awful day when the sky was an incredible blue.
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on October 21, 2012
I loved this book. Wendy is a typical (i.e. self-centered) teenager. She will always regret running out the door on September 11, 2001, without saying good bye to her mother. Losing someone in the disaster on that day must have been devastating, but few of us ever take it down to the level of the people left behind. For Wendy, it is not a sudden loss, but rather the slow, painful realization that her mother is never coming back.

Wendy's real father, who has never really been a part of her life, comes to take her to California to live. No one really asks Wendy what she wants, and if asked, she probably would not have known. But she misses her stepfather and her little brother like crazy, and eventually, only she can decide where she belongs in this new motherless world.

This is one of those books that I did not want to see end. After reading the last page, I wanted more. That's when I know I loved a book.
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on May 2, 2003
I just finished "The Usual Rules" and found myself thinking that I had to go out and find a book just like, or very similar to this one. My next thought, though was that there aren't too many books out there that are as perfectly pitched as this one. Every page is meant to be savored. I was afraid to read this book because even though I live thousands of miles away from New York City, and no one I knew died during the 9/11 attacks, I thought it was unfair to fictionalize those events...(and maybe, in a way trivialize them.) Boy, was I wrong. I applaud Ms. Maymard for writing a book that will help people deal with all sorts of sadness and loss in their lives.
I thought it brilliant the way the story was told from the point of view of 13-year old, Wendy. I loved the character of Josh, too. I wish we all could have a father like him. Pay close attention to the letter Josh writes to Wendy while she's in New York. I started crying then and didn't stop until the end of the book, which was about 150 pages later. The way Wendy is able to be so, so strong in the face of such hearbreak is amazing to me. Her little brother Louie, is lucky to have her for a big sister. This book will stay with me for a long, long time.
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