Monday, June 20, 2011

Review - The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard

Title: The Usual Rules (Amazon)
Author: Joyce Maynard
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin 
Date Released: 2004
Pages: 400
Genre: YA
Source: Library

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 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 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 a life that comes to include a teenage mother, living on her own in a one-room apartment with a TV set and not much else; 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 three thousands miles away, Wendy 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 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. (Goodreads)

Kim’s Take:

This book was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time.

On 9/11, Wendy’s mother was at her job on the 86th floor of one of the World Trade Centers. Wendy, who is 13-years-old, along with her step-father and little brother, can only hold out hope that her mother will be found. As time goes by, it becomes apparent that this will not be the case.

The story is told through Wendy’s eyes and it is very heartbreaking to read of the emotions she goes through. Wendy adores her little brother and has a wonderful relationship with her stepfather. But she also feels she has become an additional burden to him as he deals with his young son and the loss of his beloved wife. So when her father, whom she has rarely seen and her mother hated, shows up at the door one evening to tell her he is taking her back to California with him, she doesn’t put up much of a fight.

I thought the story got a lot more interesting once she reached California. She meets so many interesting people, does things she never would have done previously, and starts to develop a relationship with her father. She learns so much more about life in the time that she is with him.

All of the characters just seem very realistic and reading about the hopelessness that Wendy felt when the world just seemed to go on without her mother was very believable. She keeps going back to times she was with her mother and feels a lot of regret over her behavior on many of those occasions. It really made my sympathize with her struggles and uncertainties about her life, future, and loss of her mother.

Though I thought the story was excellent, there were just a few things about it that kept me from giving the book 5 stars. The author does not use quotation marks and, in the beginning and few different places throughout the book, it would lose me and I would have to reread a part. Other than that, I really liked her writing style. There were also a few spots in the book that I found rather drawn out and boring, but the story as a whole made up for that.

It was a very thought-provoking story. I guess I just never really thought about what it was actually like for children whose parents just never came home on that day. I would really recommend it.

Kim’s Rating: 


  1. This definitely sounds heart-breaking, I love a good thought provoking story but I think I might get really confused with the lack of quotation marks. I guess it takes some time to get used to it. Thanks for the great review! =)

  2. Sounds very heartbreaking, but it also seems to show the other side you don't get to see often, of the people who lost someone that day.

    Thanks for the great review.

  3. I liked this book for it's unique perspective on this event too. I thought it was very well done. Thanks for reminding me of a good book I read a while ago....

  4. I hadn't heard of this one I guess but it actually sounds good! I'll have to remember that in the future. Glad you liked it!

  5. Wow, this sounds like it would be a very emotional read. I'll definitely have to check it out though, it sounds good! Thanks for sharing!