The Usual Rules follows the story of Wendy, who lives with her mother stepfather and little brother in Brooklyn, and whose world is transformed in a single terrible instant, one day in September, 2001. Her mother goes to work that morning. She doesn't come back. Through the eyes of the thirteen year old, we follow Wendy's slow and terrible realization that her mother has died, and the struggle of the family to move forward with their lives. Wendy's real father comes to take her back with him to California, where she is launched into an utterly unfamiliar life populated with an unlikely cast of characters--her father's cactus-grower girlfriend; a TV-watching teenager with a baby and not much else; the sad and tender bookstore owner, who introduces her to the voice of Anne Frank, and to his autistic son; and a homeless teenager, on a mission to find his long- lost brother. At the core of her story is Wendy's deep connection and protective loyalty to her little brother Louie, back in New York, grieving the loss of his mother without her. Set against the backdrop of a global and personal tragedy, and written in a style that is alternately wry and heartbreaking, the novel tells 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.
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St. Martin's Press
January 31, 2003
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Excerpt from The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard
Quarter past six. In ten minutes, Wendy would have to get in the shower. Her clock radio came on. A newsman was talking about the elections for mayor of New York City. She switched to music. Madonna.
She went through her new school clothes in her head, thinking up combinations. Her mother said the great thing about the gray pants was how you could wear them with anything, but when she wore them yesterday, she'd felt as if she was playing dress-up. Nobody else in eighth grade had pants like that. She wished she'd gotten the purple-and-green-plaid kilt instead, that her mom said was impractical. Her mom, who owned three different-colored feather boas and red velvet harem pants, a leopard-print cat suit, and a tutu, not to mention all her old Peachy Puffs getups.
Those pants really flatter your figure, her mother said when she put them on yesterday.
Do you think I'm fat? Wendy said. Her mother was a size four, and they could share clothes now, but Wendy could tell that before long, her clothes would be bigger than her mother's.
Of course not. All I meant was they make you look even slimmer than usual.
I'm fat, aren't I? Wendy told her.
You've got a perfect body. Much nicer than if you were one of those stick-figure types. I always wished I had a shape.
In other words I'm chunky, said Wendy.
You look just right, her mother said. Your bones are bigger, that's all.
* * *
Louie opened the door partway, just enough that she could see a corner of his face, eyes crusty, thumb in mouth.
Are you dry?
He told her yes.