by Maynard, Joyce
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
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