Study Guide

The Usual Rules

By Joyce Maynard

The Usual Rules Introduction

Oof, talk about tackling tough subject matters. Author Joyce Maynard, who was called the voice of her generation when she was only eighteen years old (no pressure), tackles one of the most iconic national events of the 21st century in The Usual Rules by exploring the aftermath of September 11, 2001, as seen through the eyes of one thirteen-year-old girl living in New York City.

The Usual Rules follows Wendy, a girl whose mother is working in the World Trade Center when the towers collapse. While most kids her age are thinking about their middle school crushes or what they're going to wear to the next dance, Wendy finds herself thrust into a very adult world—one in which she has to grapple with the terrifying idea that nothing is ever safe and that her family may never be the same again.

If you're thinking this sounds like Heavy Stuff (yes, capital letters), you're right. But the book is also a classic coming-of-age story. When Wendy travels from New York City to California (to live with her biological father, Garrett), the trip symbolizes her own emotional journey into young adulthood. Things are changing and Wendy must, too, whether she likes it or not.

The book is an important addition to the literature that has been written to address 9/11 and its impact, a part of what The New York Times calls "[…] a story of what happens to those who write fiction when terrible facts intrude on their world" (source). Although the subject matter is harrowing, it's a part of our collective history—and something we shouldn't forget anytime soon, in literature or otherwise.

What is The Usual Rules About and Why Should I Care?

Pretty much everyone knows that September 11, 2001 was a huge deal. But for many of us, it's hard to wrap our minds around this definitive historical event, to really understand its impact on people who were directly touched by the tragedy. In The Usual Rules, Joyce Maynard makes this important moment in U.S. history personal by delving into the life of one girl, inviting readers to get up close and personal with how 9/11 affects her life and her family.

Wendy is such an utterly normal girl that she's the perfect character to follow as she navigates this awful and disorienting tragedy. It's impossible not to relate to her—she's just a teen who wants a normal life and to grow up in a world that feels safe and predictable. The events of 9/11 completely blow her world apart, upending everything she's know. The healing process is long and complicated, and Wendy trudges on long after people around her resume their ordinary lives.

Reading The Usual Rules helps readers understand the emotional aftermath of 9/11, the wounds left open long after school had started back up and people took down the American flags they hung in solidarity from their porches. It's a painful and difficult situation to cope with, to say the least, but in reading about Wendy, it's crystal clear why this day lives on in infamy.

The Usual Rules Resources


The Main Site
Learn more about author Joyce Maynard and her other books by visiting her official website.

Your Own Copy
If you want your own dog-eared copy of The Usual Rules, you can pick it up in paperback or hardcover here.

In Memory
If you'd like to read more about the 9/11 attacks, you can visit the National September 11 Memorial and Museum… or peruse its website

Articles and Interviews

In the Author's Own Words
Read this profile of Maynard to understand why she decided to write a book about 9/11, and how she likes to tackle "forbidden territory" in all her books.

The Literary Treatment
The Usual Rules is mentioned in this New York Times piece about 9/11 fiction and the writers who are leading the way.


Coming Soon…
If you want a quick overview on The Usual Rules, you can watch this fan-made book trailer that delivers all the salient points.


Heart in the Sky
The cover of The Usual Rules shows a pretty sad girl. "Sad" is exactly how Wendy feels throughout the book.

California Girl
Author Joyce Maynard looks like every bit the sun-kissed California girl herself—which probably explains why she describes the sights so expertly.

The Twin Towers
Wonder what the New York City skyline used to look like before 9/11? The World Trade Center was definitely on display.

A Mosaic of Loss
Seeing the faces of all the victims of 9/11 is quite overwhelming. That said, it also shows us the scope of the tragedy, and it's important to remember all who were lost.