Study Guide

The Usual Rules Quotes

  • Abandonment

    For a while she asked when her father was coming home, but then she stopped. The picture that used to be on top of her mother's special treasure case in the living room had disappeared—the one with her mother in the long fairy dress, and flowers in her hair. Can we call him? Wendy asked.

    I don't know where he is anymore, her mother said. His phone got disconnected. (2.9-10)

    When Garrett leaves his family behind, he really leaves. Wendy doesn't even have a phone number where he can call him, which is devastating for a little girl who doesn't know why her dad doesn't live with them anymore.

    You've got to be kidding, her mother said. No, come to think of it, of course you're not. You haven't seen our daughter in a year and a half and you want to go out and see friends. Wendy wondered if this was the voice she used when she was being an executive secretary. (2.42)

    Although Wendy is too young to understand just how disappointed her mom is in Garrett, she can see that he's not being as present as he could be—especially considering this is the first time he's seen his daughter and ex-wife in over a year.

    I want you to write to me, he said. He didn't know she couldn't write yet, except for Mom and cat and love. If you send me a picture, I'll hang it on my wall, okay?

    You can come to visit me once I know where I'm going, he said. I'll teach you how to fish.
    Then he was gone. Later she realized they didn't have his address. (2.77-79)

    Garrett doesn't even leave an address for Wendy to write to him… not that she can write yet anyway. He doesn't know anything about her life and what she can and cannot do now that he's living away from them. He's not exactly a hands-on dad.

    Sometime before lunch, they had all their stuff packed up, and they loaded the bags in the trunk and the backseat of Kate's car. They stayed at Kate's apartment for a long time, while her mother found their new apartment.

    At first she didn't ask any questions about her father, but finally she asked when they were going back home again. Never, said her mother. (4.95-96)

    Poor little Wendy doesn't understand why they're going to stay with Kate or why they have a new apartment. She just wants to go back to their old life when they were a complete family with a father, mother, and Wendy.

    Wendy hadn't realized it until then, but up until that moment, she had believed that Josh would stop her from leaving. She might tell her teachers she was going away, and take her clothes out of the closet and pack them into suitcases, pack up her drawing pencils, take her Madonna poster off the wall. (12.68)

    Wendy may be the one leaving her family behind, but she feels abandoned because Josh isn't trying to stop her. He's just letting her walk out of their lives and move all the way to California.

    There, her mother said. You satisfied now? Here's the guy you want so much to get away from. Your own father walks out on you flat, and along comes Josh, who hadn't exactly been in desperate need of some seven-year-old daughter. He was having a pretty great life without us, as a matter of fact. And all he wants to do is spend as much time with you as he can. So you kick him in the teeth for it? (19.91)

    Garrett may be the dad who abandoned Wendy, but Josh is the one she lashes out at. It's no wonder Janet is frustrated by Wendy's treatment of her stepfather—she can come across as insanely ungrateful to a guy that's only ever shown her love and acceptance.

    Maybe he will, maybe he won't, she said. It would be one great day if he did. But I don't kid myself. I'm not his mother anymore. I was for nine months and a day, but that's all. His m other's the one who raised him. Best I could be is someone like a caring friend who might happen to look a little like him. (20.115)

    Because Carolyn gave her son up for adoption, she knows she can't expect anything from him. She doesn't deserve to be treated like his "real" mother; she hasn't been there to see him grow up, after all.

    But sometimes, Violet said, I just wish I could run away. Sometimes I want to be my old self again. Walter Charles won't shut up, and I just want to turn him off, only with a baby, you can't. (21.60)

    Violet isn't exactly having an easy time with this whole parenthood. Even though she loves Walter Charles, there are times when she doesn't want to be a mother anymore; she just wants to be a regular teenage girl again.

    Sometimes you just want someone to put their arms around you, Carolyn told her. Even Garrett, who grew up never getting that kind of thing and sometimes has a hard time giving it—even someone like him needs it. Sometimes I think a person could give up food more easily than affection. (28.156)

    Carolyn helps Wendy understand that Kate being with Josh isn't a betrayal. She needs to see just how lonely they've both been since Janet's death and recognize that they need some kind of solace and comfort in their lives.

    The surprising thing was how he took it. Wendy might have thought from the way he was with his mother back at Thanksgiving that it wouldn't be that bad when she died, but he sank into the chair, weeping. Now it'll never be any better, he said. As long as she was around I could always hope things might change someday, and now I know they never will. (28.163)

    Garrett may not have the best relationship with his mother, but he's still devastated when she dies. He's always held out hope that she'll stop being so emotionally distant and actually accept him as he is. But that's over now.

  • Family

    Back when her mother first introduced her to Josh, she meant to hate him. She was only seven then. She'd seen a video at Amelia's house around that time, called Parent Trap, where a couple of twins whose parents were divorced decided to get them back together, and it worked. Even though Wendy didn't have a twin like the girls in the movie, that was her plan. (1.63)

    At first, Wendy is the stereotypical stepdaughter who's determined to make Josh's life difficult. Thing is, she can't keep it up because Josh is so nice to her. He treats her like she's actually his daughter, and Wendy needs that in her life.

    They were at Dreamland when he told her about wanting to get married to her mom. I could understand if you aren't too thrilled, he said. I know you've got a dad, and it's understandable that you'd like it a whole lot better if he was with your mother instead of me. But I promise I'll try hard to make her happy. And I'll teach you every single thing you ever wanted to know about jazz. (1.65)

    Josh doesn't ignore Wendy or leave her out of the relationship he has with her mother—instead he consults her about marrying her mom and promises that while he'll never try to replace Garrett, he will always take care of her.

    Lost without her. Her mom and Josh, wandering in a forest like Hansel and Gretel, but with Louie in the front-pack. Calling out, Wendy, Wendy, where are you? We're lost without you.

    Of all the things I ever got to do, she told her mother on the way home, being a big sister is my favorite. (9.30-31)

    Despite what everyone else says about siblings hating each other, Wendy is completely in love with Louie as soon as she sees his pink little baby face. She takes to being a big sister like a duck to water.

    Times like that, Wendy never said he wasn't really her father. Same as she never called Louie her half brother. Somebody else did now and then—Aunt Pam, for instance. (9.45)

    No matter what anyone else says, Wendy considers Josh and Louie her "real" family. They're the family that she's grown up with and loves; they're the people she sees every morning when she wakes up. That's what family really is made up of.

    I'd never get into all that legal bullshit, but if we did, your stepfather wouldn't have a leg to stand on. All that would happen is he'd spend a lot of money for nothing, because if I know your grandmother, she wouldn't quit. You should have seen what she was like when she took my father to court, when I was your age. (11.38)

    Instead of telling Wendy that he wants her to come live with her because he loves her and wants to be a good father, Garrett starts talking about the legality of things. It's all very unemotional and not very fatherly.

    And don't you imagine we'd miss you? His voice caught. We've still got a family here. Even if one person's missing.

    I don't know what to do, she said. I don't want to go, but he said he knew what was best for me. He said he's the one parent I have left.

    The one parent, huh? What do you call me? (11.89-91)

    Poor Josh. He's pretty hurt when Wendy says that she might go live with Garrett—and even more so when she calls Garrett her "one parent" she has left. She still has Josh, and he loves her like a real father. He always has, and he always will.

    You know you're my only brother in the whole world, right? she said. And who's your only sister?

    You. They'd been through this before.

    And even if I'm not around, you know how much I love you, right? (12.32-34)

    It's pretty tough for Wendy to help Louie understand that she's going away for a while but will still be his sister and still be in his life. After all, he's just lost his mother—that's a lot of change for a little guy to take in.

    We had different ideas about a lot of things, he said. She was more the type to want to settle down and make a home. I never believed in traditional family structures. It always seemed to me like most people's problems start with their parents. I wanted things to be a little looser, hands-off. Like the whole world was your home, instead of just one place. (13.28)

    Garrett and Janet split because they had such different ideas on how to raise a family and how to create a home for Wendy. In the end, Garrett left them because he didn't know how to provide the stability that Janet needed. It was too hard for him.

    Sometime back, more than a year maybe, her mother brought up the idea of Josh formally adopting her. We haven't seen Garrett in a couple of years, she said to Josh. Just one crummy visit from his mother that time, to eat cucumber sandwiches and find out if I've made plans yet for Wendy's coming-out party. (19.107)

    Although Garrett hasn't visited Wendy in years, she still bristles when her mother talks about Josh formally adopting her. She feels like her mom is trying to erase her biological dad from her life and create this happy little story where their family has always consisted of Janet, Josh, Wendy, and Louie.

    You have a great family, he said.

    It wasn't exactly the one I started out with, she said. Or who I thought I'd be spending Christmas with.

    Me neither. (29.198-200)

    Before this, Wendy never imagined she'd spend Christmas with anyone but her usual family members—by which we mean her mother, Josh, and Louie. But now she's in Davis and celebrating with her new family and friends… and it's not so bad. It's just surprising, that's all.

  • Friendship

    Wendy had been best friends with Amelia since first grade. In third grade, they'd tied their desks together, until the teacher made them cut the string. They had invented a language nobody else understood. Later they made up all kinds of other things, too. (1.106)

    Wendy and Amelia are total BFFs. They've known each other for most of their lives and don't have to pretend around each other—they just get each other completely and totally accept each other.


    Even Amelia, as talkative a person as she was, must have known there was nothing to say. The two of them lay on the floor, holding each other, until very gradually the crying slowed to where it was only long, sad sighs. Then, finally, quiet. Even after that, they just lay there awhile.

    Maybe we should have some Haagen-Dazs, Amelia suggested. It seemed as good an idea as anything else. (3.230-231)

    Even when the unthinkable happens, Amelia knows just what Wendy needs. She is there to comfort her whenever she's overwhelmed by her grief and knows just what to suggest to help her feel better.

    You probably have tons of other people you'd want to talk to before me, Carolyn said. If not out here, in New York anyway. And, of course, there's always your father. But just so you know, if the situation ever comes up where you need a woman to talk to, I'd do my best. (20.128)

    Carolyn knows she's never going to replace Wendy's mom, but she still offers up her friendship and womanly advice. And Wendy is grateful for it; as much as she loves Garrett, she can't talk to him about everything.

    Sometimes it's important to have someone like that around, Wendy said. Even if you might disagree with what they tell you […]

    What a person really needs is more of a sidekick, he said. Someone who can tell you you're full of it, but in a nice way. When you've got a brother like that, you're never totally alone. There's always someone on your team. (24.45-46)

    Wendy understands what Todd is going through and why he'll comb the entire country to find his brother. After all, Kevin is the only person in his life who's always been there for him—and that's something that is precious and worth hunting down.

    She wrote down her phone numbers—both of them, Davis and New York. If you end up in my town someday, you could give me a call, she said. I've got a pretty flexible schedule. (24.55)

    Although she's just met this kid and probably shouldn't trust him right off the bat, Wendy feels a connection to Todd. She tells him to call or look her up anytime; she wants to be another person he can rely on since he doesn't have many.

    If you're going to be alone, you could have dinner with my father and his girlfriend and me, she said. My dad's girlfriend's son is coming for a visit the day before, but on Christmas Day, it's just going to be us. (28.101)

    Alan has helped Wendy a lot with her grief by allowing her to loiter around his bookstore and lending her books—so she tries to help him in turn when she can. When she learns that he and Tim will be alone on Christmas, she invites them to join her family. It's the least she can do.

    Anyway, you've got me. Wendy hadn't intended on saying something like that but looking at Carolyn standing there in her too-tight cutoffs and T-shirt, scrubbing the grill, she felt an unexpected wave of affection. There wasn't one single thing about Carolyn that reminded Wendy of her mother. Four months ago they hadn't even met. Now it was Christmas morning and here they were. (29.13)

    Even though she's only known Carolyn for a couple months, Wendy's grown pretty close to her. She feels horrible for Carolyn after Nate and Sharon leave, and she wants to show her that there are people who do appreciate and love her, just the way she is.

    When she heard about Wendy going back to school, Violet sounded sad.

    I'll still see you and Walter Charles, Wendy told her over the phone. Just not on school days.

    Now I'll probably turn into one of those people that sits around their apartment all day watching soap operas and Maury, she said. (30.54-55)

    Violet is having a hard enough time with this single motherhood thing, but it's going to get even worse when Wendy goes back to school. But even so, Wendy assures her she'll still be her friend—she just can't hang out all day during the week anymore.

    In the morning, it was Carolyn who dropped her off. I could get attached to those two, but I'd better not, she said.

    What do you mean? Wendy asked.

    You can do your best, Carolyn said. But a person can't always fix everything. (30.70-72)

    Carolyn really likes Violet and Walter Charles, but she knows it would be a mistake to get too close to them and worry about how they end up. She can already see that Violet is struggling—and that she might not always make the best choices for herself or her baby.

    You lived there a long time, Wendy said. As long as she'd known Kate.

    It was never a choice so much, she said. More of a habit. Your mom was there, and you guys. Which was basically my family. Only it wasn't completely, which is what I came to see. I was borrowing your mother's life. (32.149-150)

    Kate has been Janet's best friend for so long that she doesn't know what to do without her—but she does know that New York City will never be the same for her again. So she decides to leave and start anew; maybe getting away from all the grief will help her heal.

  • The Home

    Josh was making French toast. The kitchen smelled of just-ground coffee beans and frying butter. He was playing the Teach Yourself Spanish tape. Part one of her mother's birthday present last month. Part two was the trip to Mexico scheduled for next spring, when Wendy was going to stay at Amelia's or possibly go to California to visit her real dad, but she wasn't supposed to count on this. It had been nearly three years since she'd seen him. (1.31)

    Wendy's home in New York City is totally cozy and homey. Her parents and her little brother make it so, and they all have their own little routine in the morning with a homemade hot breakfast. How pleasant.

    Now Josh was holding the box of Duncan Hines in front of her mother, like evidence. I hope and pray this is the last time an item like this ever makes its way into our kitchen. Just tell me it was temporary insanity.

    I bought that a long time ago, her mother said. I didn't think I'd ever know anyone who could make us brownies from scratch. (1.72-73)

    Josh is a stickler for not having frozen dinners or boxes of brownie mix in their house. He believes that food should be made from scratch—they can enjoy it a lot more that way. It's more personal and filled with love.

    Tomorrow morning, she would board a plane for Sacramento, and by nightfall she'd be walking into the house of a man she hardly knew, who called himself her father, and everything she'd known or loved best in her life up to this moment would be gone, and whatever was coming next, she didn't have a clue. (12.69)

    Wendy has no idea what to prepare for when she boards the plane for California. She's lived in New York City her whole life, and now she has to leave the only home she's ever known to start over with a father she barely knows.

    It was nothing like their refrigerator back in Brooklyn, with half a dozen different kinds of cheeses and the crisper drawer crammed full of vegetables that her mother used to complain were always more than they needed [...]

    Here there was a stick of beef jerky and a package of sliced turkey breast. Store-bought tomato sauce. A couple of eggs. Margarine. Never trust a person with margarine in their fridge, Josh told her once. (13.11-12)

    Back in New York City, Wendy's house was always filled with lots of healthy food and ingredients for lavish meals. But Garrett's house is obviously a lot different—he just has some basics. This will take some getting used to…

    Josh wanted to do everything—stockings, Santa's footprints on the rug, like he'd stepped in the ashes of the fireplace and tracked them all over the place. Corny presents for her mother, and the red vest he always put on Christmas morning. Christmas dinner he'd make a buche de Noel and set poppers next to their places. (28.11)

    Wow, Josh is really into this whole fatherhood thing. Whenever the holidays roll around, he spares no expense turning their entire home into a Christmas wonderland for the kids.

    At Garrett's house, you wouldn't have known the holiday was coming.

    I'm not so big on all this Christmas hullabaloo, he said. Christmas was still a week away, but he was complaining that he couldn't turn on a radio anymore without hearing carols. (28.105-106)

    In contrast with Josh's Christmas cheer, Garrett doesn't seem to care much for the holidays. His house looks pretty much the same all year round, so that Wendy can't even really tell that Christmas is fast approaching.

    There's a girl I thought I'd look up, he tells me. She said I could drop in on her if I didn't have a place to go for the holidays. He shows me the piece of paper with Wendy's name on it. My own damn address.

    I was remembering what you told me about how a person shouldn't be alone on Christmas, Todd said to Wendy. (29.119-120)

    What are the odds Todd would give Garrett his very own address? It's clear that Todd needed a home for the holidays—and Wendy's family is there to provide just that.

    Wendy looked across the table at Todd, his plate piled high with turkey, stuffing, and yams. I can't believe all this great stuff, he said. I feel like I'm on The Waltons. Eat hearty, John-boy, Carolyn said. There's plenty more where that came from. (29.163-164)

    Even though Garrett's house may not be filled with Christmas decorations like Wendy's apartment in New York City, it still serves as a nice home to host the holidays for a bunch of people who don't have anywhere else to go—like Alan, Tim, Violet, Walter Charles, and Todd.

    The days passed. Carolyn kept sleeping over at Garrett's house. Nobody said anything, it just seemed to happen. Then she started bringing plants over. Not all, just certain of her favorites. (30.1)

    It looks like Garrett is allowing more and more people to share his former bachelor pad with him. First he invites Wendy to come live with him… and now Carolyn seems to be moving in.

    Really it's more like we get up, go to work, stop by the deli on the way home to pick up something for dinner and maybe a video. I might put in a couple hours on my homework while he's doing his assignments for this correspondence course on mechanical drafting he signed up for[...] Days off, we get to go snowboarding free at the mountain where his friend works, but it's a rare night we haven't hit the sack by ten-thirty. Funny thing is, I was never this happy in my whole life.(31.12)

    Todd has never had a home in his entire life, so it's especially gratifying for him to find his brother and get an apartment together with him. Even though he has to work a lot now, he's never been happier because he's finally home.

  • Guilt and Blame

    He sounded so sad, Wendy wanted to comfort him, but she knew her mother wouldn't like that. She could see the characters in Parent Trap rewinding to the beginning of the movie, where they hated each other, though in this case it seemed like it was only her mother who hated her father, not the other way around, and Wendy didn't understand how her mother could be so mean all of a sudden to someone who kept trying to be nice. (2.51)

    When Garrett comes to see Janet and Wendy after being away for over a year, Wendy is quick to forgive her father—after all, she's missed him. But Janet isn't going to let him off so easy, especially when he hasn't helped raise his daughter at all in the past year.

    I guess you wish now you hadn't said all that stuff about your mom, Amelia said.

    Wendy couldn't speak.

    I'll never tell anyone, Amelia said. Just because you were mad at her didn't mean you wanted a building to fall on top of her. Sometimes people say things. You should hear what I say about my mom. (3.245-247)

    It's horrible enough that Wendy has to live with the fact that her mother died in the 9/11 attacks, but now she has to obsessively think about all the awful things she said about her, too.

    I'm sorry, Janet, he said. It didn't mean anything. I didn't really care about her. It was just this thing that happened. You're the one I love. God, what was I doing?

    You were screwing up our life, that's what. (4.91-92)

    When Janet and Wendy surprise Garrett only to find him in bed with another woman, it's clear things aren't going to end well for their little family. It's his fault that this marriage is ending and that Janet has to raise Wendy on her own now.

    Thinking about it now—all the times she should have helped out, but didn't, how selfish she used to be—made Wendy feel sick. In the past, she had believed her mother was unreasonable, having all these expectations for her behavior. Living with Garrett, she almost missed them. She could do what she wanted now. But sometimes she wondered if it meant he was nicer, or just that he didn't pay enough attention to notice. (19.6)

    Before, Wendy used to blame her mother for all of their fights. But now she realizes that she was at fault, too—she wasn't a good daughter. She was often selfish and difficult, and that makes her feel awful and guilty.

    Times like this, Wendy, she said. She said this very quietly, which was the worst. I wonder what I did to raise such a selfish, ungenerous daughter. I wonder if I even know you anymore.

    When she said that, Wendy actually felt scared. What if she really had turned into this awful person? (19.15-16)

    When her mother tells her that she's being selfish and mean, Wendy is angry but she also is worried her mother might be right. What if all of their problems are her fault and she's changed into a bad person? Can she change back into someone who won't be so mean to her family?

    Once Wendy started thinking about all the things she regretted, she couldn't stop. Riding Garrett's bike in the hot, dry air of Davis, out along the flat expanse of wheat-lined highway, the pictures of her mother and her kept coming back to her, like buildings she passed along the road. Diner… gas station… avocado stand… fight with mother. (19.75)

    Poor Wendy is so guilt-ridden and consumed with all the memories of the times she let her mother down. She can't stop thinking about how she should have acted, how she should have treated her mother when she was working so hard to provide Wendy with a nice home.

    I know I let you down, too, he said. My mother was right about one thing probably. I was a major fuckup as a father.

    It's okay, she said, not exactly denying it.

    Not only that. I screwed up where your mother was concerned, too. She was one terrific girl. I just wasn't ready to handle all the responsibility. (25.75-77)

    When Garrett apologizes for being a bad father, Wendy can't exactly tell him it's not true—he hasn't been around in her life. But now he's trying really hard, and she can appreciate that.

    We're not talking about some kind of husband-stealer. This is your mother's best friend. Someone else who happens to be missing your mom pretty badly and feeling this big, awful empty space of her own.

    Kate and my mom talked on the phone every single day.

    And all that time Kate and your mom were friends, did you ever get the feeling Kate wanted to take Josh away from her? Let alone wish she was dead. (28.144-146)

    Although it would be easy for Wendy to resent Kate for being romantically involved with Josh after Janet's death, she knows it wasn't done in malice. Carolyn explains to her how this could have happened, and Wendy decides she won't blame them for anything.

    Just a small scrap of something good is all. This is more like a harmonica tune and one small star shining down on them. You've got two good people who've had a crushing load of grief lately, and if they can find some way to give each other a little comfort one of these days, who'd begrudge them? (28.161)

    Carolyn has a good point: It would be cruel to deny Kate and Josh the little comfort that they do have. After all, they're not bad people and they both loved Janet wholeheartedly. They're not doing this to hurt Wendy or Louie.

    I just wanted you to know, Carolyn said. I can understand, now that you're about to have a baby yourselves and all, how it must be for you, imagining me giving you away like that. But it didn't mean I didn't want you. I was trying to do the best thing. Nothing else I ever did in my life was as hard as that. (28.206)

    Carolyn can tell that Nate doesn't fully forgive her for giving him up for adoption—and she doesn't hold that against him at all. But she does want him to know how hard the decision was for her, and how much she wanted to keep him.

  • Sadness

    I'm at St. Vincent's, he told her. There are all these stretchers lined up, but nobody's on them. The doctors are standing around. He started to cry. The only times she'd heard him cry before were when he and her mom got married and when her brother was born, but both of those times had been happy crying. (3.71)

    It's terrifying for Wendy to hear Josh crying on the phone because she's never seen him cry like this before. Things are falling apart, and she can't even count on her stepfather to keep it together.

    It's a sound a person makes when they're grieving deeply, her teacher said. It might not be loud and dramatic, but it's like the saddest sound you could imagine, the sound a mother might make over the body of a dead child.

    Or the other way around, it occurred to her now, as in the darkened room, in the dim glow of the blue plastic stars, she heard a sound she barely recognized, and because of the strange numb feeling, it took a moment to realize the sound came from her. (3.99-100)

    Wendy doesn't know why she can't cry at first after the 9/11 attacks, but then she finds herself unconsciously making this awful wailing noise—her body is mourning without her even thinking about it.

    All this time, Wendy still hadn't cried. She thought it might be a relief, but she couldn't do it. The dull Novocain sensation that had begun taking hold that Tuesday had overtaken her now. The whole world, everything around her, had turned flat and colorless. (3.225)

    The world doesn't look the same after 9/11 because Wendy is in this awful nightmare where her mother has died—but they haven't found the body. It's hard for all of them to cope with this grief and uncertainty.

    Or Wendy herself, on the phone with Amelia, talking about the outfit a girl named Jessica Overbeck had worn to school the day before, until Amelia had said, Got to go. My mom's calling. Just that—nothing more than the thought of a mom saying it was time to get off the phone—was enough to change everything, take her from normal to crazy in about two seconds. (7.11)

    Little things can trigger huge waves of grief and sadness in Wendy. Even Amelia mentioning her mother briefly on the phone causes her to completely fall apart; she'll never mention her own mom so casually again.

    Sometimes it was a flash flood. Other times it came on like a slow-building rainstorm, the kind that gives you enough warning you might even have time to get inside before the clouds burst. Once it started, though, there was nothing to do but let the sorrow pound you like the most powerful current, the strongest waterfall. When the sorrow hit, small losses came crashing over you in one suffocating torrent. (7.12)

    Grief isn't something Wendy can predict. It comes over her so unexpectedly sometimes that she doesn't know how to react or what to do until it passes. She's completely overwhelmed by her mother's death.

    The music was louder now, and it pulled her down the hall, though there was another sound coming from the living room, the sound of weeping.

    She saw him then, though it was hard to make him out with no light except for what came in through the window from the street. Josh, sitting on the floor by the stereo, his head in his hands, his shoulders heaving. (8.117-118)

    Poor Josh tries so hard to hold it together when the kids are around, but when he thinks Wendy and Louie are asleep, he really lets his despair and sadness out. He's having a hard time, too, after all.

    First three years nothing was, he said. You don't realize how precious certain things are that you took for granted. Then they're gone and what you wouldn't give for one hour with that kid you used to take on the back of your bicycle, naming every single fact about the stegosaurus.

    It's probably harder on you than on him, the woman said. It's like the people who got killed in New York. For them, it's over. The people who suffer are the ones they left behind. (17.27-28)

    Although Alan isn't dealing with a death in the family in the same way that Wendy is, he has his own cross to bear. When she hears him talking about his son Tim, she realizes that he's mired in his own grief, too.

    For Wendy, that September, colors had faded till there was only gray. Smells disappeared except for the one terrible lingering scent she had breathed in that night she traveled to lower Manhattan to see the wreckage for herself, a smell she couldn't get out of her lungs after that, whether she inhaled or not. (23.22)

    Nothing is the same after Wendy's mother dies. She can't even see the same color and brightness in her life—instead, she's consumed with what she saw at the World Trade Center site and how everything was destroyed.

    He tries to do the right thing. Take care of his son. Leave you to do what you need to sort out your own feelings. But as far as he's concerned he might as well be dead himself. Only what's worse is, he's not. He's got another fifty, sixty years of living to fill up on this planet, and at this stage I'm guessing one day feels pretty unbearable. (28.136)

    When Wendy comes to Carolyn about Josh being romantically involved with Kate, Carolyn tries to explain to her just what Josh is going through these days. He needs some comfort and human connection in his life in order to survive this tragedy.

    They would be very sad that day, and for many days after. In certain ways always. They would also never be the same as how they used to be. But they would also be happy. (34.120)

    By the end of the book, Wendy realizes that her sadness and loss over her mother's death will be with her always… but that doesn't mean that she won't be happy, too. She, Josh, and Louie will be able to enjoy their lives in some ways, even if they're always missing Janet.

  • Identity

    Your dad wanted to call you Sierra, her mother would begin, because you were conceived in the Sierra Mountains, on a camping trip. Trout fishing, naturally. But ever since I was a little girl, I always said if I had a daughter, I'd call her Wendy. (Prologue.2)

    Wendy got her name from her mother's favorite book, Peter Pan, and they've watched the play together a million times. This love of the story and its magic is something they share.

    But then she had started to wonder if it really was what she wanted most, to tap-dance in the back row now and then, nights when somebody in the company called in sick, living in her little one-room apartment, eating her soup alone […]

    The pregnancy—discovered a few days after they returned from their camping trip—came as a surprise, but not bad news. What do you say we get married? Garrett had said. (Prologue.18)

    Even though Janet wanted to be a professional dancer forever, she started to think about settling down and having a family—and becoming pregnant with Wendy just solidified that desire for her.

    After her father left and they moved to their new apartment, Wendy's mother said she'd have to find a real job. She closed the Pocahontas Dancing School and sold her mirrors and let Wendy keep all the leftover costumes for dress-ups. She bought a suit and navy blue high heels and cut her hair short, and put Wendy in day care. (2.1)

    Janet goes from being a carefree young woman who wants to be on Broadway to a responsible career woman and mother, and she never complains about having to make this change for the sake of her family. She only wishes Garrett would do the same.

    I wish you wouldn't choose that picture to have up, Wendy had told her mother.

    I don't need a picture to tell me how pretty you are, her mother said. What I like about this one is how strong you look, how determined you were that day. I look at this and I know you're going to be a survivor. (3.87-88)

    Janet likes to have one picture of Wendy on display, and Wendy hates it because she doesn't look very pretty in it. But according to Janet, what defines Wendy isn't how pretty she is—it's how strong she is.

    Who knew what a girl was supposed to look like who had a mother for thirteen years of her life and then all of a sudden one day she didn't. Now that she was that girl, she knew the answer. She looked just like anybody else. Same as the people looked normal on the flyers that had mostly fallen down by now. (7.7)

    Wendy feels completely different on the inside after Janet dies, but on the outside she looks normal. It's hard for her to accept that she still appears to be a normal teenage girl to strangers instead of someone who is dealing with the biggest tragedy of her life.

    What about school? I'd have to start in at a whole new place in the middle of the term. I wouldn't know anyone.

    You could create a whole new identity, Amelia said. You might even be popular. (12.5-6)

    Wendy is a little frightened by the idea of starting over at a whole new school, but Amelia convinces her it's an opportunity. By going to a new place, Wendy can be whoever she wants to be—no one will question her new identity.

    Wendy could use a getaway. She could be anyone she wanted in California. Nobody would have to know anything. Not even that she came from New York, or what happened to her mother. She wouldn't have to go through every day with people giving her their sympathetic looks. (12.11)

    What really seals the deal for Wendy is the idea that no one will have to know about her mother when she moves to California. She's sick and tired of kids at school talking about her like she's some kind of tragic case.

    My mother doesn't like to tell her friends her son is just a carpenter, he said. I have a feeling she tells them I'm an architect. To me, the only shame in building houses is if you do it badly. (28.31)

    Garrett isn't ashamed of who he is and what he does for a living, but his mother acts like it's something to hide. She wants her son to be more educated and do something fancier for a living even though that's not who he is inside.

    The big surprise was this black woman that used to take care of your dad when he was little. She came all the way from Boston with her son and got there right in the middle of the service. It turned out your grandmother paid for the son's whole college education and now he teaches at some private school in New Hampshire. The man's mother got pretty emotional about your grandmother evidently. Called her the most generous woman she ever met.

    Your father never even knew, Carolyn said.(29.22-23)

    All this time Garrett has considered his mother a hard, unfeeling woman. But when he goes to her funeral, he finally sees a different side of her through the generosity that she showed to her employees. She did do some good deeds after all.

    Did it ever occur to you? she asked. She spoke quietly, but she knew she was summoning her energy for the next. Did you ever for one moment consider the possibility that I might have some opinions about my life? (31.91)

    Wendy knows that Josh and Garrett both want what's best for her, but she's sick and tired of people making decisions about her life. She's ready to have a say in what happens to her and who she is—and they can just sit down and listen up.

  • Memory and the Past

    She would list all the things she would do—cut off her hair, cut off her arm, both legs, gain fifty pounds, two hundred, never have a boyfriend, never have anybody fall in love with her for her whole life, stand naked in front of her whole gym class—if she could just return to how it was before. (1.137)

    When Wendy remembers the moment before she learned about the 9/11 attacks, she imagines all the things she would have traded in order for the attacks not to happen so she could still live in a world where her mother was safe and sound.

    They kept showing the same pictures. The low plane. The crash. The building peeling down to nothing from the inside out. The people running. Firemen. The melted trucks. She wanted to freeze the picture so she could try to figure out what floor the plane had hit, but maybe that wasn't such a good idea. (3.40)

    It's hard to forget about what happened to her mother when the news stations are showing the same footage over and over and again. Wendy can't help but feel sick and mesmerized as she wonders how her mother felt when it happened.

    The only part left you could recognize. Only where the plaza used to be, where just last week Louie had practiced his skipping, there was nothing but a mountain of metal and dust. How high, she couldn't tell at first, until she made out the forms of a couple of men in orange vests in the middle of the vast expanse of rubble. (3.280)

    Wendy remembers visiting her mother at the World Trade Center and seeing those huge buildings just a week earlier. Now there's nothing but rubble, little more than the memory of where they used to stand.

    It wasn't hard remembering the fights because there'd been lots of those. Jesus Christ, Janet. If what you cared about so much was a microwave oven and health insurance, you should have married a damn banker. (4.47)

    Even though Wendy misses Garrett, she doesn't have this idea that their family life was wonderful; after all, her parents did fight a lot. Deep down inside, she knows her mother is happier with Josh than she was with Garrett.

    Sometimes when Wendy let herself start thinking about her mother, it would be memories of whole days that came to her: the birthday party—second grade—where her mother had taught her and a bunch of her friends how to do the Charleston and Kate had made a video of them in their flapper outfits. (7.23)

    Once Wendy starts remembering all the good times she had with her mother, she can't stop—and the worst part is that she knows these are all the memories she will ever have. They won't make any new memories together.

    She wanted to remember everything, and yet she couldn't bear to. Once you lowered your raft into the rapids, there was no steering anymore.

    I never understood this before, she heard Josh saying one night when Roberto had stopped by, how precious everything was. (7.35-36)

    Now that Janet is gone, all they have are memories of her. None of them realized how precious and fleeting their life together was—not even Josh, who thought he'd be with Janet for the rest of his life.

    I'm maybe twelve years old at the time. He's sixteen, and there's sure to be other stuff he'd rather be doing with his Saturdays, but he signs the permission slip like he's a grown-up, in cursive. Rides the bus with me to the park every Saturday and sits on the bleachers through all my games. After a while, I've got a few hookups with this other kid's dad, where I could probably have got there without him, but he still came to every game just to watch. When I got a hit, I could always hear him cheering like a maniac. (24.40)

    Even though Todd hasn't seen his brother in years, he still considers Kevin the most important person in his life. After all, his brother made sacrifices for him and was always there to cheer him on. He gave him a happy childhood.

    It was starting to be Christmas. If this was an ordinary year, they'd be making plans to take a trip out to Connecticut to cut down their tree. You could buy one right on the street near their apartment, but Josh liked tromping through the woods in the snow and cutting it down with an ax. On their way home with the tree on the roof of their car, they always stopped at a diner that served the best macaroni and cheese. (28.1)

    Wendy no longer has the prospect of lovely Christmases spent with her mother, Josh, and Louie to look forward to. Instead, she can reflect on those memories while spending the holidays in California with Garrett.

    Hearing Kate's voice after all that time gave Wendy a dull, empty feeling, like walking past a house you used to live in a long time ago, and they've changed the paint and the stone lion that used to be out front is gone. She thought about the old days, not just before September, but before Josh and Louie, too, all those nights when she and her mother and Kate would curl up on the couch together watching Shirley Temple movies or old musicals and eating popcorn. (28.34)

    Even hearing Kate's voice on the phone is a bit painful for Wendy because it reminds her of all the times she spent with Kate and her mother. Now they won't ever have a girls' night in with movies and popcorn. It's super sad.

    One more thing remained in the box. It was in an envelope. She opened it very slowly, undoing the top instead of ripping the paper, picturing her mother sealing it up all those months before. After this one last gift from her mother, there would be no more, ever. (34.35)

    Wendy waits for a long time to open the gifts from her mother that Josh sends her in the mail. After this, her mom will never give her a gift again, so these are the last memories of opening a gift from Janet that Wendy will ever have. Understandably, she savors this moment.

  • Mortality

    There's people jumping, he said. The fire trucks are melting.

    From her desk, a girl named Sandra, who never talked, began to cry. Several people put their heads down on their desks. One girl started getting the dry heaves, but not the one who'd said she was going to throw up. She was already gone. (3.9-10)

    When Wendy hears about the people jumping from the towers, she knows this isn't going to end well—there's a real possibility her mother won't make it out of the World Trade Center alive.

    Now the face in the picture was her own slim, beautiful, laughing mother. She knew the face better than anybody's except her own. Only now, for the first time, it struck her that her mother looked different. Not quite like her mother anymore, but almost like someone who used to be her mother. (3.162)

    When Wendy and Josh put up flyers of her mother all over New York City, she realizes this is the first time her family's had to confront the fact that they might not all be around forever. It's scary and strange.

    He was doing the rounds of hospitals again. A lot of families who were missing someone were going over to the armory on East Seventy-third Street to give the workers there hair samples and dental records, but when his sister suggested that, he looked as if he might murder her, and she didn't bring it up again. (3.210)

    The mere idea that Janet might not be alive anymore is horrible to Josh, and he refuses to even entertain the possibility. In fact, he won't let anyone else talk about it at all—not even his own sister.

    I was just wondering, she said. A young woman in a vest had stopped to take a drink from her water bottle by the spot where Wendy was standing. You aren't finding bodies or anything are you?

    Not much you'd recognize, the woman said. If it's anything human, they've got a priest set up in a tent to say the last rites. (3.275-276)

    Wow, if that woman knew that Wendy had a parent in the Twin Towers, she probably wouldn't say that. But her comment about the parts of bodies they're finding brings the reality of the situation home for Wendy: Her mother is probably dead.

    A girl at my school said all the people got buried under the building, Louie whispered. My teacher said to be quiet but the girl said her mom said all the people got turned into bits of dust and the reason everyone's wearing masks is they might be allergic to dead people. (5.33)

    Even though Louie is too young to really understand death, he's still disturbed by what he's hearing about the 9/11 attacks and the people who were in the Twin Towers. He's totally aware that something terrible happened to his mother.

    They stood there for a while looking at the pictures.

    He doesn't look like the kind of person who'd be dead, said Amelia.

    I know what you mean, said Wendy. But lots of people don't. (6.12-14)

    Although the cute firefighter on the flyer looks young and healthy and like he'll survive anything, Wendy knows the truth: People can look perfectly normal before they die. They can seem like they'll live forever until the very last moment.

    I'd really like to get to know you more, the tangerine peel said. It's just so fascinating having a friend whose mother got killed.

    The second she said it, she gasped. Seth looked up from his sandwich. Oh my God, said Amelia. It just came out.

    It's okay, Wendy told Amelia. She felt relieved that someone said it, finally. (6.54-56)

    It might be a little (okay, a lot) insensitive of Amelia to mock the other girls in their class who are trying to get close to Wendy now that her mother is "missing," but Wendy is just relieved that Amelia has said what everyone else is afraid to say: Janet isn't coming home again.

    It made me think about what music we would choose, she said. If we did something like that.

    Not just yet, okay, Wen? he said. I just can't let myself believe she isn't coming home. If I did, I don't know how I'd go on living. (8.82-83)

    She may just be a kid, but Wendy has an easier time accepting that her mother is dead than Josh does. Josh is afraid to say it aloud; he's scared that he won't be able to go on if he admits that Janet is gone forever.

    The idea that he wanted to be dead, though, that part was new. At her worst moments these last six weeks she never wanted that. She wished the world would disappear plenty of times. She wished there was a place to be where she didn't have to think anymore, where the sisters stopped coming at her. But dead, never. (8.91)

    When Josh admits that he wants to be the one who died instead of Janet, it terrifies Wendy. She's already lost her mother—the idea that she could lose Josh as well is just too much for her to think about.

    The thought came to Wendy that a person didn't just die in a single instant, but gradually, in stages. She had begun to lose her mother that day in September, but it was still happening, a little at a time, as if her mother had been on a little boat that was very gradually drifting out to sea, or holding on to a balloon that kept on rising till you couldn't see it anymore. (15.69)

    Now that Wendy has encountered the first big death in her life, she realizes it's not as simple as people make it out to be. She doesn't just lose her mother once—she loses her again and again as she relives the times they shared.

  • Coming of Age

    I don't know why I say the mean things I do, she told Amelia. My parents are just getting on my nerves so much lately. Sometimes these horrible remarks ooze out of me. (1.51)

    Wendy is aware that she's being mean to her parents, but she doesn't know how to stop it. It's like the spirit of an evil teenager has taken her over, and it's determined to be snippy and bratty with her parents no matter what they do.

    Wendy studied her hands. It was the first time she'd ever had a manicure, so it didn't even seem as if they belonged to her, but when she saw her hands, her chest tightened and an awful wave of memory and sadness washed over her. Laid flat on the white cloth of the manicure table with their round moons and pink polish, her hands looked exactly like her mother's. (6.34)

    Getting her first manicure should be a happy occasion for Wendy, but instead it's sad because her mother isn't here to share it with her. She won't be here for lots of milestones to come.

    Now she knew what real trouble was, and everything looked different. Once you crossed the line, she discovered—where you realize you don't have to be good all the time, and you aren't scared anymore of things like teachers not liking you—it was easy to go the next step. (14.3)

    With the kind of trauma and grief that Wendy has been through, she can't have the same innocent outlook on life anymore. She sees that everything can fall apart in the space of a minute.

    None of them's yours, right? she said.

    I'm just visiting, Wendy said. She must really have changed for someone to imagine she could be some baby's mother. Not that this girl looked old enough either. (16.17-18)

    Wendy is super surprised the girl in the hospital thinks she could have a baby. She's never been old enough for someone to mistake her for a mother before—she's always been just a kid.

    Kids are supposed to complain about their parents, he said. I should feel flattered. If our daughter starts saying how thrilled she was to hang out with us all the time, we'd know she must be doing crack cocaine behind our backs. Either that or she was a hopeless loser. (19.94)

    Wendy's mom is totally exasperated with her attitude, but Josh is more patient and accepting. He knows it's a phase. Wendy is just going through her teenage years and it'll all pass eventually.

    Ten years from now, her mother might not even recognize her. Already she was different, but the day would come when she'd be this person her mother had never seen. There would be other people—someone like Carolyn, or Alan, or even Violet—who had known her longer than her mother ever did. (20.78)

    Growing up is bittersweet for Wendy because although she likes seeing the change in herself, she regrets the fact that her mom can't be there to witness it. Wendy always thought she'd be there to share in all of her major life events.

    I know it doesn't seem as if we understand a single thing about how you're feeling these days. I don't expect I can make you feel any better. I just wanted you to know that I'm not so old I can't still remember a few things about being thirteen years old. The best I can tell you is, nobody stays thirteen forever. Though I'll just add, I have loved you madly, every single age you've ever been, and expect the trend to continue. (23.63)

    Despite the fact that she finds Wendy's teenage grumblings annoying, Wendy's mom still makes a point to remind her that she loves her madly, no matter what age she is. She'll adore her daughter always.

    But he didn't try to do anything else, right? Wendy asked her. They had decided to stay virgins until they were seventeen, and not to do anything with anyone until they'd discussed it with each other.

    We talked about it, she said. He explained to me how it is for boys. The sex drive and so on. He did it one time already with a girl at his old school. He said next time he wants it to be with a person that he's really good friends with first, like me. (27.7-8)

    Wendy's not the only one who's growing up and experiencing new things. Her best friend Amelia is embarking on a journey of her own—and hers involves to making out and doing other things with boys.

    I guess you're still thirteen, huh?

    It's my birthday in three weeks.

    When difficult things happen it makes you seem a lot older, he said. A lot of people take me for older than fifteen. (29.213-215)

    Because they've been through so much hardship, Wendy and Todd both feel a lot older than they are—and they have a special connection, too. They're not just two stupid kids; they're kindred spirits who have both experienced tragedy and pain.

    After, she stood alone in her room and looked in the mirror. She thought she'd look a little different, but she didn't.

    She hadn't realized, until it happened, how much she'd wanted someone to put his arms around her the way Todd did. (29.255-256)

    Funnily enough, making out with a boy doesn't completely change Wendy's appearance. But still, she feels like a different person—especially when she finds herself liking Todd's kissing and groping.