Study Guide

The Usual Rules Coming of Age

By Joyce Maynard

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.