In The Usual Rules, Wendy deals with a fair amount of abandonment from the people she should be able to count on the most. Yes, we're talking about her own parents. Her father Garrett is largely absent throughout her young life, and although Wendy's mother would never leave her family on purpose, she ends up dying in the September 11 attacks, and poor Wendy (and the rest of her family) has to learn how to cope with her absence. With her mother gone, Wendy has to grow up quickly and face the hard facts of life—whether she's ready for it or not.
Even though Wendy is the one who actually decides to leave New York City, she still feels betrayed and abandoned by the fact that Josh and Louie don't try to stop her.
By bringing Wendy to live with him in California, Garrett is trying to make amends for how absent he was before—both to Wendy and to Janet.
From the beginning of The Usual Rules, it's clear Wendy doesn't have the stereotypical family. She has a stepfather named Josh and a half-brother named Louie, both of whom she considers more of her "real" family than she does her biological dad, who lives all the way in California and hardly ever visits or calls her. But after her mom Janet dies in the 9/11 attacks, Wendy goes to live with Garrett (her biological father), and when she does, she ends up gaining and creating a new family on the West Coast to accompany the amazing family waiting for her in New York City.
Family is about love and being there for each other more than it is about sharing the same blood in The Usual Rules.
When she moves to California, Wendy doesn't lose her old family; she gains another one in Garrett, Carolyn, and all the friends that she makes.
In The Usual Rules, when Wendy finds out her mother has died in the World Trade Center attacks, she relies heavily on her family and friends to help her through this difficult time. Her best friend, Amelia, who is often funny and sarcastic, totally gives her a shoulder to cry on, and her mother's best friend, Kate, checks in all the time to make sure Wendy, Josh, and Louie are getting on okay. Even after Wendy moves to Davis, she continues to lean on her friends, both old and new. Her new friends—Carolyn, Alan, Violet, and Todd—all rise to the occasion and help her to work through her grief, too. Go team.
Even though Amelia seems inconsiderate when she talks about how Wendy's mother is dead, she's really being a good friend and giving Wendy what she needs in her life—a dose of the cold, hard truth.
When Wendy moves to California, she wants to start over, and in doing so makes friends with people she never would have talked to in the past—like a single teenage mom (Violet) and a middle-aged bookstore owner (Alan). These friendships help her relate differently to herself and her life.
In The Usual Rules, Wendy leaves the only home she's ever known—New York City—to go live with her biological father in California. Throughout the story, we see Wendy living in these two different places and trying to come to grips with where she feels the most "at home" while struggling with the fear that she might never feel like anyplace is home again without her mother there. Ultimately, Wendy enjoys her time in California but decides she has to go back to New York City to live with Josh and Louie. Wherever they are is where she needs to be.
In The Usual Rules, home isn't so much about place as it is about people.
In The Usual Rules, home is ultimately very much about place.
Things are pretty tough in The Usual Rules after Janet dies, and Wendy finds herself wracked with guilt over how she treated her mother in her last days. Even though she's just been having the same kind of problems that thirteen-year-old girls all around the world have with their parents, Wendy feels horrible for fighting with her mother and for saying and thinking mean things about her. Throughout the book, Wendy continues to torture herself with memories of how she disappointed her mother—which only makes her grief and sadness more acute.
When Wendy learns about her mother's death, she has to deal with both the grief of losing her and her guilt over the fact that they were fighting before Janet died.
Garrett wants to be a part of Wendy's life now not just because he feels sorry for her after her mother's death, but because he wants to make it up to her; he knows that he's been a bad and absent father.
There's enough sadness in The Usual Rules to fill a book—which is exactly what happens. The book chronicles Wendy's grief and heart wrenching pain after the events of 9/11, which takes her beloved mother away from her. Everyone who loved Janet reacts to her death in different ways. Her husband, Josh, doesn't know how to be the sole head of the family; Wendy moves across the country to live with her biological dad and stops going to school; and little Louie doesn't fully understand that his mother is dead and keeps lashing out and throwing tantrums. They're all showing their sadness in vastly different ways.
Although Wendy is sad about her mother's death, she is shocked when she learns that Josh wishes he were dead, too—the idea of also losing him terrifies her and only magnifies her grief.
Louie experiences more sadness than anyone because, as a little kid, he continues to suffer the realization that she's not coming home over and over again. He just doesn't understand the permanence of death.
In The Usual Rules, Wendy is going through a particularly hard time that forces her to reexamine her life and try to figure out who she really is. As a thirteen-year-old girl, Wendy is already dealing with the question of personal identity and how to distinguish herself from her family and her peers.
But when her mother dies and Wendy ends up moving to California, she decides to start all over: Instead of being the good student, Wendy starts skipping school; she also starts dieting and pursuing the thin body she's always desired. And instead of being entirely uninterested in romance, Wendy starts meeting—and kissing—some cute boys. Talk about a personality shift!
Wendy plans to create a whole new identity for herself when she moves to California, but although she does make some changes, what she really ends up doing is finding herself, not changing who she is.
Although Garrett wants to be close to his mother, he can't because she wants him to be someone different—and he can't pretend to be that person for her.
Because Wendy is dealing with the grief of losing her mother, The Usual Rules is rife with flashbacks and memories from her past filled with details of interactions with her mother and the relationship they used to have. Now that her mother is dead, these long-ago memories are all Wendy has of her, and she keeps bringing them up in order to keep her mother's memory alive.
Thing is, even remembering her mother can be tough sometimes. Wendy is filled with regret by memories of the arguments they had or times when she was just a little brat. She wants to take it all back. But she can't.
Even remembering good times with her mother pains Wendy because she recognizes that she'll never have those times back or be able to create new memories with her mother.
Although Todd had a pretty awful family life when he was younger, he still remembers the kind things that his brother did for him, and these memories are what compel him to search the country for Kevin.
Death is a pretty big specter in The Usual Rules—you know, since it's a book about 9/11 and its aftermath. Our main girl Wendy goes from being a carefree thirteen-year-old girl to someone who is intimately acquainted with death after her own mother dies in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Janet's death reverberates through the lives of all the characters, and they each deal with her absence in their own way. One thing's constant, though: Things aren't easy after Janet dies, and nothing is "normal" anymore.
Even though Louie doesn't fully understand the concept of death, he knows something awful has happened to his mother, and this is what leads to his fits and tantrums.
When his mother dies, Garrett isn't upset because he'll miss her—he's upset because they'll never have the chance to have a good relationship now.
In The Usual Rules, Wendy is on the cusp of adolescence—as a thirteen-year-old, she's starting to change both physically and emotionally. The death of her mother only speeds up this process. Suddenly Wendy isn't just a kid anymore; she's a young woman focused on discovering herself and learning how to cope with some very serious adult issues, like the death of a loved one.
When Janet dies and Wendy moves to California, she has to deal with a huge amount of turmoil and change in her life—and Wendy rises to the occasion spectacularly. She grows up, blossoming into a young woman her mother would absolutely be proud of.
Surviving the events of 9/11 and losing her mother forces Wendy to grow up a lot faster than she would otherwise—she can't help but see the world in a new, more uncertain light.
Without going to California, Wendy would not have grown up as much as she does over the course of the book.