Study Guide

The Usual Rules Sadness

By Joyce Maynard


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.

Questions About Sadness

  1. Why does Louie keep throwing tantrums after Janet dies? How does Wendy show her sadness to the outside world?
  2. Do you think Josh and Kate would've ever gotten together if they weren't so sad over Janet's death? Why or why not?
  3. Is Garrett sad? How can you tell?

Chew on This

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.