Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Usual Rules

Not too long ago, I was watching a show on Fine Living (why yes, I was eating bon bons while lounging about in my jammies, exciting life of a the housewife that I lead). They were talking about ways to improve the quality of your life and one particular segment I liked was when they talked about starting a Mother-Daughter Book club. It was one of those few moments that I sighed, a little sad that I'm not raising a girl, because it would have been something fun to do once she got to be a teen. And if I had a daughter, I know one book for sure that we'd all have to read when the girls got to be around 13: The Usual Rules by Joyce Maynard.

As the author notes in her acknowledgments, the novel came out of a desire to tell the story of how it is that a young person can survive great and terrible heartache, with a certain sense of hopefulness about the future intact. Ms. Maynard selected September 11th as the starting point of her story and continues to follow the experiences of Wendy as she works through those initial months after she learns her mother won't be coming home from work ever again.

I admit, I was a bit worried about the starting point of the story. You are reading it, and you know exactly what is coming next. I found that my own memories of that sad day in September come flooding back to me. Yet even before you got to this point in the book, the author had already created a cast of very vivid and real characters that made you want to keep wanted to know how Wendy, her step dad Josh and her five yr old brother Louie handled those days immediately following the tragic events of Sept. 11th. And yes, you will find yourself a bit tearful here and there. But that's because the author does such a good job of using the language of a teen to convey what is in the hearts and minds of many folks when they suffer such a loss.

And althought it has been 27 years since I was 13, I found it interesting and intriguing to read a book told through the eyes of a 13 year old. I'd forgotten what that limbo was like: not completely done being a kid, yet also capable of thoughts more mature than I realized at the time. My only real complaint would be that I doubt a young girl would have had as much curiosity and be given as much freedom to explore on her own as the author had Wendy doing. Some of the wanderings were crucial to the telling of the story (so I get why she had the character do the things she did), but I doubt she'd have been given that much freedom. But, then again, it has been 27 years since I was 13, so maybe times have changed a bit?

In closing, I leave these words with you...they are not the authors word, but instead words written by another well known teen who suffered through tragic times and yet remained optimistic and hopeful, Anne Frank, 1944
  • It's difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise
    within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It's a wonder I haven't abandoned
    all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them, because
    I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart

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