Picks and Pans Review: The Usual Rules

updated 03/03/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/03/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Joyce Maynard

Thirteen-year-old Wendy, who lives with her stepfather and half brother in Brooklyn, has just lost her mother in the attacks of Sept. 11 when her estranged biological dad shows up. He wants to bring Wendy to Sacramento to live with him, but the last thing she needs is to be wrenched from familiar surroundings by this Peter Pan-like figure.

One of the many Important Points Maynard emphasizes and reemphasizes in this novel is that there are all kinds of families, and as long as you're loved, it doesn't matter if yours consists of the assorted needy types (a lonely bookstore owner, a homeless skateboarding teen) Wendy encounters in California. Subtlety is not Maynard's strength: At best she spells things out, at worst she's manipulative. But if her use of the terrorist attacks seems exploitative, she seems to deeply understand a teenager's grief. Readers who can tolerate an intrusive author will find it impossible not to root for Wendy as she figures out how to get on with her life. (St. Martin's, $24.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Heavy-handed but bighearted

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