Picking up the pieces after 9-11
In her new novel, Joyce Maynard explores the tragedy many Americans either experienced or imagined in their nightmares: the loss of a loved one on September 11th, 2001. In what is billed as the first novel to focus specifically on the aftermath of the terrorist attacks,13-year-old Wendy leaves for school one day feeling irritated at her family and comes home to find that her mother may have disappeared forever. Hope dwindles as each week passes, as countless flyers on street corners yield nothing and the workers at the World Trade Center site lose hope of finding survivors. Wendy's realization of her mother's death is gradual. As her acceptance of the loss sets in, Wendy's father appears in New York after years of absence, asking to take her home to California with him. Despite the misgivings of her stepfather and 4-year-old brother Louie, Wendy decides to leave behind all she knows and move in with her father. During her first day of school in California, she walks off the playing field into an adjoining neighborhood and never returns to school. Instead, without the knowledge of her father, she spends each day as she pleases. Unlike many children her age who would misuse such freedom to get into trouble, Wendy uses the time to form friendships of her own and explore her feelings about her mother's death. Central to the story are Wendy's relationships with her father, stepfather and little brother and her varying degrees of affection for each family member. She is particularly drawn to her brother, whom she loves deeply and whose reaction to their mother's death is troubling. Joyce Maynard, a teen writing phenom in the 1970s who is perhaps best known for a memoir revealing her long-term affair with J.D. Salinger, conveys with poignancy and realism Wendy's struggle to cope with her mother's disappearance. As she finds her own way through the rubble and discovers pockets of hope and optimism in her future, Wendy serves as an inspiration for anyone touched by tragedy, at any age. Alison Burke is a freelance writer in Annapolis, Maryland.