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The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

The Rules of Survival (2006)

by Nancy Werlin

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From Sept 2006 SLJ:
Nancy Werlin’s latest novel tackles the topic of child abuse with grace and insight. Narrated by seventeen-year-old Matt as a letter to his youngest sister Emmy, The Rules of Survival is his effort to come to terms with the vicious treatment they suffered at the hands of Nikki, their beautiful and unpredictable mother. One of Matt’s early memories involves getting up during the night to sneak a cookie back to bed and being caught by his mother. Giggling and yelling “Cookie thief,” she holds a knife to his throat, cutting him just a little bit to teach him not to steal. As much as he fears his mother’s manic highs and lows, his greater concern as he grows older is for the safety of his sisters. He and his sister Callie shield Emmy as much as possible from Nikki’s volatile moods. Compounding the problem are the adults in their lives—their father and their aunt—who recognize Nikki’s instability but find it easier to look the other way. When Nikki’s ex-boyfriend Murdoch befriends the children, they want to believe that a more normal future is possible, but are afraid of being disappointed by an adult yet again. The story’s characters captivate readers from the beginning, and short, terse chapters move the plot along with an intensity that will appeal to seasoned Werlin fans and reluctant readers alike. As with Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson, 1999) and other recent novels that explore difficult issues, teens will empathize with these siblings and the secrets they keep. ( )
  KimJD | Apr 8, 2013 |
Listened to the audiobook; narrator did a good job because he matched the attitude and emotion of the characters. Matthew and his younger sisters try to survive the abusive actions of their mother. They come across a man named Murdoch who seems to have pity for children when he defends a young boy in a convenience store against his raging father. Matthew decides to seek Murdoch's help to get him and his sisters away from his mentally unstable mother. Story of a dysfunctional family and the detrimental effects abuse can have on children. Excellent novel, would highly recommend! ( )
  Jennanana | May 2, 2012 |
Matt and his sisters, Callie and Emmy, are always starring in a play directed by fear. Just one small wrong move can set their mother Nikki off, and lead to the most dangerous of circumstances. She has no qualms about leaving her young family to fend for themselves most nights in South Boston, and that's the best case scenario. When Nikki chooses to lavish her presence upon her three children, they can almost count on terrors like finding a kitchen knife pressed to their throats, being beaten with a bag of seafood, or even taking a terrifying detour into oncoming traffic if they can't placate their mercurial mother. Despite having a father who is still involved in their lives in small ways and an aunt who lives in the downstairs apartment, nobody steps in to protect Matt, Callie, and Emmy until a stranger named Murdoch McIlvane enters their lives one unexpected night at the Cumberland Farms store. It is then that Matt begins to dream that things won't be like this forever, that he begins to believe that life could be more than living in fear of his mother.

Matt, the eldest at fifteen, is the story's narrator, and a good one at that. Matt knows what it is to live in fear and to want to escape, but he knows he can't leave without his two sisters who he will protect at any cost. Despite the odds, though, Matt still hasn't given up hope that their dangerous circumstances could change, that their father could man up even though he's almost as terrified of unstable Nikki as the kids are or that Aunt Bobbie could step in when she hears the commotion upstairs. It's this outside hope and other reasons that even Matt can't give voice to, that he searches for an ally in Murdoch, and finds one. Matt, with all his hopes and the fear that encroaches upon them, is the perfect window into the lives of abused kids. Werlin uses his narration to great effect, giving us a sense of just how easily and random it was to attract Nikki's senseless rage and how it's lurking at the edge of even the most trivial encounter.

The Rules of Survival is a page-turner of a book that will catch readers up in its twists and turns. It's a frighteningly realistic portrayal of abuse, how easy it is for kids to be trapped by it when adults that should care do nothing. Matt, Callie, and Emmy's story is ultimately one of change and of redemption, but it's one that makes you wonder and worry all the kids for whom it's not. ( )
  yourotherleft | Mar 31, 2012 |
When I picked this book up, just by looking at the cover I was pretty sure I wouln't like it. But I guess that's where the saying "Never judge a book by its cover" comes from. It took about 25 pages for me to really start liking the book. The chapters were very short, which for some reason made it much easier for me to read. The whole book was like a flashback, written in the form so that the main character, Matt, is telling the story to the audience, his younger sister, Emmy. He tells the story of how he and his two sisters endured, and sometimes suffered, living with their mentally-ill, crazy, abusive, and sometimes obsessive and stalker mother, whom they always refer to as "Nikki", which confused me in the beginning. But the book held my interest, so I finished it in only a few days. This is a great book, and I'd recommend it to anyone who is looking for action in a story.

Matt, Callie, and Emmy have a broken family. Their father left years ago, leaving them with their cruel, negligent, crazy, and abusive mother. Then one day Matt meets Murdoch in a convenience store, where he rescues a child from his abusive father. Matt begins to have hope, believing that Murdoch could somehow save him and his sisters from their mother. So when they start dating, Matt thinks his life is fixed. But Murdoch breaks up with her when he sees how crazy she is- running and hiding instead of helping them like Matt had hoped. From there, Nikki, their mother, goes downhill, becoming obsessed with Murdoch and stalking him. Nikki takes matters into her own hands, ignoring the law, abusing her children, and hiring people to get back at Murdoch for her. Matt begins to realize that the only way to survive Nikki is to get rid of her completely. But the question is, if it came down to it, would he be able to take his own mother’s life?

Main Characters:
Matt and Callie, the two eldest siblings, are constantly protecting their six-year-old little sister, Emmy, as she is targeted time and time again by their abusive mother, Nikki, releasing her anger over her breakup with Murdoch on her children.

How It Relates To Wellness:
Matt, Callie, and Emmy are constantly faced with both physical and mental insecurities. As Nikki, their negligent, cruel, abusive, and stalker mother, gets worse, they struggle to find help, survive, and keep safe.

What I Learned From This Book:
From this book I learned that when you are in a situation to where you don’t feel or aren’t safe, it is important that you get help, whether it be from an adult you trust or the police, because no one should make you feel that way.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for action, or drama, because there is a lot of it in this book. It’s not your normal teen read, which is why to me it was so different, but also why I liked it as much as I did. It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever read. So if you’re looking for something new, something you’ve never read before, this book would be a great start. ( )
  Exactement | Feb 13, 2011 |
I HATED the mom in The Rules of Survival. So much that my blood pressure would literally spike while reading of the cruelties she inflicted on her children. I loathed the adults who turned a blind eye to the abuse because they just didn't want to deal with it at the time. In my book, by turning a blind eye, you become just as bad (if not worse) than the abuser. But yeah, this book had me pissed off through a vast majority of it and horrified when I wasn't pissed.

The Rules of Survival is one of those books that doesn't shy away from the abuse inflicted. It was terrifyingly real, intense, and very emotional. I was cringing every time Nikki (the cruel mom) would strike her kids either with her fists or with words. This book hits a little close to home with me because I know what it's like to live with a person whose moods shift so quickly that you have to watch out for them and are constantly walking on eggshells to make sure you don't do anything to set that person off. So, I was rooting for Matthew, for Callie, and for Emmy and couldn't wait from them to get away from that suffocating and damaging atmosphere.

While this book is all types of depressing, it is also hopeful because you know right from the first page that the children do survive and try to leave the past behind them. The fact that you know what happens from the first page, doesn't make this book any less gripping. It was entirely captivating. So much that I read this book in a little bit less than three hours. I was glued to my chair and didn't even get up once. I also loved that the The Rules of Survival was written in an epistolary format with Matthew writing to his younger sister, Emmy, whom he (along with Callie) tried to shield from the abuse as she was the youngest. I just thought that him writing to her was incredibly sweet and it brought tears to my eyes more than once.

I highly recommend The Rules of Survival. You will get upset reading this novel. It's just inevitable. But there is a sense of hope in there as well. I hope that all of the Matthews, the Callies, and the Emmys of the world get the help they need and I hope with all my heart that they too become survivors. Because Werlin is right. The survivors are the ones who get to tell the story. ( )
  silenceiseverything | Feb 3, 2011 |
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This book is for all the survivors. Always remember: The survivor gets to tell the story.
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Dear Emmy, As I write this, you are nine years old, too young to be told the full and true story of our family's past, let alone be exposed to my philosophizing about what it all meant.
"The events we lived through taught me to be sure of nothing about other people. They taught me to expect danger around every corner. They taught me to understand that there are people in this world who mean you harm. And sometimes, they're people who say they love you." Matthew to Emmy
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142410713, Paperback)

For Matt and his sisters, life with their cruel, vicious mother is a day-to-day struggle for survival. But then Matt witnesses Murdoch coming to a child?s rescue in a convenience store, and for the first time, he feels a glimmer of hope. When, amazingly, Murdoch begins dating Matt?s mother, life is suddenly almost good. But the relief lasts only a short time. When Murdoch inevitably breaks up with their mother, Matt knows he needs to take action. But can he call upon his hero? Or will he have to take measures into his own hands? A heart-wrenching portrait of a family in crisis, this is Nancy Werlin?s most compulsively readable novel yet.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:49 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Seventeen-year-old Matthew recounts his attempts, starting at a young age, to free himself and his sisters from the grip of their emotionally and physically abusive mother.

» see all 3 descriptions

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