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The Rules of Survival

The Rules of Survival

5.0 2
by Nancy Werlin

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.


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.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Wendy M. Smith-D'Arezzo
Writing a letter to his younger sister Emma, Matthew tells the story of the abuse he and his sisters suffered at the hands of their mother, a selfish, narcissistic woman who ultimately alienates her children and the rest of her family. The abuse is portrayed realistically, with some physical abuse and a preponderance of emotional cruelty. Matthew is writing to Emma because she was so young when their mother finally left the family. Matthew is afraid that at some point Emma will believe that her mother Nikki has been wrongly accused of the abuse. The reader is able to see how Matthew and Callie worked hard to protect their younger sister from the brunt of the abuse. One of the most telling incidents is when Matthew recalls his and Callie's reactions to being told at school that they should report to an adult if they are being abused. Aged eight and eleven at the time, both children want to go to their teachers and tell of their nightmare lives. However, they know enough to recognize that the physical abuse is not as severe as it could be, and that Nikki is a good enough actor to convince others that she loves her children and would do anything to protect them. This is a powerful story told in the strong voice of a young man who has managed to rise above the life his mother created; his desire to protect his younger sisters is clearly a driving force in his life and the plot of this book.
Children's Literature - Josie Patterson
Matt grows up quickly when he figures out that his mother, Nikki, is psychotic. He assumes responsibility for his two younger sisters, Callie and Emmy. The three children learn early on that, to survive, they must stick together at all costs. Nikki's moods change nearly by the minute, and because of this, the children come face to face with danger a number of times. Nikki gets much pleasure out of scaring her children; she even holds Emmy over the edge of a cliff one day for the sake of proving a point. When a man named Murdoch enters the lives of Matt, Callie, and Emmy unexpectedly, however, all of their lives change forever. Murdoch takes on the role of a parent and risks his own life doing all that he can to help them, giving the children a new sense of hope. His character helps young readers to realize that adults and children can have much in common and that it is nearly impossible to tell on the surface exactly what someone is going through. This book addresses issues that have previously been considered somewhat touchy in adolescent literature, such as abuse and murder, but it does so in a way that readers can easily understand and in a way that is appropriate for the adolescent audience. The story is told from Matt's point-of-view in the format of a letter he writes to Emmy. Werlin does an excellent job drawing readers in from the beginning and holding their interest through the final chapter. A highly recommended story for high school aged students, this book would fit exceptionally well into any curriculum. Reviewer: Josie Patterson
VOYA - Amy S. Pattee
Unlike Werlin's previous four novels, this latest includes nary a mystery element. But the departure from genre does not mean that Werlin's newest book lacks suspense. If anything, it is one of her most deliciously harrowing works. Eighteen-year-old narrator Matthew introduces the novel with a letter to his younger sister, Emmy; the body of the book is what he calls the "true story of our family's past" and is written in short, tight, first-person chapters that occasionally address his sister-and readers, his "real" audience. In the novel, Matthew recounts his thirteenth through sixteenth years, during which he, Emmy, and their "middle" sister, Callie, lived in a small apartment in South Boston with their manic and abusive mother. Much of what Matthew describes involves his and Callie's attempts to protect the younger and more vulnerable Emmy. The siblings spend much of their time on edge, attempting to appease their mercurial mother and protect Emmy from her often-violent wrath. When their mother begins dating a complicated man named Murdoch, Matthew casts this newcomer as the family's savior and is frustrated and depressed when Murdoch does not immediately rise to the occasion. The plot moves swiftly and unrelentingly to a climax that visits themes common to some of Werlin's earlier works and offers an uneasy recognition of the same conclusion David Yaffe voiced in The Killer's Cousin (Delacorte, 1998/VOYA October 1998), "Anyone in this world can have the power of life and death over someone else. It's horrible, but true."
Child abuse, and the courage of children trying to protect one another and survive: these are the themes of The Rules of Survival. The novel is about three children; the older two are teenagers. The narrator is the oldest, Matthew, who has spent most of his life trying to protect himself and his younger sisters from their mother Nikki. Nikki is attractive, smart, and hopelessly manipulative and cruel. She is capable of showing a rational side to others. Even her sister, who lives in the apartment below them, knows the depth of her cruelty but wants to believe she is a capable parent. Nikki seduces a man named Murdoch, and the children are relieved because they trust him to protect them from their mother. But when Nikki reveals her sadism, instead of protecting the children, Murdoch walks away. Matthew is dumbfounded, but can't give up. He devises a plan, pleading to his father and to his aunt for their protection from Nikki. Still, nothing is simple, nothing easy. There is a crisis; Murdoch intervenes and we understand more about who he is and what his strengths and weaknesses are. Werlin won the Edgar Award for her YA novel The Killer's Cousin. She creates a suspenseful plot while developing characters who are movingly realistic. Matthew is a hero we can all appreciate. An excellent mystery; with heartbreaking descriptions of child abuse, both physical and psychological. KLIATT Codes: JS*--Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2006, Penguin, Dial, 260p., $16.99.. Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-Werlin tackles the topic of child abuse with grace and insight. Narrated by 17-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 he and his two sisters 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 her manic highs and lows, his greater concern as he grows older is for the safety of his sisters. He and 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 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. Teens will empathize with these siblings and the secrets they keep in this psychological horror story.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In this heartbreaking tale of abuse and love, 14-year-old Matthew rescues himself and his younger sisters from a dangerously unstable mother. Nikki's abusive behavior would be hard for a police officer or social worker to identify. She doesn't beat them (much) or sexually molest them. Instead, the children survive manic behavior, mood swings, reckless endangerment and constant, unremitting fear. No benevolent adults can rescue the children: Matthew's absent father loves his children but not as much as he fears his crazy ex-wife; Aunt Bobbie closes her eyes to the violence and psychological abuse she knows occurs; and social services, Matthew knows, are utterly useless. As Nikki's mental problems descend further into dangerous psychosis, Matthew looks for a rescuer. Though he thinks he's found a fairy godfather in protective neighbor Murdoch, the instigation to push the adults into doing the right thing comes from Matthew himself. Beautifully framed as a letter from Matthew to his younger sister, the suspense is paced to keep Matthew's survival and personal revelations chock-full of dramatic tension. Bring tissues. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Nancy Werlin is the Edgar Award—winning author of The Killer's Cousin and was a National Book Award Finalist for The Rules of Survival. She lives near Boston, Massachusetts.

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Rules of Survival 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
lolzskittles_ More than 1 year ago
Loved it dont waste your time looking at it buy it :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
one of my all time favorite book. changes your perspective on some things and helps you to understand some different household situations that arent always the greatest