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The Rules of Survival
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The Rules of Survival

4.4 63
by Nancy Werlin

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

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
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.
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)
From the Publisher
One of [Werlin]Æs most deliciously harrowing works.


Edgar Award-winner Werlin delivers another suspense-filled thriller that is sure to spark discussion.

ùHorn Book

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.74(w) x 8.52(h) x 1.03(d)
660L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
One of [Werlin]Æs most deliciously harrowing works.


Edgar Award-winner Werlin delivers another suspense-filled thriller that is sure to spark discussion.

ùHorn Book

Meet the Author

Nancy Werlin writes YA fiction that ranges from realistic fiction to suspense to fantasy, often breaking the boundaries between genres. Her books have gathered awards too numerous to mention, but including National Book award finalist, Edgar award winner and finalist, New York Times bestseller, L.A. Book Prize finalist, and IndieBound Top Ten. Nancy's first novel, Are You Alone on Purpose, was a Publishers Weekly Flying Start pick.
Of Nancy's suspense fiction, Sarah Weinman says, "Chances are, many of you haven't heard of this author. That would be a shame, because she's simply one of the best crime novelists going right now. Period." These titles are where Nancy habitually breaks genre-separation rules and include The Rules of Survival (a National Book Award finalist), The Killer's Cousin (Edgar award winner), Locked Inside (Edgar award nominee), Black Mirror (which the Washington Post called "an edge-of-your seat thriller"), and Double Helix (named to multiple best-of-year book lists). 
Nancy's unusual fantasy fiction was inspired by the ballad Scarborough Fair and includes the loose trilogy Impossible (a New York Times bestseller), Extraordinary (featuring a rare thing in fantasy fiction: a Jewish heroine), and her personal beloved, Unthinkable. 
For fun, Nancy also writes and draws a graphic memoir in comics, using her Tumblr to self-publish an episode three times a week. 
Her favorite book in all the world is Jane Eyre. 
A graduate of Yale, Nancy lives near Boston, Massachusetts with her husband.

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The Rules of Survival 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 63 reviews.
readtolive_livetoread More than 1 year ago
Imagine one of your parents might viciously strike you across the face any time, without warning. This is the remarkable start-to-finish suspense Nancy Werlin builds and holds throughout The Rules of Survival. It's a patient suspense that builds on small moments of fear and terror, until the plot resolves in a solid, satisfying conclusion. The abuse Werlin describes feels very real, and I imagine the themes will be familiar to most child abuse victims. Her dialogue is natural and authentic for both the adult and child characters. All-in-all, this book is a thoughtful and compelling read I expect both adults and young adults will enjoy. Brilliant but oh, so terribly sad.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Rules of Survival - A Great Book!!!!! How would you feel if you were being abused by your own parent? This answer is clearly depicted in the book "The Rules of Survival" by Nancy Werlin. Matthew, Cassie, and Emmy are three siblings who are being abused by their own mother, Nikki. They seek freeson from thier physochatic and unpredictable mother with the help of Murdoch, Aunt Bobbie, and Ben. this book shows true desperation, realistic elements and great description that makes the plot interesting. The abuse in the book feels very real and the love between the siblings is very apparent. This book is intense, interesting and emotional. I feel this book should be read by everyone. Thus, I would recommened it to everybody from a teen to an adult. One of the things that I liked about this book was the remarkable start-to-finish suspense that made the reader want to go on. I also liked how Werlin creates a very realistic image of their lives through Matthew's eyes. I also liked how she makes us seem something will get better for the kids, but it only gets worse. But the main topic of child abuse is described very well. This book tells us how difficult their lives might be for the kids who go through (or have gone through) child abuse. This book truly opens your eyes to these kind of issues going on in families today. "Rules of Survival" is truly a great book that can be read by both young adults and adults.
Jene-1 More than 1 year ago
The Rules of Survival is an amazing book even for people who do not enjoy reading. The characters have very strong and powerful personalities. Matt the eldest son is the only boy in the family he takes charge and he is well set on always protecting his younger sisters no matter whos hurting them even their own mother. Callie is the middle child but the oldest daughter she is also strong-willed and has big dreams for her future even though sometimes she is not so sure that she will be able to have one. Allie is the youngest of all the three children and she iss the main reason that Matt and Callie do not just run away because they know it will hurt her by taking her away from her mother. Murdoch he is the man that starts to change everything for the better. Then you have their mother Nikki she is the cause of all the problems. She is very abusive and sometimes her actions are very close to being fatal. NIkki is also extremly self absorbed everything must go her way at all times and if they don't thats when her anger starts. All this is why everyone even people who don't like books should go pick up this one because once you do you will not be able to set it down.
Jackixo More than 1 year ago
Truly, Rules of Survival has become one of my all time favorites. It has heartache, desperation, and longing. It is truly at great story. This story is writing with passion. Nancy Werlin is truly a beautiful, inspiring author with a knack of how to capture the reader. The story takes twists and turns, but never gets you lost in the whinding down of the family, and the whinding back up of the survival of the kids. Nikki, is definitely not someone I would want to be around. Her character is detailed to the finest ability. As for the kids, I felt I was with them, going through thwir journey. It was that descriptive and heartfelt. I truly felt for them and teared up a couple of times. Great novel.
Sandy5 More than 1 year ago
So why tell us a story? Is it to entertain, to enlighten, to get it off the storyteller&rsquo;s mind or to put the story into words to make it believable? To Matthew, the oldest of the three children living under the roof of a mother who is an unstable, abusive parent, he writes the story in diary format to his younger sister and the reason for his writing became more profound as he matures in the story. This story will shake your world as the drama unfolds and your emotions will churn as you read what happens to Matthew and his sisters at the hands of his own mother, his Nikki. The commitment that Matthew had to his sisters was touching and had to be an emotional drain on him but he had great strength, from within. I don&rsquo;t want to disclose much more about the cast of characters but they played their part and at times, I wanted more from them but in the end, I realized the book stood on its own because of what they did. What I really liked was Matthew writing about all the times she left them alone. Matthew talked about the &ldquo;homecomings.&rdquo; &ldquo;I was the director of our theater, arranging the stage set, telling you and Callie to take your places, prompting you to do or say this or that, whisper-feeding you lines of dialogue and bits of business, &ldquo;Don&rsquo;t forget to hug her! Go get her some Advil and a glass of water, fast&hellip;&hellip;..Stop stomping around, she&rsquo;ll go ballistic.&rdquo;&rdquo; Wow, what a way for these kids to live every day.
PageTurnerX More than 1 year ago
This wonderful book took me just hours to read because it was so great. The book is a heart-breaking story, told by Matt, a teenager who desperately attempts to protect his little sisters from their unpredictable, abusive, and just plain crazy mother, Nikki. Nikki has been getting her way forever because she is beautiful, and she manages to control everything still because of this. When Nikki gets her first serious boyfriend in years, she tries to control herself, and the kids experience happiness. But when Nikki's boyfriend breaks up with her, the children's lives are shattered once again into something even worse than before, in which even Matt cannot stop Nikki from hurting his five-year-old sister. When no one will reach out and help, the children have to remember the rules of survival.
greengirl09 More than 1 year ago
This book was really interesting. I always find myself engaging in thrilling books that often include child abuse or other unfortunate happenings. Matthew does an extroadanary job telling Emmy, his little sister, all about their past with their "crazy" mother. She definitely needed psychological help, but she did not get it. The interpersonal relationships were amazing. The way Ben, a passive, frightened father of Callie an Matt stepped in along with their Aunt Bobbie and Murdoch, Nikki's old boyfriend, really shows how one small change can change somebody's life for the better. This book is definitely a great read. I encourage everybody to try it. The thrills and mysteries and suspense around every corner will make this book difficult to put down!!!
JennaF More than 1 year ago
Nancy Werlin wrote the book, The Rules of Survival. The book was very good and always had exciting moments. There was never a time you wanted to put the book down. The Rules of Survival was written to grab your attention and wanted to keep you reading and never want to stop. In the book many crazy things happened. Nikki was the abusive mother of the three Walsh children, Matt, the oldest, Callie, the middle child, and Emmy the youngest child. The story begins when Nikki is dating this nice man named Murdoch, who later on breaks up with her. Matt wants a way out of an abusive household, so Matt tracks him down to see if he can help him and his sisters. Murdoch does not give him help, so Matt decides to take it into his own hands to help his sisters and him be safe and away from their abusive mother. Matt goes through intense obstacles and makes very important decisions to help him and his sisters finally get away from their cruel mother. I thought the book was very interesting and intense. I felt like the book always grabbed your attention, and you never wanted to put the book down because there was always an intense moment that was about to happen. Nancy Werlin did a great job writing this book, she made it intense, interesting, emotional, physical, and attention grabbing. I feel this way because the book was supposed to relate to people who go through the same thing as what Matt went through in the book. All the effects of child abuse are told in the story and you can see the effects it has on the characters. I also think this because it shows the reader how intense and important it is to be safe and to get out of a bad situation like Matt had to do. Just like reality you have to make hard decisions, Matt had to support his sisters while living with an abusive mother. He made very difficult decisions just to stay alive. "I've lived all my life to protect me and my sisters." This statement is true from the story because Matt's main responsibility was to protect his sisters. "Sometimes I felt all alone, but in the back of my mind I knew I had to do it for my sisters and life." "I knew when I had Nikki on the ground I had to take advantage of my opportunity to protect myself." These are quotes at the end of the book. The end of the book is the best part of the book. The book's plot was very good and had a good meaning for the readers. The writing style is like a journal to the readers. Characters in this book are all different and unique. This message of the book is to tell people that you should be grateful for having parents that love you. Also, that it is very hard to live with someone who abuses you and having to make life or death decisions. I would recommend this book to boys and girls who like intense books. I would rate The Rules of Survival four stars. This book is a must read and gives the readers a look on reality and how abuse can happen to anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is absolutely amazing. You can really put yourself in the characters shoes and understand some of the situations and environment that some children do have to live and grow up in. Those of you who grew up in loving homes, this book will open your eyes and not only inform you of an example of a poor living home for children but also to help you understand how these children live. I, on the other hand, grew up in a environment and situation very similar to the one displayed in this novel. It really does give you a reality of what its like to grow up with abusive and neglective parents. some areas of this book, in my opinion are less than realistic but this novel really pulls you in and displays living in such a way better than any other book I have read myself. The author also had an absolutely amazing way of emotionally pulling you into the novel and feeling the feelings that are being felt throughout the book.
Tally-Wa More than 1 year ago
I read this book in middle school and didn't give it much of a second thought. Now I am in college and I remembered it. This book left a strong impression in me about abuse, the people who deal with it, and the power we have to move beyond things. This is a riveting story from start to finish. The characters are powerful and well-written, I remember Matt to this day because of his protective nature, and Callie, because of her dreams. This is a beautiful book about three children who find that adults are not always the bad guy, and that they have the power to stand up for themselves. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes it maybe shocking and scary at times but over all its one of the best books i have ever read this type of book is my favorite ganrae
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is twisted. But not as twisted as their mother. The only reason i give it three stars is because as twisted it is i wanted to know what happends next
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading this book now amd it is really good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
KSMG More than 1 year ago
Matthew, Callie, and their half-sister, Emmy, live in a world of fear. They are ruled by it, controlled by it, they live their life by it. It's what keeps them safe, most of the time. Safe from their mother. Safe from Nikki. Nikki, their mother, has issues. She only comes home at two or three in the morning, often drunk. She brings home men, she swears. She's obsessive about her children's love- they must love her, and only her, or they will pay. They will be sorry. She will take her revenge. It's not the only think that Nikki can be obsessive about, Matthew and his siblings learn. When Matthew and Callie track down a mysterious Murdoch, that Matthew saw in a store, their mother takes control. Within weeks, Murdoch and Nikki are dating, and life seems amazing for the three children. Until it happens. When Nikki goes psycho in front of Murdoch, he dumps her, and the children's lives are thrown in to chaos. It's back to the old mother, but worse. And when Nikki starts obsessing over Murdoch, Matthew knows they have to get away. Fast. I really liked this book, for a couple of reasons. First of all, I really liked the characters. Matthew, the narrator, was interesting. He had his own realistic, normal, yet very heroic, mind set. I could identify with him, yet at the same time I sort of looked up to him as a role model. I like main characters like that. The book was written in the form of a very, very long letter from Matthew to his half sister, Emmy. As such, it has some detours, footnotes from Matthew, and it's written in the sort of way that you would expect a letter to be written. He's talking to Emmy, and it shows. I like that. It doesn't feel unrealistic. Third of all... Nikki was evil. I found myself completely living in fear of her myself, at least while I was reading the book. She was... unpredictable, and I think the author did a very good job of making her act in the way you expected her to, as Nikki. All in all, a very excellent book.
Joceyxs More than 1 year ago
This book is touching. Once you start to read it you can't stop. The way the author describes the abuse and things that are happening in the book is really detailed. This book is basically about a boy name Matt who's trying to tell his sister what is happening in her life when she was younger. How Matt and her other sister Callie is trying to protect her when she was younger from their mother who abuses them
HthrHB More than 1 year ago
Think of when your parents grew up and when said they loved you. Now change the meaning of love so it just covers up all the hurt and pain. Would your parents kidnap you to get a point across? That is what Matt and his two sisters, Callie and Emma, dealt with since they were born. As pre-teen Matt and Callie had to deal with an unstable single mother and protect their younger sister. They never knew when Nikki, the mother, would come home or with who. Most of the time they didn&rsquo;t even know boyfriend&rsquo;s name, but they knew it would only last a few weeks. They didn&rsquo;t see any of them as hero&rsquo;s until they met Murdoch. Matt and Callie worked together so that Murdoch would get them to freedom. This book puts you in the shoes that you probably never walked in and never want to walk into again. It a great book to read between the lines, but not too easy that there is no thinking involved. Making you think of multiple sides of the story not just one. It&rsquo;s a great book for people into suspense, mystery and a little bit of drama.
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