Posted by : Deborah Takahashi Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Plot Summary:
In a letter to his youngest sister, Emmy, Matt recounts the horror that was their childhood. Life wasn't always that terrible, but it was their mother that was the source of their terror. Nikki, their mother, was a walking time bomb; some days she could be kind and thoughtful, but, on the bad days, she was a force to be reckoned with. No one really knows why Nikki is the way she is, but she was used to getting her way and that's probably why she gets so angry. Matt, now fourteen years old, is starting to realize that living with their mother is no longer an option. Matt and Callie (his other sister) spend most of their nights waiting for Nikki to turn their home into a war zone; thus, making  them the only protection that Emmy has. Although hope is a stranger to these frightened children, they meet Murdoch who could be the one to tame their mother and protect them. The only problem with this situation is that Nikki is utterly unpredictable and that leaves Matt with no other choice but to contact his father. Referred to as the "nurse man," Matt and Callie's father was driven away by Nikki and the only link they have with their father is the monthly child support check. However, their father also sends in support for Emmy,who is not his biological child, so that must mean he really cares about them. When Matt contacts his father, he begs him to let him, Callie, and Emmy to live with him, but Matt learns that there is no way a court would never give him custody, especially since Emmy isn't his biological daughter. Just when things couldn't get any worse, Nikki makes up an awful accusation about Murdoch that forces Matt to devise a plan to get away from their mother, which will bring three strangers together to fight for the safety of these three desperate children. 

Critical Evaluation:
I cannot express how difficult it was to read this book. As a reader, it is frightening to know that there are actually adults who behave just like Nikki. It can be argued that Nikki has her own set of problems (some readers will say she exhibits Bipolar Disorder), but the fact that remains is that she is a danger to her children. Matt and his siblings are classic examples of psychological abuse where they literally live in fear of their mother where survivor mode is the norm. What's worse is that they have relations that know exactly what their mother is like and do absolutely nothing. For Matt, who has no choice to be the one to help his sisters, is not only used to his mother's antics, but knows exactly what to expect when his mother gets angry. For Callie, she has to back her brother up because there is no way she could stand up to her mother and all they really have is one another. As for Emmy, who is the youngest, she has a completely different perspective on all of this because she knows she had siblings who will protect her, which brings me back to a statement that Callie made: Emmy know she is safe. When Emmy prays for Murdoch, she does it with joy because she knows that it will anger her mother, but her siblings will be there for her. In this instance, her defiance, and confidence, is not only refreshing, but it's dangerous because Emmy doesn't realize is that her siblings will pay for her actions. Honestly, it was really, really hard for me to not throw the book across the room because Nikki has no business raising children when she, herself, is an overgrown spoiled brat. However, her children are the exact opposite of her, which gives readers hope that they will find a way out of their situation because they know the power of love and devotion. For Nikki, from what we have read, didn't have the greatest childhood either, which leads us to suspect that she has no idea how to raise children. On the other hand, Nikki only thinks about Nikki and constantly needs to be in control of everything because there is something, inside her, that is missing or lacking. The adults in this books, aside from Murdoch, are just as clueless as the kids, but it their saving grace was Murdoch who took a giant risk to help these kids. By enlisting the help of Matt's father, and Aunt Bobbie, these timid adults finally build the courage they need to save Matt, Callie, and Emmy. Although the ending is bittersweet, readers will learn that hope is always there even in the most dire of circumstances.       

Information about the Author:
According to her website:
Nancy Werlin has done a variety of things such as a technical editor for software and internet. She was born and raised in Peabody, Massachusetts, and earned her BA in English from Yale University. She lives near Boston, Massachusetts, and has written eight young adult novels and several of them have won awards and honors. Here is a statement from one of Werlin's fans:
“An Edgar-award-winning author who writes psychological thrillers with the same depth and punch as Ruth Rendell and Minette Walters with the kind of noirish feel that permeates many of my favorite crime novels. A writer who has a keen understanding of how kids react and feel — who goes for the gut and never flinches on true emotions, who creates characters so true they make you cry and feel a little something yourself.
“Chances are, many of you haven't heard of this author. Or if you have, it's because her name has come up in a completely different context. That's because Nancy Werlin writes novels geared for young adults, and so if you were — like me — not as inclined towards YA as to adult crime fiction, then you would have passed her by. And that would be a shame, because she's simply one of the best crime novelists going right now. Period.” Sarah Weinman (12/06/2006)

Genre:
Teen Contemporary Fiction, Teen Suspense

Reading Level/Interest:
Grades 9 & up

Books Similar to The Rules of Survival:


Awards & Recognition:
  • National Book Award Finalist (2006)

From Amazon.com:

“Guaranteed to leave readers breathlessly turning the pages.”—Booklist, starred review

“Werlin tackles [this topic] with grace and insight.”—School Library Journal, starred review

“A heartbreaking tale of abuse and love . . . . Beautifully framed.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“The plot moves swiftly and unrelentlessly….”—VOYA highlight 

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Deborah Takahashi
Pasadena, CA, United States
My name is Deb and I am a Librarian who absolutely loves to read and recommend books to teen and tween readers. In this blog, you will find reviews on a variety resources ranging from books, movies, video games, and much more. Please feel free to leave any feedback, especially book recommendations!
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