The Rules of Survival

The Rules of Survival

by Nancy Werlin

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This National Book Award Finalist is a thought-provoking exploration of emotional abuse, self-reliance and the nature of evil. A heart-wrenching portrait of family crisis, this is perfect for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why.
For Matt and his sisters, life with their cruel, physically abusive mother is a day-to-day struggle for survival. But then Matt witnesses a man named Murdoch coming to a child’s rescue in a convenience store; and for the first time, he feels a glimmer of hope. Then, amazingly, Murdoch begins dating Matt’s mother. Life is suddenly almost good. But the relief lasts only a short time. When Murdoch inevitable breaks up with their mother, Matt knows that he’ll need to take some action. Can he call upon Murdoch to be his hero? Or will Matt have to take measures into his own hands?
A gripping, powerful novel that will stay with you long after you’ve read it. Nancy Werlin, the New York Times Bestselling author of Impossible, shows why she is a master of her genre.
“[A] dark but hopeful tale, with pacing and suspense guaranteed to leave readers breathlessly turning the pages.”—Booklist (starred review)
“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.”—Kirkus (starred review)
“Grace and insight.”—School Library Journal (starred review)
National Book Award Finalist
LA Times Book Prize Finalist
ALA Best Books of the Year
ALA Quick Pick


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101576267
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/13/2008
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 943,466
Lexile: 660L (what's this?)
File size: 988 KB
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

Nancy Werlin was born and raised in Peabody, Massachusetts, USA and now lives near Boston. She received her bachelor's degree in English from Yale.

Since then, she has worked as a technical writer and editor for several computer software and Internet companies, while also writing fiction.She is a National Book Award finalist.

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

Customer Reviews

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The Rules of Survival 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 90 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’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’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 “homecomings.” “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, “Don’t forget to hug her! Go get her some Advil and a glass of water, fast……..Stop stomping around, she’ll go ballistic.”” 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.
chrystal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
260pgsMatthew writes a letter to his youngest sister telling her the story of their lives up until the time they are taken away from their mother. Very engaging, easy to read, good character development. The ending was a little too contrived, and the mom really was a monster, but I liked it overall
ohioyalibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Matthew must care for his two little sisters, protect them from their abusive mother. This is a page turner, very well-written; I couldn't put it down!
PatriciaUttaro on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin - This book totally blew me away. I read it in a single sitting. This story of three young children caught up in a whirlwind of neglct and abuse from a wacked out mother is told in in the form of a long letter from the oldest boy to the youngest girl in the family. I was riveted from the first page and even found myself skipping ahead to see what Nikki (the mother) would do next. The growing relationship between Murdoch (a guy two of the kids first encounter as he defends a child against an abusive parent) and the children was handled evenly throughout, and I thought the revelation of Murdoch having been abused as a child was placed well at the end. I think we all knew there was something in his past, but I didn¿t suspect the extent of his abuse or the outcome. Aunt Bobbi, Nikki¿s sister, and the father were the weakest characters in the story. Their about-face regarding the care of the children was a little too contrived, although the scene between Nikki and Bobbi over Thanksgiving dinner was written beautifully and showed how Bobbi and the kids were still trying to please Nikki and keep her from blowing up. I especially liked the fact that the story didn¿t end with Nikki¿s death, but with the children moving on with their lives while she drifted. There was such hope at the end of this story, which isn¿t something you always find in YA stories.
SelimaCat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Swift, interesting read and a fairly successful epistolary novel. Predictable plot of abusive parent, kids trying to find their own way, but likeable characters and a nice examination of what it means to be a hero.
msbaba on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin deserves all the high praise it has been getting from young and old alike. I loved it from the first page and couldn¿t put it down. How could I resist? This is such a compelling tale of psychological, emotional, and physical child abuse, and it is told so earnestly and believably from the eldest child¿s point of view. What makes this book is so devastatingly compelling is that the abuser is the children¿s mother. I don¿t want to give away the plot, or spoil any part of this wonderful tale by telling you any critical details. It is enough to say that this book is well-written, thrilling, and fast-paced. The characters are extremely believable. Nancy Werlin is a master storyteller.But I do want to make one matter perfectly clear: yes, their mother is mentally ill, but please don¿t be mislead by other reviews to think that she is a bipolar (a modern term for manic-depressive illness) or psychotic. Perfectly normal-acting persons with bipolar illness surround all of us every day. This illness can be treated very successfully by medication. It would be wrong of you to think that Nikki¿s actions are those of person suffering from bipolar illness. And psychotic¿well, if Nikki were psychotic she¿d be a lot worse than what she is here in this novel, and true psychotics are a lot rarer. No, Nikki is one of those unfortunate persons with borderline personality disorder (BPD)¿and they are more common. It is a term that sounds innocent enough, but it¿s as close to psychotic as you can get and still be seen by most folks as somewhat normal. It is an illness that cannot be cured by medication, and psychiatric talk-therapy has had little success with this biologically hard-wired condition. Unfortunately, I know two people with borderline personality disorder: one I avoid completely because I can, and the other¿well, that person I have to deal with fairly often. Neither is as bad as Nikki, but Nikki¿s problems are significantly exacerbated by lack of an unconditionally loving family to support her, major illegal drug abuse, and the stress of raising three small children entirely on her own. If you love this book and want to know more about borderline personality disorder, check it out on the Internet. While you¿re at it, learn more about bipolar illness and psychosis, too. This was my first Nancy Werlin book. I can hardly wait to read more. I love the fact that she deals with tantalizing topics at the fringe of the human condition¿and she does it so well!
cmurph1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Matthew, Callie, and Emmy are victims of their mother's cruel anger and abuse. Their attempts to get any adult to listen to their pleas for help will resonate with all students, but especially with those who have been victimized. A terrific pick for a realistic fiction unit.
HMoonier on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I recommend this book to every teen looking for A Child Called It. It's a much lighter twist on children living with an abusive mother. This is a great story. Very well written, you can't help but feel like fighting for these children. Every attempt they make to get out of their crumby situation gets squashed by their psychotic mother until they are finally saved.
kpickett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Matthew, Callie and Emmie live with their mother Nikki in South Boston. Their mother is known for her flights of fancy and her sudden rages, the three children grow up tip-toeing around their apartment, always afraid of inuring Nikki's wrath. Matthew and Callie sneak out one night for ice cream and meet a man named Murdock who is not afraid to stand up for children who are being mistreated. Matt and Callie form a plan to get Murdock involved in their lives and hope that he can help them, but their plans go awry when Nikki finds out about Murdock and decides to date him. The relationship doesn't go well and Nikki throws the children's lives into turmoil once again.This book was an interesting story but difficult to decide about. I didn't like most of the adult characters because they didn't do anything to stop Nikki from mistreating her children, but in the end they come around and no one seems to wonder why they weren't on Matt's side in the first place. A good story about abuse that doesn't involve any sex or many swear words.
fromthecomfychair on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sadly, a story that would probably be familiar to too many children. I like the fact that Werlin portrayed the reality faced by children who ask protection from the authorities-- the story suggests that doesn't necessarily work. Sometimes, kids have to find another way out, without directly involving the authorities. Some teens who read this might wonder just what is wrong with this mother, Nikki. The fact that she suffers from some kind of mental disorder is alluded to, but not dissected. Personally, I wondered: borderline personality disorder, narcissism, something else? Ultimately, it doesn't matter to the children: she is crazy, unpredictable, sometimes violent, malevolent. Although it was highly recommended to me, I couldn't give it more than three stars because the voice of the narrator, a 19 year old young man, sounds too adultified. If he were telling this story at age 30, I'd buy it, but his voice doesn't sound like the voice of any 19 year old I've ever met.
skstiles612 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Matthew is a seventeen year old trying to take care of all of the things that most teens take care of. The problem is his mother is out of control. She is mentally and physically abusive. He and hsi sister Callie protect their youngest sister Emmy from their mother's insane tirades. They have become good a surviving these abuses. Their father is out of the picture. He knows how their mother is but won't help because he is afraid. Their aunt lives beneath them and turns a blind eye. Those that they thought would help them don't.When their mother starts dating Murdoch they dare to hope things will be better. Things are better for a while until she becomes jealous of the attention he is showing the kids. Murdoch makes the decision to break it off with her. Things get worse for the kids. Matthew must find the strength to survive and protect his sisters.I loved this story. Unfortunately we see it all too often. Werlin is not afraid to speak to kids about the tough topics. Her characters are very believable and the situations are very real. I hated Nikki and yet at the same time wondered if her insanity could ever be helped. A part of me pitied her. I would most definately recommend this book to all of my students and fellow teachers. You never know when the book might be placed in the hands sof the person who needs it most
yourotherleft on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
ishkabiddle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best books of the year. Wrote author to say how grateful I was to have a mother who was just quirky, but eminently sane. She wrote back to say she appreciates her mother much more now as well.
tasha on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I started hearing about this book much earlier in the year from people who read the ARC. I just couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Some books dont' live up to the high expectations, but this one does. I would rate it one of the best of the year, if not the best. Matthew has rules to survive living with his mother. He pretends to be grateful and loving when she is in a good mood, never crosses her in a bad mood, and protects his two younger siblings from her as best he can. His mother is a violent promiscuous drug user who struggles with her own demons. Matthew is trapped because he can never leave his sisters behind with her. But then Matthew finds a man in a quick mart who stands up to an abusive father and realizes that this man, Murdoch may be able to help them. As Matthew starts to try to find Murdoch, his mother finds out and begins her own relationship with Murdoch that will drag him into the family's drama. This novel is about abuse, bravery, duty, and strength. It is about living in fear as both a child and an adult. It is about adults who can suddenly choose to be involved and in doing so can save children. It is powerful, amazing, and breathtaking. Werlin's prose is raw, troubled, honest and angry, speaking directly from the gut. Matthew is a complex character as are his younger sisters and each reacts to the abuse by their mother in a different and complicated way. Adding power to the story, Nikki, the mother, is also not stereotypical, but demonstrates how abuse can be more than physical. She is a frightening, horrid character, but readers will glimpse her humanity as well, which is a truly remarkable feat of authorship. This book calls out to be booktalked and will fly off the shelves. It has a strong cover and can be recommended to all of the teens who enjoy A Child Called It. It has a strong crossover appeal for adults and would make a great book discussion title for teen/parent book discussions. This one is my top choice of the year so far.
annekiwi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A young boy and his 2 younger sisters attempt to survive their unpredictable, sometimes violent, and extremely crazy mother. At times she seems to have some manic depressive issues, other times she seems to have boderline personality disorder. An interesting read that kept my interest to the end, even though I read the end before I began the book.
elissajanine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book features strong writing and a compelling voice in Matthew, a young boy who tries, above all, to protect his younger siblings from the wrath of their very unpredictable mother as she spirals out of control. A fast-paced, emotional ride with a satisfying ending.
Whisper1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I believe the author knows about child abuse, neglect and a sociopathic parent.Classified as Young Adult genre, the National Book Award Finalist is yet another book categorized as young adult simply because the narrator is a young child.It is not easy to read about adult violence inflicted on children who desperately need assistance. Twelve year old Matthew Walsh desperately tries to protect his young siblings.Their mother's mood swings, violence and cruelty is soul numbing and heartbreaking. The children live in constant fear of physical and emotional harm.When his mother purposely veers the car into an oncoming lane of traffic, Matthew knows he must do something.Contacting his biological father, family members and authorities only leads to more hurt and frustration. Not wanting to become involved, they look the other way.Fate brings Murdoch into their lives. Then, when Murdoch dates their mother, they have a wonderful summer...until, Murdoch realizes the psychopathic behavior.As Murdoch ends the relationship, he too becomes a victim of stalking and harassment from this very manipulative, sociopathic woman.Murdoch is the only one who can help them.While this is a dark tale, it is exceedingly well written and spot on regarding helpless children who deserve a better life.This is a book that leads you through a dark tunnel to find hope and light at the end.
kdebros on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating book, and I think it would hold some interest for young adults as well. For me, the characters didn't seem quite real enough, and the story just slightly too predictable.