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The Rules of Survival    by Nancy Werlin order for
Rules of Survival
by Nancy Werlin
Order:  USA  Can
Dial, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Kerrily Sapet

Nancy Werlin's latest book, The Rules of Survival, begins with a powerful dedication. She writes, 'This book is for all the survivors. Always remember: The survivor gets to tell the story.' The dedication is the perfect prelude to the story to come. This book is a gut-wrenching tale of three children struggling to live under the whims of their mentally unstable, abusive, and uncontrollable mother. The story is told as a letter from the oldest child, Matthew, to his youngest sister Emmy.

Matthew and Callie's attempts to keep themselves and their sister Emmy safe during their mother Nikki's violent mood shifts accurately portray a family in crisis. The three ultimately seek out an adult hero; their father has slunk away and their aunt has turned a blind eye, although each of them knows the situation. Only until Matthew and Callie track down Murdoch, a man they saw protect a young child from an abusive father in a convenience store, do they have hope. And although Nikki finds a way to date Murdoch and seem mentally healthy, soon the cracks in her fašade begin to show. As Matthew says, the demons truly begin to possess his mother and she cannot control them. When Murdoch leaves, Matthew, Callie, and Emmy are crushed - leaving Nikki furious.

The Rules of Survival is an intense, though-provoking glimpse inside the terror of living with an abusive parent. As Matthew says in his letter to Emmy, 'there are people in this world who mean you harm. And sometimes, they're people who say they love you.' Werlin's novel is heart-rending throughout, as she shows each child evolving beyond the violent mental and physical constraints their mother employs. In the end, each of them makes life decisions no child or adult should ever have to face. Although difficult to read because of its subject matter, the book is wonderfully written, showing both relatives and strangers at their best and worst.

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