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The Rules of Survival, Nancy Werlin

2010/06/12

In this intense novel, a teenage boy tries to protect his sisters from the physical and psychological abuse of their mother. In the form of a letter to his youngest sister Emmy, Matt writes about his first encounter with Murdoch McIlvane, the man who will try his best to help the children escape from their mother. Matt describes with horrifying clarity his mother’s episodes which sometimes end with words, and other times with physical blows. He writes about his mother’s “good times,” during which she attempts to act like a “good mother,” cooking for her children but becoming abusive when they are unable to eat it; taking them to restaurants and flying into a rage when they do not perform to her satisfaction; forcing them to go to an amusement park, go on rides, and eat fair food until they are physically sick. He writes of his and his sister Callie’s attempts to deflect their mother’s rage from the youngest sister, of the “game” they play to placate their mother when she comes home in “a mood.” He painfully recounts his attempts to reach out to adults — his and Callie’s father Ben, their Aunt Bonnie, and Murdoch, a man whom they see defend a child from his father at a local convenience store.

This book is fast-paced, and Matt’s narrative draws you in. It is a quick read, since one wants to find out what is going to happen to the characters. Recommended for reluctant readers, for the topic of child abuse, for those looking for a male-narrated suspense.

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