From School Library Journal
Grade 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 Matts 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 Nikkis volatile moods. Compounding the problem are the adults in their lives–their father and their aunt–who recognize Nikkis instability but find it easier to look the other way. When Nikkis 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
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Gr. 7-10. Living with an unpredictable, psychotic mother has taught Matthew how to survive. Constantly on alert, he and his sister, Callie, devotedly shelter their younger stepsister, Emmy, from their mother's abuse and worry about staying safe. Matt insists that "fear isn't actually a bad thing . . . . It warns you to pay attention, because you're in danger. It tells you to do something, to act, to save yourself," but his terror is palpable in this haunting, powerful portrayal of domestic dysfunction, which is written in retrospect as a letter from Matt to Emmy. Unfortunately, the adults in the children's life, a distant father and an apathetic aunt, don't help, though Matt sees a spark of hope in Murdoch, who dates his mother, Nikki, and then leaves when he becomes another target for her escalating rage. It is Murdoch, with a violent past of his own, who is willing to risk getting involved and eventually becomes the change agent that the children so desperately need. The author of Double Helix
(2003),Werlin reinforces her reputation as a master of the YA thriller, pulling off a brilliant departure in this dark but hopeful tale, with pacing and suspense guaranteed to leave readers breathlessly turning the pages. Cindy DobrezCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved