Friday, June 29, 2012

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

Nikki is beautiful. Nikki is charming. Nikki is crazy. Nikki is the mother from hell. From the time Matthew is a preschooler, he has taken on the job of protecting his younger sisters from the unpredictable moods of their mother, Nikki. He never knows when she will turn from loving mother to abusive mother. But he knows that when she does, it is up to him to keep him and his sisters safe.

One hot summer evening, when Nikki has gone out to have fun and left the kids locked in the apartment, Matthew and his sister Callie sneak out to buy popsicles at the grocery story. While there, they witness an encounter among an enraged father, his little boy, and Murdoch, a man who comes between them to defend the little boy. After seeing Murdoch step up, Matthew becomes convinced that he is the man who can help them get away from Nikki. After this night, he searches for Murdoch for months, hoping to meet him again, become friends, and ultimately be saved from his mother.

Murdoch does eventually enter the lives of Matthew and his sisters, but not in the way Matthew wants. His efforts to get help from the various adults in his life--Murdoch, his aunt, his absentee father--are fruitless, until Nikki turns the corner into true mental illness and her behavior becomes something no can ignore anymore.

Matthew is a realistic character who embodies the "rescuer" mentality many abused children possess. He figures out "rules," things to do to try to turn Nikki from her rages. Sometimes he is successful. Sometimes not. Readers will be riveted by his struggle.

Rating: 4

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