The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

Dial Books, 2006.    ISBN: 0803730012  $16.99

Written as a letter to his youngest sister, Emmy, –a letter that he hopes she won’t choose to read until she is much older, seventeen-year-old Matthew describes how he and their sister Callie, tried to protect Emmy as much as possible from their mother’s increasing unpredictability and mental illness.

Nikki, their mother, is a pathological liar, a drug and alcohol abuser, and a negligent parent, who will do anything to get what she wants, including stalking a boyfriend who has rejected her, leaving the three children unattended, or taking dangerous risks with them in the car or elsewhere. Very occasionally, she can be fun, although often in a scary way, and even more rarely, she shows an attentive and caring side, all of which leaves the kids confused.

Matthew and Callie feel hopeless about their situation. They don’t think their situation falls into the kinds of abuse that have been described to them at school as reasons to talk to a teacher or other adult. Their father has been unable or unwilling to step up to the plate beyond child support, even when Matthew finally lets him know that they aren’t safe, and Aunt Bobbie, who lives downstairs seems to be involved in her own little world. Matthew finally reaches out to their mother’s previous boyfriend, Murdoch, and while he promises to do something, it seems a long time in coming, and Matthew ends up having to respond to the ultimate crisis on his own, while Murdoch shows up at the last minute, in time to prevent Matthew from doing something he will have regretted.

Teens will appreciate the struggles Matthew describes as he tries to protect his siblings from an ever more out of control situation.

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