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The Rules of Survival

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  11,390 ratings  ·  1,101 reviews
This National Book Award Finalist is a thought-provoking exploration of emotional abuse, self-reliance and the nature of evil. A heart-wrenching portrait of family crisis, this is perfect for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why.
For Matt and his sisters, life with their cruel, physically abusive mother is a day-to-day struggle for s
Hardcover, 259 pages
Published September 7th 2006 by Dial Books
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Average rating 3.98  · 
Rating details
 ·  11,390 ratings  ·  1,101 reviews

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Nov 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: childrens
This book was so well written that I didn't notice how disturbing it was until after I finished. I would call it haunting and beautiful. I kept reading well into the night.
Nancy Werlin has written a classic.
Apr 14, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Catie by: Heidi (Yup. Still here.)
Shelves: ya, audio, read-in-2011
This ended up being a pretty personal review for me, so if you don’t want to read through my melodramatic reminiscing…I suggest you (ie, the three of you that read my reviews) skip this one!

It will be absolutely impossible for me to rate this book objectively. Did I like this book? Not just no, but hell no. However, I recognize that this dislike is influenced heavily by my own personal experience. I over-identified with the beginn
Apr 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: mystery and suspense fans
Shelves: teenbooks
I devoured this book in practically one sitting. I loved the taut suspense of this story--a story that will resonate with many teens who must deal with abusive parents. Matthew is faced with protecting his sisters from his unpredictable and often violent mother (who likely is afflicted with manic depressive disorder). Often he must bear the burden of her rage himself in order to to deflect it from the most vulnerable member of his family--his youngest sister, Emmy. The book is written from Matth ...more
"The Rules of Survival" is about Matthew Walsh who lives with his two younger sisters and their abusive mother. He retells his story through a letter that he intends to give to his youngest sister Emmy, who was too young to understand the events that went on when Nikki abused them and put them through more than just their fair share of pain.

This was such a good novel, I read it in only two days (both school days), so you can tell how addicted I was to reading it. I seriously felt Matt's pain and
Feb 28, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: family or friends of mental patients, teens.
Shelves: fiction-read
My youngest daughter picked this book up on CD at our library. It's a first person narrative in the form of a letter from an older brother to his youngest sister recounting a troubling and turbulent period when the two of them, and another sister, between them in age, were living with their mentally ill mother. The story held my attention with its taut dark psychological tension. Since I have close relatives and friends with significant mental health problems, I found the events and behavior des ...more
May 30, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: YAs
Shelves: ya
Swift, interesting read and a fairly successful epistolary novel. Predictable plot of abusive parent, kids trying to find their own way, but likeable characters and a nice examination of what it means to be a hero.
Apr 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Full Disclosure: Nancy is a good friend.

This is one of the best portrayals of a teen living with an emotionally abusive parent you will ever read. I had a knot in my stomach the whole book.
may ❀
This book is really something. Thought provoking, powerful, haunting.

Because the story took place over the course of five or six years, we see the steady growth of problems Matt, Callie, and Emmy endure and how they handle it.

What I loved most about this book was the realistic character development, particularly Matt's. Although he's a protective and dedicated to his sisters, he's still a kid. He shouts and gets upset and wants to leave and be selfish because he's just a kid. A kid put in the
Jul 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Always remember: In the end, the survivor gets to tell the story."

This is the story of Matt, Callie, and Emmy, written as a letter. Emmy was too young to fully understand her past and so Matt has taken it as his responsibility to tell her about it. It's not only about an abusive mother but it involves outsiders who were dragged into it.

What did I think of the characters?
WOW. This is one of the best character developments I have read. It didn't just occur suddenly but over a realistic period of
Aug 22, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: teens, anyone interested in or dealing with family abuse
Shelves: young-adult
A good account of a domestic life under siege. Matt and his sister Callie try to protect each other and their youngest sister from their unstable, irresponsible and clearly mentally ill mother, who can veer from manic cheer to vicious cruelty in seconds. The writing is pretty simple, but the short sentences and short chapters fit the edgy, survivalist mode of the story. I like that there is redemption (at a price), but not the kind of heroics the reader might expect.

I found it ironic (intention
Jul 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Matt and his sisters, Callie and Emmy, live in a war zone. Their mother is unstable and abusive, and there are no adults to help.

I kept wondering why Matt never told someone at his school, but he explains why-- a sad commentary on our system.

The book structured as a letter that Matt writes to Emmy, explaining to her what happened during their childhoods, which Emmy was too young to remember.

For those of you who are wary (or weary) of another book about damaged families, this book does have an u
Meg Kimball
Sep 22, 2016 rated it liked it
I didn't really hate this book, but I didn't understand the purpose of it. It did not entertain me. Instead, it kind of bored me. Not because of the subject matter (unpredictable, diabolical abuse, which is admittedly not boring), but because of the characters. I didn't care about any of them. The book didn't make me care. Of course I would care in real life, in the sense that I'd want to help them, but as a story, it fell really flat. Flat like a pancake. Read Flowers in the Attic instead!
Sep 24, 2010 rated it really liked it
The Rules of Survival:
Surviving the Unsurvivable

What would you do if you had an abusive and irresponsible mother? Would you tell someone? Pretend it wasn’t even happening? Make it stop? In The Rules of Survival, by Nancy Werlin, Mathew is the oldest of his three siblings who all have faced this problem every day of their lives. This realistic fiction novel is based in Boston, where the children have no one to turn to except each other, with an absent father, and an aunt who doesn’t seem to k
This book terrified me, but I would say such in the most constructive way possible. Why? Well, for one, Nancy Werlin places the reader right in the center of 14-year-old Matthew's experiences in protecting his siblings from a mother from heck and back. The reader sees the desperation in his penned letters to his youngest sister Emmy chronicling the abuses they endured...and the desperation of getting out. If you're not aware of how terrifying Matthew's mother, Nikki, can be - consider some of he ...more
Alisha Marie
I HATED the mom in The Rules of Survival. So much that my blood pressure would literally spike while reading of the cruelties she inflicted on her children. I loathed the adults who turned a blind eye to the abuse because they just didn't want to deal with it at the time. In my book, by turning a blind eye, you become just as bad (if not worse) than the abuser. But yeah, this book had me pissed off through a vast majority of it and horrified when I wasn't pissed.

The Rules of Survival is one of t
Lucy Martinez
Oct 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
How can a mother love her children, but treat them like she doesn't at the same time? Most children feel safe around their mother, but not in this case. This is realist fiction story about Matthew and his two sisters that have to deal with having a dangerous mother.

There are a lot characters in this book, but without Nikki there wouldn't be a story. Nikki, the main character is the mother of her three children. She shows her love for her children differently, she's definitely dangerous and a bit
Jennifer Wardrip
Reviewed by Sally Kruger, aka "Readingjunky" for

"You looked at Callie and me from over our mother's shoulder... I hoped you wouldn't try to wriggle out of the embrace, because in fact our mother seemed to be in a good mood. She was humming. Cocaine? New man? There were a few possibilities, and I didn't care which one it was. Maybe we'd have an okay evening."

Those are the words of Matthew Walsh as he tells a story of survival to his youngest sister Emmy. Matthew has decided to w
Linda Lipko
Sep 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I believe the author knows about child abuse, neglect and a sociopathic parent.

Classified as Young Adult genre, the National Book Award Finalist is yet another book categorized as young adult simply because the narrator is a young child.

It is not easy to read about adult violence inflicted on children who desperately need assistance. Twelve year old Matthew Walsh desperately tries to protect his young siblings.

Their mother's mood swings, violence and cruelty is soul numbing and heartbreaking. Th
Kaje Harper
Oct 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well-written and intense examination of living with an unstable and emotionally abusive parent. The book is written as a long letter from oldest sibling Matthew to his younger sister Emmy, containing both his recollections and resulting advice hard-won from the time when they lived with their mother.

The mother in this book is one of the most emotionally disturbing parents I've come across, almost too much so, because it was hard to think of her as a functional person. To her children she was
Apr 01, 2010 rated it liked it
What did I learn from this book? Well, a very obvious lesson which is the rule of survival at its basic level is self –preservation. When you’re in danger, your human instinct is to protect yourself. This story, however, showed me that as humans when we truly love someone, we’ll neglect our most basic instinct and protect those we love even if it endangers our own life.

This book is about three children who are being raised by an abusive mother. It was never quite clear if she was manic depressi
Alicia Marie
Jan 14, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: teenagers,people that like drama
This is a very good book. I would like to read books like this all the time if I could. It was a book that you could fallow along with very good. It is about these three kids that have to live with there crazy mother. The oldest boy named Matthew did all he could to keep his sisters together and stay strong for them. The main characters are Matthew, Emmy and Murdogh. Thought out this book Matthew is trying to find Murdogh a man he met in a store. He thought Murdogh was god because he stuck up in ...more
Feb 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
Wow! This was a pretty intense book! It had my heart rate accelerated all the way through. It's about 3 kids trying to survive an unpredictable abusive mother so the content is pretty heavy, but at the same time it's a surviver story so you know it's going to be okay. It kind of reminds me of a book I once read called "Weeping Willow." Both of the books are somewhat emotionally draining but you come out of the experience on a high to see the kids come through a horrific ordeal and land on top. I ...more
Sep 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who love mystery, suspense, and drama
Recommended to Rindi by: people who know i like mystery suspense and drama
This book is an exciting mysterious book about anything that could happen to kids. even the unspeakable!!! i loved it and want eveyone to read it!!!
Eshadi Sharif
Jun 19, 2017 rated it liked it
*actual rating: 3.5/5*

This was a really eye opening read for me. We overlook matters such as child abuse because it's an issue that's been going on for a long time-so long that even if we're not suffering from it, we feel like we're well informed about it. The Rules of Survival bring to light the many faces of it and in an indirect way, shows us what we're doing wrong when we stand on the sidelines watching it happen yet, not helping.

The first interesting thing I saw were the two portrayals of
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Harebrained. That is the best word that comes to mind to me when I read this book. It describes Nicki Walsh other than insane, nuts and psychotic. If you enjoy books about people who are totally out there and insane then this book is just right for you!
The rules of survival by: Nancy Werlin is definitely a page turner because I could not just put it down I always had to keep reading! This book has a lot of very exciting and suspenseful moments but also has sad ones too. When I would be reading
Donna Sawyer
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: teens and parents of teens
Recommended to Donna by: work colleague
This book was recommended to me by a work colleague as a YA novel to read/discuss with my teenage daughter. I ended up devouring it within a day.

The Rules of Survival is a well-paced story about three siblings deprived of a normal childhood and life by their abusive mother. It's told from an approachable first-person perspective of the brother, recounting their shared childhood via a "letter" to his younger sister, Emmy. I enjoyed this twist, which left me truly feeling like I was, indeed, Emmy.
Matt is writing a letter to his youngest sister Emmy, telling her about what they all went through being raised by their abusive mother Nikki. Nikki doesn't beat them (much) or starve them, but she does leave them alone for days at a time and is emotionally abusive. Matt is used to dealing with Nikki, until he meets Murdoch, who stands up to an abusive parent in a store while Matt watches. He later decides to track Murdoch down, but Nikki beats him to the punch and ends up dating Murdoch. Even a ...more
Dec 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Rules of Survival was an amazing book. It is a story about three kids living with an abusive mother, the book takes you through their life, their struggles and adventures. The book has a very sad and sensitive subject, but the writing was so well done, it almost made me forget all the horrible situations that happened in this book. Many other good reads reviewers agree with this, some refer to this book as “haunting but beautiful” which is very poetic. I would agree with them, because there ...more
Kaje Chapman
Rules of Survival told the story of Mathew protecting himself and his sisters from his psychotic mother. Matt meets a man named Murdoch at a grocery store when he is getting popsicles for his sisters. You can see Murdoch's love for kids in his first appearance in the story. I like Murdoch because he is the only person who understands what Matt and his sisters are going through. Nikki, Matt's mother, goes completely ballistic when Murdoch helps Matt and his aunt Bobbie get custody of Matt and his ...more
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Nancy Werlin writes young adult fiction: New York Times–bestselling fantasy, Edgar-award winning suspense, and National Book Award-honored realistic novels.

Nancy's newest book is the suspense thriller AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR.

News & Interviews

Summer is a great time to lose yourself in a page-turning mystery. To help you sleuth out a new read, we asked five of the season’s hottest myst...
27 likes · 7 comments
1. Sometimes, the people who mean you harm are the ones who say they love you.
2. Fear is your friend. When you feel it, act.
3. Protect the little ones.
4. If you coped before, you can cope now.
5. Always remember: In the end, the survivor gets to tell the story.”
“No. It's actually not okay. And I hate when people say that, when they say it's okay even though it's not. It's better to tell the truth.” 97 likes
More quotes…