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Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 7 months ago

17 May 2006 THE RULES OF SURVIVAL by Nancy Werlin, Dial Books, September 2006, publisher recommendation: 14 and up; ISBN: 0-8037-3001-2


As Matt explains, it was a sweltering Boston evening, and a date night for their mother. Matt was thirteen at that point, and Callie was eleven on that evening they left their five year old sister Emmy sleeping alone in the apartment, climbed out the window, and raced around the corner to buy a couple of Popsicles at the convenience store. They would return home a few minutes later with the dream that a stranger whose behavior they'd just witnessed might somehow be persuaded to intercede in the frightening and dangerous world they inhabited, a world controlled by Nikki, their nightmare of a mother.


"Callie and I headed straight for the ice cream freezer, and we'd just reached it when the yelling began. We whipped around.

"It was the barrel-shaped man and the little kid. The man had grabbed the boy by the upper arms and yanked him into the air. He was screaming into his face while the kid's legs dangled: 'What did you just do?'

"The little kid was clutching a package of Reese's Pieces and he started keening, his voice a long, terrified wail, his small body rigid.

"The big man--his father?--shook him hard, and kept doing it.

" 'I'll teach you to take things without permission! Spend my money without asking!'

"And then the other man, the one I later knew was called Murdoch, was between the father and son. Murdoch snatched the little kid away from his father and put the kid down behind him. Then Murdoch swiveled back.

"Emmy, I like to freeze the memory in my mind and just look at Murdoch. He was a medium kind of man. Medium height, medium build, hair shaved close to the skull. You wouldn't look twice--until you have looked twice.

"He wasn't afraid. I noticed that right away about him. Here was this huge enraged man, facing him. But this other man, Murdoch, was calm. At the same time, there was this sort of tension coiling off him.

"Callie and I were behind Murdoch and to the left, so we had only a partial view of his face and expression. But we had a full-on view of the little kid, who was so shocked that he stopped crying and just stared up at Murdoch's back with his mouth open.

"Meanwhile, Murdoch said, quietly but audibly, 'If you want to hurt somebody, you can hurt me. Go on. Hit me. I won't hit back. You can do it until you're not angry anymore. I'll let you.'

"There was an endless, oh, five seconds. The father's eyes bulged. His fists were clenched. He drew one arm back. But Murdoch was still looking straight at him, and I knew--you could feel it vibrating in the air--that even though Murdoch had said he wouldn't hit him, he wanted to. He wanted to hurt him.

"I liked him for that. No, Emmy, I loved him for that. Immediately."


Imagine being a child in a single-parent household with a mother who puts a knife to your throat for sneaking an Oreo without asking. A mother who suddenly pulls into the oncoming lane of traffic on the highway and demands you convincingly express your love and devotion to her (or else).


Sure, there are other adults around. Matt and Callie's distant and ineffectual father Ben also lives in Boston. But Ben is not Emmy's father, so even if they could convince him to do something, it wouldn't be of any help in their quest to protect their little sister from Nikki's insanity. Their Aunt Bobbie lives in the apartment below them, but she apparently ignores her big sister's horrific behavior toward the children. Matt and Callie are convinced that The System will, at the very most, provide temporary relief from the terror.


"Nikki was Nikki, unpredictable, temperamental, and vicious, with weird little moments of generosity and laughter mixed in. But she had always been that way. We could cope, and we would cope, because we always had."


But what happens when Murdoch's entrance into that world causes it to then become more and more and even more dangerous than it already was? There is no question that you'd better know THE RULES OF SURVIVAL.


After two days of reading in the bedroom, the dining room, the classroom, the parking lot, and the goat barn, I turned the final page and was finally able to get it unstuck from my hands.


Now that's what I call a gripping tale.


Richie Partington




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