Monday, January 22, 2007

Rules of Survival

Werlin, Nancy. 2006. RULES OF SURVIVAL. New York: Dial. ISBN 0803730012 [Suggested Grade Levels 9-12]

Werlin’s story of Matthew, a fifteen-year old who is trying to protect his sisters from their “unpredictable, vicious mother” is somewhat untraditional. Because Matthew’s loyalty to his sisters far exceeds any affection he may have for his mother, whom he calls Nikki, Matthew attempts to alter their situation by involving other adults. When Matthew meets Murdoch, the man who “wasn’t afraid, or – if he was – he took action anyway,” he concocts a plan to use Murdoch as his lifesaver.

Matthew’s determination to find normalcy for himself and especially Emmy, his younger sister, finally pays off. A letter to Emmy on the inside jacket, and another as an introduction to the story, let the reader know immediately that Matthew is clever, caring, and insightful. The story is written in first-person, as a reflection of the craziness they’ve all experienced. The fact that the adults in Matthew’s life consistently disappoint him is a heartbreaking commentary about the reality faced by many teenagers today. Nevertheless, basing the resolution upon a teenager who is not afraid to trust adults and whose persistence prompts adults into action helps the reader come away with some feeling of hope for children in such situations.

Schedule a time for a counselor to speak about the signs and symptoms of unstable families. Ask readers to find other characters with troubling home environments and compare how their problems were resolved.

Other books by Nancy Werlin:
Werlin, Nancy. BLACK MIRROR. ISBN 0803726058
Werlin, Nancy. DOUBLE HELIX. ISBN 0803726066
Werlin, Nancy. LOCKED INSIDE. ISBN 0385327005

Novels about dysfunctional families and mental illness:
Curtis, Christopher Paul. BUCKING THE SARGE. 0385323077
Hesser, Terry Spencer. KISSING DOORKNOBS. 0440413141
Mackler, Carolyn. LOVE AND OTHER FOUR-LETTER WORDS. 044022831X

By Rebecca McKee

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