Hey Girls! I just finished reading The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin.
The information below was taken from author Nancy Werlin’s website.
“The Rules of Survival, was one of five finalists for the 2006 National Book Award, is the story of Matthew Walsh of South Boston, and his sisters, Callie and Emmy. It’s written in the form of a long letter to Matt’s youngest sister.
He says: “Emmy, the events we lived through taught me to be sure of nothing about other people. They taught me to expect danger around every corner. They taught me to understand that there are people in this world who mean you harm. And sometimes, they’re people who say they love you, and mean it.”
Matt has long since put himself in charge of protecting his sisters from their enemy.
And who is their enemy?
It’s Nikki O’Grady Walsh. Their mother. Who loves them.
Matt’s managed to keep himself and his sisters safe, more or less. He’s done okay. But secretly, inside, he’s growing tired and hopeless.
Then, suddenly, there’s a possible ally on the horizon. Someone who can maybe help him get rid of his mother for good.
Murdoch. His mother’s ex-boyfriend.”
Here is what Carla Lewis had to say to me via phone about The Rules of Survival.
Ivy: Why did you like this book?
Carla: I liked this book because it was so real. It reminded me of my childhood.
Ivy: What in this book reminded you of your childhood?
Carla: I was mentally and verbally abused as a child. I could relate to all of this.
Ivy: Have you ever told anyone you were abused?
Carla: I used to be ashamed of my childhood and the abuse that was inflicted upon me as a child. I am learning to talk about it more. It helps to get it out and not hold in the pain.
Ivy: Were you familiar with Nancy Werlin books before reading this book?
Carla: No. I had never read any of her work.
Ivy: What moved you about this book?
Carla: The way the author wrote about abuse. She just puts it out there for you to see.
Ivy: I found myself feeling sorry for their mother. Did you feel that way?
Carla: No. I was angry with their mother for her lack of love for her kids.
Ivy: Was there a point in the story where you thought the characters were you?
Carla: I did actually. I found the book to be a tough read because I have lived this.
Ivy: Why do you think books like these are needed?
Carla: They are needed so that other abused kids can see that they are not alone.
Ivy: Did you read books about abused kids when you were a child?
Carla: I did not. I wish that I had read a book like this when I was a kid being abused.
Ivy: Do you think books like these help society?
Carla: I think that any type of exposure to abuse is good.
* * *
Here is an excerpt from The Rules of Survival to show you a sneak peak:
“Then I saw him. Murdoch. Okay, I saw him but I didn’t really see him. That came a few minutes later. I just glanced around the store. There was a teenager at the cash register behind the front candy counter. A huge, barrel-shaped man stood in front of the counter with a little boy, smaller even than you were then. And Murdoch (of course I didn’t know his name then) and his date (a woman I never saw again) were in line behind the man with the boy.
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 in 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, hair shaved close to the skull, medium build. 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 man, Murdoch, was calm. At the same time, there was this sort of feeling coming from him. Some kind of coiled tension.
Callie and I were behind Murdoch, and to the left, so we had only a partial view of Murdoch’s face and expression. But we had a full-on view of the barrel-shaped man. And we had a good 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 coiled 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.
“Hit me,” Murdoch said. “Come on. Better me than the kid. Why not? You want to.”
And then it was all over. The man blinked and took a step back. He said something, loudly, about having had a hard day and it doesn’t hurt a kid to learn to keep his hands to himself. And Murdoch was nodding even though I guessed that he was thinking what I was about that man. But Murdoch turned away from the father as if he was no threat anymore. He knelt on the floor in front of the little kid.
You could smell the kid’s fear floating on the stale, air-conditioned store air. He stole one little look behind Murdoch at the big man, and you could see him thinking, I’ll have to pay for this later.
But Murdoch talked directly to the kid. “It’s wrong for anybody ever to hurt you. No matter who does it, it’s wrong. Can you remember that?”
The kid’s eyes were now huge. He looked at the big man again. Then back at Murdoch. Then he nodded.
“You’ll remember that?” Murdoch insisted. “You don’t have to do anything else. You just have to remember.”
The kid nodded. Solemnly.
“Good,” said Murdoch.
The kid reached out one hand toward him. In it was the package of Reese’s Pieces. Murdoch took it and said, “Thank you.” He stood up in one smooth motion. He put the package on the counter. But his eyes didn’t leave the little boy. The little boy kept looking back, too, while the big man finished paying for his stuff and then hustled the kid outside.
As the door slammed behind them, there was complete silence in the store.
It was then I realized that Callie had grabbed my hand and was holding it.
“Oh, hello?” said the woman who was with Murdoch. “Hello, Murdoch? You should have thought about me. What if there was a big fight and I got hurt? What kind of a date do you think that would be? Huh? Murdoch? Are you listening to me? Murdoch!”
Murdoch, I thought. It was a name I had never heard before. A strange name.
It suited him.
Murdoch didn’t reply. His eyes had narrowed into slits. He held up the pack of Reese’s Pieces and said to the teenage clerk, “I’ll take these. And the ice coffee.” The woman sighed and shrugged. She moved a step closer to Murdoch, but without even looking at her, he took a step away.
One more moment from my memory of that night: on his way out the door, Murdoch turned. He tossed the Reese’s Pieces underhand to me and Callie. He smiled at us as he did it, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. And he wasn’t thinking about us at all, or really seeing us. I could tell. Not the way he’d seen that little boy.
He was still giving off that invisible coiled pulse of—whatever it was.
He was still angry.
Then he was gone.
* * *
I stood in that convenience store on that hot summer night and stared after him, and I thought: I have to know that man.
There is a word for this feeling, Emmy. It’s called obsession.
I was obsessed with Murdoch for months before our mother ever met him. In fact, if not for me, she never would have met him.