The Rules of Survival
When you live with a schizophrenic, you have to grow up fast. You don’t have time to spend on things that normal kids do, such as playing video games, or going on dates. Matthew knew this all too well in the book The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin. The main character, Matthew Walsh, is the oldest of three children, and the protector of his younger sisters Callie and Emmy. In the beginning, he tolerates his mother Nikki’s behavior because he thinks there is no one willing to step in and help him. Matt studies hard, works out at the gym where he works, and eventually manages to find help to save himself and his sisters from their train wreck of a mother. Callie Walsh, Matt’s younger sister by two years, also plays a key role in the story. While trying hard to be a regular kid with sky-high dreams of becoming a doctor, having to deal with a violent schizophrenic definitely doesn’t make her life any easier. Instead of having the opportunity to have sleepovers and go to movies, Callie is forced to be a protector of her little sister. One case of such a young person having to grow up so fast was when “Callie grabbed you (Emmy) and scurried out of the doorway.” (pg. 151) as Nikki was raging at Matt. Nikki is also an instrumental part of the plot, as she is the antagonist throughout the story. An often paranoid and violent schizophrenic, Nikki is usually very emotional towards her children. This is both a blessing and a curse throughout, as it implies that she remembers to feed her children, yet it often causes her to yearn for gratification and praise from the children that cannot stand to be in her presence. She often manages to grow close to people, only to push them away when her illness is revealed to them. This angers her and causes her to have harmful outbursts, often carried out on her children.
The major ideas and events in The Rules of Survival numbered relatively few in comparison to other books. The story began with Matt first seeing Murdoch, his mother’s future boyfriend. This encounter spurred Matt’s hope and lead to Nikki first meeting Murdoch. After months of searching, Callie and Matt finally located Murdoch’s address, which unfortunately fell into Nikki’s hands. Things ended up seeming to be okay for a few months during the “honeymoon” stage of Nikki and Murdoch’s relationship, during which time Murdoch and the children bonded and become more of a family than either had ever had before. Sadly, as hard as Nikki tried to hide her problems, cracks developed in her guise, and eventually caused her to act out enough to force Murdoch into action. A few weeks later, the relief Matt, Callie, and Emmy had loved so much ended with Murdoch and Nikki’s breakup, which led to Nikki’s reversion to her old violent, negligent self. While their lives returned to the torture they had been before, Matt and Callie tried even harder than before to be the children Nikki wanted in order to protect Emmy. Nikki soon brought home another man, who eventually helped her with her scheme to get back at Murdoch. Luckily, Matt was able to provide an alibi for Murdoch, and ended up moving in with his aunt, Bobbie, while his mother was in jail. While Nikki was serving an extended sentence in jail, Callie and Emmy moved in with Ben, Callie and Matt’s biological father, and Matt moved in with Bobbie on the lower floor of the house she and Nikki shared. A few months later, Nikki picked Emmy up from school and took her away without any fuss. Emmy, while staying with Nikki in what turned out to be a trailer, called Matt a couple of days later, complaining of feeling ill and having vomited. Matt, the protective older brother, came to the rescue, and found Emmy in an empty trailer at the Port of Boston, sick from having been forced to drink beer and bourbon at her mother’s party. Nikki and her new boyfriend soon came back to the port to find Emmy in Matt’s arms, only to be surprised by Murdoch’s arrival a few minutes later. He quickly stepped in and helped Matt and Emmy escape. The story concluded after two years passed without another word from Nikki. The children had since moved in with Ben and Bobbie permanently, and were safe from whatever harm their mother may have wished, all because of the fact that they never gave up hope that their dire situation would one day improve.
The main theme throughout the story is “perseverance”, carried out by Matt and Callie as they keep believing that someone will come along and rescue them from the torture that is life with Nikki. The children persevere during the story in both long-term and short-term instances as they attempt to find freedom. Another theme during the story is “protectiveness”, as Matt and Callie guard their little sister from their volatile mother. Matt is forced to “Protect the little ones” (back cover) while having to cope with the fact that his life becomes more intolerable day by day. A third theme from the story is “hope”, as the children continue to have hope that conditions will improve, and that eventually they will be living the life the deserve, away from their mentally-ill mother. While a great number of themes were present throughout the story, perseverance, protectiveness, and hope stood out as the most obvious and important.
Overall, I did not enjoy The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin. I felt it was a poorly written story that lacked a lot of description. While the basic idea is great, its execution was unsatisfactory, as the plot lacked smooth transitions and was difficult to follow. One key instance of this was when a character was maimed without the event being mentioned until quite some time after its occurrence. The book was portrayed to be a page-turner, but did not live up to my expectations at all. The story line had several gaps, Ms. Werlin’s writing style lacked detail and finesse, and the characters were two-dimensional throughout the story. I thought that the author’s aim for the story had a lot of potential, but was executed poorly. In my overall opinion, this book was a failure in comparison to other literary works I have encountered in the past.
While I thought this book to be a failure as a literary work, and would not recommend this book to more sophisticated or refined readers, I suppose it would be well liked among younger readers who have an interest in psychological disorders such as schizophrenia, or who like reading about the troubles of other people. I make this recommendation based off the immature writing style that lends itself to a preteen reader, and off the fact that the story has a generally sad and pitying character to it. Due to the lack of description throughout the story, I would recommend that the reader have a strong imagination in order to visualize the events, as the author provides hardly any details, other than a basic description of two or three of the characters. The lack of detail is consistent throughout the story, and becomes slightly irritating as one tries to imagine what is happening from a third-person point of view. I felt that The Rules of Survival was a shabbily written book, and would not recommend it very highly to anyone I know.