The Rules of Survival, by Nancy Werlin
I know, I know. It's a little late for me to be reading the rest of the NBA* YA nominees.
From The Rules of Survival:
As I write this, you are nine years old, too young to be told the full and true story of our family's past, let alone be exposed to my philosophizing about what it all meant.
I have decided to write it all down for you, and I will, but that decision doesn't keep me from having doubts. I wonder if maybe it would be better if you never read this. I wonder if you really need to know exactly what happened to us--me, you, Callie--at the hands of our mother.
Matthew's chronicle begins when he is thirteen. He and Callie are buying popsicles when they witness the man they will come to know as Murdoch defend a small boy from a violent father:
There was an endless, oh, five seconds. The father's eyes bulged. His fists were clenched. He drew 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.
Until that incident, Matthew had never seen an adult—including his father and his aunt, both of whom were well aware of Nikki's behavior—do anything other than ignore abuse. He'd had the usual "tell us if there's something wrong" spiel at school, but he worried that he and his sisters would be separated if he contacted the authorities and he'd heard nightmarish stories about foster care. Murdoch's act gives him hope. And so he becomes obsessed with finding the man who could be their savior.
I don't usually read a whole lot before bed—I tend to fall asleep after reading a few chapters. But this one hooked me from the first few pages, and I began and finished it in one go. Though it's clear from Matthew's opening letter to Emmy that the three siblings all survive, and that they all escape Nikki, it isn't clear how it happened—or what happened to the rest of the players.
It's an excellent psychological thriller—but that's not surprising, given that it's a Nancy Werlin book. It's also an excellent book about child abuse. It never felt overwrought or sensationalized or exploitative. Though I wouldn't dream of calling it an 'issue book', I do think that fans of that genre will like it, as will fans of Gail Giles and Alex Flinn. The super-short chapters will make it a good pick for reluctant readers, too.
*Don't miss Nancy Werlin's NBA blog.