November 13, 2006

Surviving To Tell the Tale

This book is a 2006 Cybil Award Nominee for YA Fiction.

When his little sister Emmy looks back over her life, big brother Matt wants her to understand a few things. First, that nothing in the world can prepare you to live with fear unless you realize that it's not something that can rule you -- only you can do that. Second, that sometimes it's the people who love you who cause you to fear the most. It's one of The Rules of Survival Matt has listed in his head. Matt knows how to survive -- after all, he survived living with his and Emmy's mother.

Matt and his sisters Callie and Emmy have learned how to deal with their mother's ups and downs. Matt remembers the time she held a knife to his throat and cut him, just a little, for stealing an Oreo for a midnight snack. Callie knows to grab baby Emmy and stay near a door every time their mother, Nikki, raises her voice. She tells her kids she loves them all the time, but she's just as apt to pinch them, twist their arms behind their backs, or haul off and knock them across the face with a bag of frozen food. Emmy hasn't yet learned not to push Mom's buttons. She's getting older now... and she's moving herself into the line of fire.

Nikki's kids don't always bleed. They don't always get hit.
Sometimes, Nikki is lovely and peaceful, reading to them, playing with them, whipping up scrumptious meals that they had better the hell EAT. Right now.

As you can see, even those peaceful times are fraught.

So, Matt is always alert, always on the look-out for mood swings and dark clouds on the horizon. So when he sees Murdoch, an adult who stands up to an awful parent in a grocery store, he just knows he has to find out who he is... someone that strong, that fearless, he has to know him. But Matt's interest in Murdoch draws the attention of Nikki, and though they have a summer of heaven, soon begins the final spiral of Nikki's out-of-control plunge into hell.

Nancy Werlin deals with a tough subject using terse sentences and short chapters to keep the story moving. A dark and nerve-wracking exploration into a disturbed family, this somehow still manages to be a hopeful story, as there is a light at the end of the tunnel for anybody who has the will to survive.

Because the survivor always gets to tell the story.

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