The Rules of Survival is about a boy, Matt, and his two sisters, Callie and Emmy, who live with their slightly unstable mother, Nikki, in South Boston. One fateful night when Matt and Callie risk walking down to the local grocer store (while their mother is out for the night, of course) they witness a man helping a young boy whose father is screaming at him. That incident sparks a curiosity in Matt and he sets out to find this mysterious, strong stranger. Fate plays out and Matt's neurotic mother and the man, Murdoch, begin having a relationship. For once in Matts life things are going well, his mother has started acting semi-normal, he starts to relax, his sisters are safe. Things can't last forever. Eventually Nikki slips up, and Murdoch discovers her true personality. Then the only question is will Murdoch own up to everything Matt wants him to?
A strong sense of empathy is evoked for the frightened children in this novel. Livid, animated descriptions and an omnipresent sense of fear play a big part in making this book worthwhile. The plot isn't particularly upbeat but life isn't upbeat, and this story is a life story. The author formats the book so that Matt is writing to his youngest sister, Emmy. As the novel progresses the reader begins to feel as if the entire sad story is truly his/ her own. The characters are all very human, they make decisions which they know aren't the best, they struggle through hard times and feel like they should give up. This story is a good portrayal of what some people go through, it is one which everyone should be aware of.