Study Guide

The Rules of Survival Perseverance

By Nancy Werlin


I looked for Murdoch for the rest of my thirteenth year. The first thing I did was go back to the convenience store to ask the teenage clerk if he had seen that man before, or if he knew whether he lived nearby, or if he knew anything at all about him. (4.1)

When Matthew and Callie first see Murdoch, they are immediately obsessed. Not in a creepy way, but they just want to find him and get to know him because he's like a hero. They'll do anything to hunt him down.

It took my breath away, that final name. I sat there for a while, remembering how Callie had helped me with science homework that year. My homework should have been over her head. (10.8)

It shocks Matthew when he realizes that Callie wants to become a doctor at some point. He's been consumed with making sure that they survive, but Callie has dared to dream bigger. She wants to work hard and really make it in life.

"You're still hoping, like Emmy. But you know what? Murdoch's not some superhero who's going to swoop in and change everything. That dream is over. Our life is what it is. Don't you see? It's getting dangerous to go on dreaming that it's going to be different." (18.34)

Callie doesn't approve of Matthew's hope that things will get better, and she thinks that it's dangerous to see their life as anything other than what it is. They're bound to get hurt if they believe that adults will actually care about them.

"No," I said. "You don't understand. It's not out of her system. She's just getting started. She's got other plans for you." (25.26)

Murdoch has clearly underestimated Nikki if he thinks that she'll just leave him alone now that she's broken his car windows. According to Matthew, Nikki is just getting started. She's not going to stop anytime soon.

They were already… not friends, exactly. But allies. They were talking regularly, all those weeks during which I thought Murdoch had forgotten us. (29.26)

Even though Murdoch has no legal of familial obligation to help the kids, he doesn't quit. He keeps looking for ways to get them out of their bad family situation because he is truly invested in their wellbeing.

She started with phone calls. Murdoch got a lot of hang-ups from a "private number." Then she let messages that contained nothing but breathing. Sometimes so many messages came, so quickly, that Murdoch's voice mail message quota would completely fill up and people who wanted to leave an honest business message couldn't. (32.3)

Did Murdoch really believe that something as silly (and simple) as a restraining order would keep Nikki from bugging him? No way. She's just getting started on her harassment campaign.

She shook her head. "No. I didn't hear a thing. Not a word. And I don't want to hear it, Matt. I'm so tired of your fantasies and your dreams." And then she put her hands into the straps of her backpack and turned and ran as fast as she could away from me. (34.11)

As time wears on, Callie starts to lose her spark for life and optimism, and instead of working hard and hoping for the best, she becomes jaded. After all, things don't seem like they're getting any better. They're stuck with Nikki.

All this time, Nikki continued stalking Murdoch. She followed him in her car, watching whatever he did, and with whom. There were the calls, too—his home phone ringing repeatedly in the middle of the night. (35.1)

Nikki may not be able to keep a job, but boy oh boy, can she keep up with her stalking goals. She doesn't tire at all when it comes to harassing Murdoch. If anything, she ups the ante.

Over the next few weeks, Nikki quickly showed her dedication to making the house totally uninhabitable.

You could count on her screaming or playing music loudly at two or three in the morning. At any time of the day or night, there might be a bout of thudding and smashing that made Aunt Bobbie moan helplessly. (45.2-3)

You have to give Nikki props for showing us how to really hold a grudge. She doesn't give Matthew or Aunt Bobbie a pass for being her family—instead, she commits to making their lives completely miserable.

I was grateful to Murdoch, who kept in touch several times a day, even though he was having his own problems with Nikki. His front door, too, had gotten the phosphorescent treatment, and in her spare time, Nikki had taken up stalking him again. (45.11)

Matthew is finally convinced that Murdoch is here to stay… and that he's not going to bow out like all the other adults in his life. Even though Murdoch may not technically be family, he's shown the kids more consistency than most guardian figures in their life—including Nikki.