Summary: Seventeen year-old Ethan has a chip on his shoulder a mile wide. Every thing is everyone else’s fault and he deeply resents having to face the consequences of his own actions. This attitude of entitlement leads him down a self-destructive road that will take away almost everything he has and put his closest relationships to the test. Hopefully he’ll be able to pull himself out of it before anyone gets hurt.
Number of Pages: 265
Age Range: 15-17
Review: The interesting part of reading more than one book by an author is developing a sense of their specific writing techniques. In Don Aker’s case, it’s all about a story with drama, suspense, tension and explaining intense scenes by jumping ahead.
The first time I read Running on Empty, I was practically screaming at Aker to tell me what happened to Raye! The second time, today, since I already knew, the tension wasn’t as heightened and strong, and I didn’t have to shout. He leaves his reader suspended right till the end though, so if you haven’t read this book before be prepared for a gut-wrenching ride.
Ethan is not exactly the most likeable character, but the dynamic between him and his father was page-turning. Watching Ethan spiral out of control deeper and deeper into his gambling addiction reminded me a bit of The Opposite of Tidy by Carrie Mac because it was like seeing an accident and not being able to tear your eyes away. Again, my favourite part was Ethan’s little sister Raye, and also like Way to Go by Tom Ryan I thought it was interesting how Aker had a character who tipped with lottery tickets. Is this a Nova Scotia thing?
I would recommend this book for male teen readers because I think its’ grittiness will hold their interest and in the end it has a positive if hard fought message.
“The Chow Down, on the other hand, seemed to attract every oddball, cheapskate, and family with kids under five. Kids who screeched at their parents, upset their food, balled up the pages of the colouring books Lil kept on hand, and threw crayons Ethan brought them in Styrofoam cups. Reaching down for a stub of Burnt Sienna that looked like it had been gnawed on, he could understand why some species ate their young.” – from Running on Empty by Don Aker, page 48
“Ethan looked at his blue-haired, tongue-studded, frequently fake-tattooed sister and couldn’t believe this was the same kid who, years ago, used to follow him around like a puppy, her short legs pumping madly to keep up. A lot of older brothers would have minded, but Ethan hadn’t. He said he did, or course, but most of the time it was just an act for his buddies. He actually liked having Raye around. Some of it, he now knew, had to do with their mother dying; they had filled a void for each other at the time. But the rest of it had to do with Raye.” – from Running on Empty by Don Aker, page 96
“‘Nothing stays the same, Ethan,’ she’d told him. ‘The one thing you can count on is that everything changes.'” – Ethan’s mom from Running on Empty by Don Aker, page 170
“‘All you think about is yourself. You’re so wrapped up in what you want, what you think you need, that you don’t give a damn about anyone else. An old guy lives on soup and you can’t even give him back the cost of the ticket he bought you. That’s cold.'” – Pete from Running on Empty by Don Aker, page 183
“He learns when to split, learns about card counting, learns there is so much more to the game than he’d imagined. In some ways blackjack is like physics, unseen forces working in the background, the dealer a kind of gravity bringing everything back to centre. But blackjack is also not like physics. Because these forces he understands. There is a cool logic here that seems sensible, safe.” – from Running on Empty by Don Aker, page 189