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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Running on Empty, written by Don Aker. HarperTrophyCanada, 2012. $14.99 ages 13 and up

"Over and done with, thought Ethan. For you, maybe. After working all those gruelling shifts at the Chow Down, he still had no car and, as of ten seconds ago, had no cash again either. Hard to move on when I don't have the wheels to move on with. But he kept his mouth shut. What was the point, anyway?"

Ethan Palmer and his father do not see eye-to-eye. His father is determined that Ethan has lessons to learn about responsibility and maturity. When Ethan hits the garage door when returning home with his father's car, that lesson is stated unequivocally. Ethan will pay for all the damage to the car (not the insurance company) and he will also pay to repair the garage door because of his carelessness.

That decision, which drains Ethan's bank account of every cent of the money he has been saving to buy his dream car, is the catalyst for the rest of the action in this well told story. He wants that car and it was within reach. How will he earn that money back, and quickly? To add insult to injury, there is a cutback in hours at the pool where he has been working. He needs a new job.

Enter Lil, Ike and the other folks at the Chow Down, a local diner where Ethan finds work, and more trouble. Money is the motivating factor for his job and ends up being the motivation for his becoming involved with a shady customer named Hornsby who teaches lessons in sure-fire wins at gambling. With the Cobra always in his sights, Ethan is enticed into the black hole that gambling can be. He wins, then loses; the cycle repeats until his online gambling has him owing money to friends and stealing from family. Finally, he agrees to work with Hornsby to get himself out of debt. You can imagine only begin to imagine what is asked of him; its end results are life-changing for Ethan's entire family.

In dealing with the aftermath of that terrifying evening, much is discovered about the family and the images built to protect everyone from the past. As father and son come clean to each other, the healing process can begin. While we are left at the end wondering about the future, we know that Ethan is in a better place than he was at the beginning, facing some truths that needed to be faced in order for the family to move forward.

Oh boy, these characters! At times they were so erratic and annoying that I felt like screaming at them. Just what Don Aker wanted from me, I suspect. As the story plays out, and the action unfolds, I came to understand them and their motivation. They didn't make it easy.     

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