Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Running On Empty by Don Aker (Review)

Genre:Young Adult, Contemporary, Thriller, Drama
Publication.Date  April 23rd 2012
Published By:  Harper Collins Canada  | 
WebsiteDon Aker| 

Running On Empty - Goodreads
My review copy:Finished Copy received from Harper Collins Canada in exchange for an honest review
Where to get:

Ethan Palmer just wants the car, and he’s finally saved enough money to buy it. That is, until he accidentally rams his dad’s Volvo into their garage. It’s not like his lawyer/politician father can’t afford to pay for the damages—after all, they do have insurance—but his lecture-prone old man is all about teaching him Big Life Lessons. When he makes Ethan use his savings instead of the insurance, owning the Mustang Cobra SVT turns into an unattainable dream. Or does it? Lured by the promise of easy money, Ethan finds himself caught up in the world of online gambling, only to discover that he’s exchanged one problem for another. His downward spiral intensifies when he learns the secret his dad has been hiding from him, and it takes a shocking act of violence to serve as a wakeup call for both father and son and offer a final chance to heal the growing rift between them. (Goodreads)

Ethan cursed, then cursed again. He wondered what advice Ann Almighty might have given him at that moment, and he recalled something his father had often told him and Raye when they were little. Something his grandmother was supposed to have told her own children time and time again: Make every obstacle an opportunity. 
Everything was ruined. He felt broken inside, like the tree a windstorm had brought down in the yard behind their house in Herring Cove.
And in less than fifteen minutes, he'd lost it all.

     Full of emotional honesty and thoroughly riveting reflections, Running On Empty is a gripping, haunting and memorable story of one teenager's downward spiral into the dangerous world of money-borrowing, gambling and guns. Beautifully structured and written with utmost care for details, it's a fascinating exploration of dreams, expectations, disappointments, and ambitious goals that, if pursued blindly and ruthlessly, have just as much power to create, as they have to destroy. 

     Ethan is just two days away from his eighteenth birthday. Only two days away from being able to finally buy his dream car, a gorgeous Mustang Cobra. He's been working really hard, saving up every penny for more than a year and a half. This car is his dream, he can't wait to slide into the driver's seat and feel the thrum of the engine. But, only two days before his dream is about to come true, his hopes and plans are suddenly shattered to pieces by his own reckless actions and the unforgiving character of his father. When Ethan - driven by a stupid 20 dollar bet - rams his father's car into the garage door, he's about to get yet another bitter life lesson from his strict lawyer/politician dad. Ethan's dad is almost filthy rich and he could easily let the insurance company pay for all the damage, but that wouldn't teach Ethan anything, would it? So instead, he decides to make him use all the meticulously saved up cash to pay for the repairs, using this occasion to teach his son yet another priceless, life-changing and absolutely necessary lesson. Desperate to find a way out of this situation, Ethan starts looking for ways to make some quick and easy money. But the thing about money is it's never quick and easy, and if it appears to be.. well, then you better brace yourself for all the trouble that will come with it. And there will be trouble. Plenty of it. 

     I loved this book. I loved its honesty and clarity, and the way Don Aker skilfully weaved the plot, presenting us with an absolutely phenomenal examination of the motives behind Ethan's actions. The tension was building up slowly, but steadily, and although I wouldn't say that the book was moving at a break-neck speed, it definitely had a great flow that allowed me to stay focused on the plot all the way through. The premise of this book was something new, too. I have never read a book that would tackle the issue of teenage gambling and its consequences, and in such an excellent way, too! Don Aker nailed it to the very last detail. He captured all the riveting emotions, too, from the excitement and hopefulness, to the desperation, anger, and panic. I loved how the story progressed, starting off quite innocent and then getting darker and heavier with ever chapter. Running on Empty had a really great build-up, followed by a thoroughly devastating conclusion. 

     Ethan was a genuine and very convincing character, almost achingly so. The author perfectly captured his personality, complete with all its virtues and flaws. He was hard-working, dedicated, focused and persistent. When he decided he wanted something, he would find a way to get it. No matter what. After the accident with his father's car, he was angry and let down, but he never gave up on his dreams. Of course, in hindsight, his almost crazy determination pushed him to do some really dangerous things. He made some bad decisions and, eventually, his life spun totally out of control. What started off as a power struggle between him and his father, quickly escalated into a far more serious situation, and one that would put people's lives in jeopardy. 

     Ethan's father was a very interesting, well-drawn character himself. He wasn't physically present all the time, but his constant demands, Big Life Lessons, and never-ending criticism affecter Ethan in more than just one way. He was overly ambitious and wanted to see Ethan succeed entirely on his own, to the point that he'd make him earn his own pocket money and pay for all of his expanses from the day his son turned sixteen. Strict, unforgiving, almost cruel at times, Jack Palmer was always giving speeches and forcing Big Life Lessons down his sons throat. He'd say things like: "A person is invariably defined by his ability to meet his obligations." and "Life seldom allows us the luxury of choosing our own consequences." And he would repeat that over and over again. As forceful and harsh as he was towards Ethan, I can't say that he was being mean on purpose. I believe he really did care about his son and wanted nothing more but to ensure that Ethan grows up an intelligent, strong person who will do something meaningful with his life. While I somewhat understood where he was coming from, I didn't care much for his methods, and wished that he'd show his son a little bit more understanding and affection. Because, while his ultimate goal might have been teaching Ethan important lessons about life and money, what he ended up doing was pushing his son just a little bit too much and in a totally wrong direction. 

    Overall, Running On Empty was a really great read. Thrilling, absorbing and ambitious, it's a book full of meaning and hidden messages. While its plot revolves mainly around Ethan's desperate attempts to make money (even if it means doing some potentially risky things), ultimately this book offers so much more than just that. Don Aker presents us with a thoughtful, intelligent and very psychologically accurate examination of a difficult father-son relationship, one tainted by conflict, mistrust, and lack of communication. It's an examination that is just as disturbing as it is moving, and its spot-on accuracy is just as bewildering as it is terrifying. 

     Running On Empty is book worth reading, I highly recommend picking it up!

Stop by at the end of the month for your chance to win this and two other wonderful books from Harper Collins Canada!

This review is posted as part of the Contemporary Fiction Month feature!

Click on the picture for full schedule.

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About the Author
Evie is the Blogger behind Bookish. She enjoys reading many different genres, especially YA, Paranormal, Contemporary Fiction and Fantasy.
She loves talking to authors and is always happy to welcome them for interviews, and guest posts. She also likes spreading the love for awesome books and  chatting with fellow book-worms.
You can find Evie here: Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Shelfari | The Library Thing


Randi M said...

This sounds like a truly unique read! I wish there was more male POV in YA contemporary, so this looks very refreshing. I'm also interested in Ethan & his father's relationship since I can totally relate to the tough love dad situation. Great review! Thanks for sharing, Evie! :)

Rebecca said...

This sounds like an interesting read; thanks for bring it to my attention! Yay, glad to hear you enjoyed this one :)

Alessandra @Out of the Blue said...

It sounds like this book is vert thought out psychologically. Plus, I haven't heard of any other book with the same theme.

Andrea @ Cozy Up said...

This sounds like a really great contemporary read. I like that it is a male character dealing with these issues. I would be interested to see how he deals with all the expectations from his father. Definitely sounds well thought out. Beautiful review Evie!!

Amy said...

I have never heard of this one before, but it sounds like an awesome book. I really enjoy male MC's and it sounds like he is easy to really connect to in the story. Great review hon!!

roro said...

i have never heard of this1
addding to my wishlist
i love how real this feels

Ashley G. said...

This sounds like a great book! I love books that tackle difficult issues. Great review!

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