Review Blog

Jul 03 2018

Running on empty by S. E. Durrant

cover image

Nosy Crow, 2018. ISBN 9780857637406
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Themes: Disability. Athletics. Family. Grief and loss. Persistence and perseverence. AJ is a pretty normal kid, trying to work out life after the death of his loving and gracious grandfather - a man who was a mentor and an inspiration in his life. This grandfather had created a passion for running in AJ's life and he was desperate to honour his grandfather's memory by continuing to run. And... his parents have learning difficulties. Because of this AJ is very much missing his grandfather's support, because now he has to take on even more responsibility and try and avoid any bills that 'have red' on them. AJ also has an Aunty, Uncle and young cousin, Aisha, in his life. None of them have a problem with AJ's parents - they are all just people trying to do their very best; and Aisha just brings joy wherever she goes with her innocent enthusiasm and honesty. This is the story of the pre-teen AJ as he adjusts and strives and copes with supporting and caring for his parents, while trying to make them proud and protecting them from the worst of reactions from those outside the family, including his school teachers. AJ also has the added fear that if anyone finds out that Grandfather can no longer help them, that he might have to be taken into care. His growth and budding maturity is hinted at in his insights into how others may react, and in his own misdirected responses to those around him, but he lacks the discernment that would save him from some pain.
This is a beautiful story of unconditional love, of people doing their absolute best in the most trying of circumstances and of one young boy's fierce loyalty in the face of loss and great difficulty. This is a book that will inspire, as AJ only knows the richness of the love he shares in his family. AJ and his parents' honourable simplicity and naivete will be evident to an older reader, and this makes this a book that can be enjoyed by older readers. Just as the two books, The boy in the striped pyjamas and Wonder communicate complex ideas through a naive narrator, this book speaks with incredible power through the youthful voice. A pair of running shoes becomes a powerful symbol of love, hope and care. This is a 'must read' book, and will be enjoyed by all who pick it up to read. And please allow young teenagers to read it too, because they will recognise the themes, but also be buoyed by the persistence of AJ and his parents despite their lack of privilege.
Highly recommended for ages 10+
Carolyn Hull

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