Dear Don Aker,
I’m a ninth grade student that recently finished your novel “Running On Empty”. The book stood out to me in the school library and it is not just from the extreme image plastered on the cover, but also from the intriguing summary. Just like what Quill & Quire wrote in their review: “Aker’s sure and swift style drives the story with vigour… before bringing it to a resounding climax.” The climax is very drastic and unexpected, which creates the resounding finish. I never saw what Link Hornsby did coming; I thought he was a better person than that. The protagonist you conjured; Ethan Palmer, is as round as a soccer ball, as well very dynamic. The resolution was very powerful and truly demonstrated how Ethan changed. During this part of the story I really pondered about what I think is important in my life and I truly realized material items are trivial just like what Ethan discovered through his crazy adventure, “What do I think is important now?” asked the onscreen Ethan back on Macdonald bridge. “What do I know is important?” he glanced away, swallowing hard before turning back to the camera. “Only one thing: moments when you can tell the people you love how much you care for them. I’ve wasted too many of those, and that’s a mistake I’ll never make again. For anyone watching this now who may not know her, I’d like to introduce my sister, Raye. She saved my life.” (Aker, 262). Unfortunately someone had to die first for him to realize.
I really enjoyed how much thought and effort you put into many of the main characters such as his girlfriend, Allie, his sister Raye and his best friend, Pete. Many of the characters you developed felt real; unlike many other books I have read where they have felt fictitious and non-relatable. Were there any characters you developed whom you saw a piece of yourself in? I wish though you could have made the secondary characters more round because Boots for example sounded very interesting “He may get the cheapest thing on the menu, but Boots has too much pride to leave only a buck for a tip. With the ticket, he’s leavin’ you a chance for a whole lot more” (Aker, 89) , but you never revealed anything about him, not even his real name. In the exposition, Ethan/other main characters and the setting (Halifax) were described very well and thoroughly, but I thought it was a bit tedious due to the first chapter being only about racing the car home and damaging the house. By adding that part you made the action start right away, which I found was terrific, but at the same time the action wasn’t demonstrated the best it could have been. I found it really neat how you wrote a novel about teen gambling and the effects that it has on teens and their families. What inspired you to write a novel about that theme? You included slight indications of other addictions such as drugs and alcohol, for example: “Your mother was an addict, Ethan.” “What?” “Prescription drugs. It’s why I left her. I couldn’t put up with it. I wouldn’t. I loved her, but I wouldn’t go through that all again.” (Aker, 250), which made me think that one theme/message you were trying to get across was that small things lead in to bigger things. For example, Ethan starts off by just earning a quick 20 bucks from a bet, but then quickly after that he starts using the lottery tickets and then he gets wound up in a problem with blackjack gambling. Now after reading the story the bet at the beginning of the story seemed like it was foreshadowing the issue that Ethan was going to get caught up in later on. Another theme that went by me is: every action has a consequence. Ethan’s dad stresses this many times and as Ethan calls it, it is one of his “life lessons”. It is true though, sometimes the consequences are negative, but they can be positive as well. When I first started digging into this book I thought it was going to be like many other books I have read where the protagonist learns a lesson after being caught up in the wrong crowd but I was inaccurate. You developed Ethan into a selfish person that only worried about himself and by the end he realized he threw all the important things away such as girlfriend, sister and his relationship with his dad for what he thought he needed, money. I think the antagonist of story was money because money was the reason why he started gambling and isolated himself from everybody else. Also it kept him away from realizing what truly is important to him. I can’t wait to dig into another one of your books, which will be: “The Fifth Rule”. Thank you so much for writing this novel, it really made me rethink of what is important in life. I was wondering though, how long it took you to write this novel? I look forward to other pieces of writings you have created. I wish you the best in your career and in your next book. It is books like this that keep my passion of reading alive.