AJ is just like any other eleven-year-old boy, apart from two things. One- his running abilities and two- his parents have learning difficulties.
Just as he is starting secondary school, determined to make a name for himself as a runner, AJ's grandfather dies, leaving the family bereft and AJ determined to fill the role his grandfather had taken in supporting his parents- and not be taken into care.
With his pregnant aunt and morose uncle too consumed with their own problems to notice anything wrong, AJ has to deal with disappointment, anxiety and putting his ambitions aside to keep his family together.
Beautifully written, 'Running on Empty' offers a glimpse into the life of a young carer who has to deal with concerns beyond his years. AJ is an interesting character and the first person narrative allows us to see his jealousy and misunderstanding of others, his embarrassment and odd ways of handling awkward situations- in other words, the genuine reactions of an eleven-year-old, coping with the emotions of growing up, let alone the additional concerns he now has to face. Even his uncle shows frustration with- almost dislike of- his nephew at times. But this makes AJ a very believable character and as the story develops, it is easy to warm to him and empathise with his situation- all the more so as he asks for no sympathy.
The story also shows how outsiders can so easily judge another's situation. AJ recalls his confusion when his Reception teacher told him his parents were special- how lucky he was to have them...' but she didn't say it like how lucky I'd be if mum and dad were Hollywood film stars.' His grandfather's calm response should make us all think: 'sometimes people think being different is a problem but actually it can be a very nice thing.'
Relationships in their many forms are at the heart of this story and are skilfully portrayed. A brilliant read, 'Running on Empty' is highly recommended and would be excellent for use in class.
Running on Empty by S E Durrant
Nosy Crow ISBN: 978-0857637406
Publication date: March 1st 2018