________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 21 . . . . February 2, 2018


Running on Empty. (Orca Sports).

Sonya Spreen Bates.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2018.
169 pp., pbk., pdf & epub., $9.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1653-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-1654-1 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-1655-8 (epub).

Grades 8-11 / Ages 13-17.

Review by Teresa Iaizzo.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



I never thought I'd get a chance to make history. And yet here I was, one race away from sending my school into the record books.

It was May of my junior year. Gilburn High had made the interschool track championships. Nothing new there. We'd taken home the trophy six years running. But this year was different. Rivalry between the schools in Monterey was fierce. If we won again, we would have the longest winning streak in fifty years. The thing is, McKenzie High was strong. With a few talented freshman and sophomores coming through the ranks, they'd already won two golds, four silvers and a bunch of minor placings. All that was left to run was the open boys 4x100m relay. We were neck and neck in the points tally. It was the deciding race.

That's where I came in. Coach Dunstan had chosen me as anchor. Me. Leon Kline. A junior.

Meet Leon Kline, a 17 year old high school track star who loses everything one day because of a freak running accident. With his hopes of an athletic scholarship gone, Leon must come to terms with his new life. But who exactly is he? Leon cannot even fathom an answer as he starts to lose his purpose in life.

      Then one day he meets Casey De Vries, a mysterious young burn victim who starts to give Leon hope. She is the spark that he needs to get running again. But as Leon starts to heal thanks to Casey, he starts to realize that he does not know anything about her. Who is Casey De Vries? As Leon comes to terms with Casey's murky past, he must learn how to forge a future for himself, with or without her.

      Without giving too much away, Running on Empty is a smartly written coming-of-age story that raises the question: Do people really change? With his whole world turned upside down, Leon must deal head-on with who he is as a person deep down inside. Is he willing to change, and is it even possible? Moreover, when he discovers what Casey has been up to, can he forgive her? Will she be able to change as well?

      Throughout Running on Empty, Sonya Spreen Bates deftly takes the reader through the ups and downs of growing up. She expertly portrays real life struggles without making them too cliché. Moreover, in Leon Kline, we have found a character for whom the reader is willing to root. He is a down on his luck teen who is just barely hanging on when he finds someone who changes his whole outlook on life. But then he discovers that his inspiration is not perfect; she, too, has flaws. Now what? Everyone can relate to this amazingly simple yet extremely complex paradox.

      In the end, I recommend Running on Empty to young readers around the world who may also feel down on their luck and are working on their very own comeback.


Teresa Iaizzo is a librarian with the Toronto Public Library.

To comment on this title or this review, contact cm@umanitoba.ca.

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