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Running on Empty

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  195 ratings  ·  45 reviews
AJ’s grandfather has always been the one to keep his unusual family together, so when he dies things start to unravel at the edges.

AJ is worried about his parents but they don’t really seem to notice. In order to deal with his grief and to keep his anxiety at bay, AJ does what he and his grandfather did best: running. Round and round the Olympic Park, aiming for the nation
Paperback, 208 pages
Published March 1st 2018 by Nosy Crow
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Average rating 3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  195 ratings  ·  45 reviews

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Ms. Yingling
Library copy

AJ's parents have developmental disabilities. His mother works stocking shelves at a grocery store, but his father finds it hard to leave the house and spends most of the time in the garden. His grandfather had lived down the street, and cared for the family, but recently died of a heart attack after running with AJ. AJ's aunt, Josephine, also lives nearby with his cousin Aisha, but she is expecting a baby and AJ doesn't want to bother her. Things are not going as smoothly as AJ woul
Daisy May Johnson
Running On Empty: a story of family, relationships, and of knotty moments and problems that need solving but don't have easy solutions, a story of life, really. It's the second novel from SE Durrant (the first, A Little Bit Of Sky, I review here). She's an interesting writer in that she kind of slides into the heart of things and does so in a very gentle, truthful and honest manner. She's a writer with heart, and Running On Empty is full of it.

AJ, the twelve year old lead, is having a bit of a
Katy Noyes
Aug 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Realistic narrator in a tale of dreams and realities.

4.5 stars

A boy with dreams to run, the granddad who encourages him... AJ is talented, but he has things holding him back - both his parents have learning disabilities, there is little money, he can't get inside the local Olympic stadium to train. And then his world falls apart when his beloved granddad dies, leaving both himself and his family without its centre.

With worries about the bills at home, no running trainers to wear at school, the e
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-books
"I pretend I'm running for my life, which isn't that difficult because maybe I am. . . ." - AJ
Aww 😍 this was nice, I really enjoyed it!
A boy named AJ live with his broke and "special family" (Mom, dad, and the most special, Grandad) with a dream of running. AJ is starting Primary school which is a big deal. But then, Grandad dies and AJ is having a hard time excepting that. With his aunt Josephine having a baby and his uncle Tyler helping, AJ is handling all the bills, as a soon to be 12 Yea
Sarah AF
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: emily
I found it a really enjoyable book to read! It shows you what it would be like for a teenager to have parents with learning difficulties and what events could happen after a loved one has passed away. A.J loves to run. Yes, as the author said, he gets it from his grandfather however I feel the author made him a little too self indulgent when it came to running. - Emily
Jan 01, 2018 rated it liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this thoughtful little book.

Running on Empty is the story of AJ. AJ lives in East London, close to the Olympic park and is a runner. AJ's grandfather dies early on in the book and the story the follows shows how AJ deals with life without his rock.

AJ has such a tough time because his parents both have learning difficulties. They are kind and loving people who work but they heavily relied on AJs grandfather to keep things ticking over as he looked after the running of the h
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was a nice little story, but I think it barely skimmed the surface of what it would be like to have two parents with learning difficulties.
Andrew Davies
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
AJ is a typical 12-year old boy in Year 7: he loves running, has a love-hate relationship with his little cousin Aisha and a crush on the girl who works at a local shop.....except that his parents both have learning difficulties and he's struggling to come to terms with the loss of his grandfather. Whilst written in very simple, down-to-earth language, this heart-warming story gives a perceptive insight into the emotional turmoil young carers experience, trying to cope with 'grown-up' issues alo ...more
Eleven-year-old AJ loves to run, especially because it allows him to spend time with his beloved grandfather, who was also a runner when he was young. But when the elderly man dies unexpectedly, AJ is left rudderless, confused and looking for something to hold onto. As he practices running up and down the stairs in his apartment, he also shoulders the responsibility for his special needs parents, trying to help out at home and sort out the bills. But eleven is too young for all that responsibili ...more
Carmen Haselup
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a very special book. Full of heart and honesty it perfectly expresses a child's view of an unfair world. AJ's parents have learning difficulties and his grandfather, who used to keep everything going, has died, leaving it up to AJ to be responsible. He is a young carer with the weight of adult worries on his shoulders. Durrant beautifully portrays the suffocating nature of these anxieties and the way they drown out everything else.
But this is also a book filled with hope and family and ...more
Sarah Hay
Oct 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: j
AJ's family has always relied on his grandfather to help them with things as his parents have some disabilities (these are never really defined by the author, more explained as they would be by a child who sees them as being different from other people but also used to them as they are). When grandfather dies AJ and his parents must learn to cope with the loss and learn to deal with things without his help. AJ and his grandfather had enjoyed running and AJ uses that as a means for coping but whe ...more
Cindy Mitchell *Kiss the Book*
Running on Empty by S.E. Durrant, 200 pages. Holiday House, 2018. $18.

Language: G (0 swears); Mature Content: G; Violence: G.



Eleven-year-old AJ thinks about running constantly, but when his grandfather, who ran with him, passes away, AJ has to grapple with his complex feelings for running. To make matters even more complex, AJ’s parents have intellectual disabilities and when AJ’s shoes are too small, he doesn’t know if his parents have the
Valerie McEnroe
While I enjoyed this book, I can't see kids getting into it. The writing is a bit artificial, written in a voice that appeals more to adults. There's a poverty theme kids might be drawn to and death of a beloved grandparent, but both parents having slow mental functioning was too much.

A.J. loves to run, just like his grandfather. He loves Usain Bolt. He got to see him perform at the London Olympics. Then his grandfather died. His grandfather was the stability in his life. He checked in on his me
Teresa Bateman
Dec 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
AJ is 11, and he's a runner. He always ran with Grandad. it was their "thing." Grandad also helped take care of AJ and his parents who are wonderful people but appear to be suffering from slight mental handicaps. Now Grandad is gone, however, and AJ isn't sure what to do. He can't trust his parents to take care of basic things, or so he believes. The aunt he might lean on is expecting and busy. His crazy little cousin is good for entertainment but not much else. AJ joins the track team, but his ...more
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
AJ loves to run, especially with his grandpa. When grandpa dies, it leaves a big hole in his life - and not just because of the running. Grandpa also helped out with a lot of other things with his his family because both of AJ's parents are special needs. His mom and dad are very loving and take good care of him but are not good at day to day things like paying bills and going to school conferences, etc. AJ is worried that if he says anything, then he will get reported to CPS and have to go into ...more
Stephen Connor
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
A heart-warming story about AJ, an eleven-year-old boy who lives with his parents, both of whom have learning difficulties. The three of them are struggling to adjust to life without recently-deceased Grandad, a man who helped, supported and guided them.

The family begin to spiral into debt, and AJ’s passion for running dwindles when he realises his trainers no longer fit and he can not afford new ones.

AJ’s narration is honest, showing his confusion and sadness now that Grandad is absent, and f
Christina Simpson
This is an amazingly written book about a real world problem from the eyes of a young child. It was eye opening, especially for a teacher who is aware of issues regarding safeguarding and this is definitely a difficult area.
However, I would not shy away from using this in the classroom. The themes about inspirational people and disabilities could definitely be a talking point in a PSHCE lesson. Also for reading comprehension, this would be a good book to answer questions from.
Overall, It was a
Mary Lee
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So many of our EL kids have to cover for their parents. This story of a kid who covers for his disabled parents might resonate with them. AJ's PE teacher is realistically complex, seeming at first indifferent and mean, but really just making his best assumptions based on the information he has at the time. It's what we all do. When we know better, we do better. The stress and grief AJ feels after his grandfather's death seem very realistically portrayed. ...more
Reader Girl
My daughter, a runner, encouraged me to read this book because "it's about running". I'm actually surprised she liked it, because nothing really happens in the story. To me, the beauty of the book is in its sadness. An eleven-year-old boy has two loves in his life: running and his family. When he believes he is forced to choose between them, he chooses his family. The story illustrates how important communication is and how many trials can be avoided just by talking them. ...more
Katy Smith
Sep 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Running on empty is a book about an 11 year old boy called AJ who loves running, and dreams of one day running at the Olympic Stadium. However, when AJ's Grandfather (and running partner) dies AJ struggles with helping his parents, who both have learning difficulties and dealing with grief. This book contains several themes that could be used in classroom discussions - links to PSHE.
Recommended age 9-12.
Suzanne Bhargava
Lovely little vignettes capturing moments in one boy’s life, after he’s lost his beloved grandpa, and as he’s starting secondary school. While sometimes very sad, it’s is ultimately an uplifting, feel-good book. It reminds us of the importance of family and friends, of having someone to confide in, and finding kindness in the most unexpected places.
Carol Moore Kollar
Dec 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: gr-5-8
Grandpa has always looked after A.J. And his parents since they have learning challenged. However, when Grandpa dies, A.J. Feels it is now his job. Past due "red" bills, no money for the electric meter, and no running shoes are a few challenges A. J. Must face. Set in London close to the Olympic Stadium, readers will enjoy a bit of Olympic history. ...more
Lisa Trank
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a beautiful and tender book about grief, family, and hope. AJ is a stunning main character whose voice rings true throughout. His doubts, his mix of love and embarrassment about his parents, his beautiful and funny relationship with his cousin Aisha and mostly his deep love for his Grandad. Lovely!
Jun 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I cried. So I feel like that says it all. This was a beautiful and sad book. Wow. Gives you second look on your own life. Gets into the life of people with learning disabilities. It was beautiful. Quick read (the main character is 11 years old.) I picked it up on a whim at the library. Glad I spent my time enjoying this book.
Tracey White
Jun 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this book to my 10 yo, we loved it! Such a moving story. It cut a bit close to the bone sometimes, my son has a great relationship with his grandad as does the boy in the book, but that's what makes the story so good. It's all about relationships, friendships, hardships and of course, running! Briliant! ...more
Dec 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
When AJ's grandfather dies, his life seems to spiral out of control in a matter of days. AJ's parents are around, but due to their learning disabilities they aren't able to maintain a stable living environment. My full review can be found here: ...more
Oct 16, 2018 rated it liked it
A sweet and occasionally tear-jerking story of a boy who loves to run, dealing with the struggles of growing up and acting as a young carer for his parents who have special needs. AJ's an engaging hero and I loved how the book went from hilarious moments to touching emotional sections. ...more
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I think this could have done with being a bit longer and the characters more fleshed out for the reader's sake, but as a book from the POV of an eleven/twelve year old, it works really well to have that vague sense of impotence, since that's essentially what being eleven/twelve is like. ...more
Thomas Rist
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was very good. It had a lot of description and really made you feel a part of this book. When the characters were sad it made me feel sad to. This book is a very good book to read and I would really recommend that you read this book.
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. Another wonderful book from SE Durrant. While not a tearjerker like Little Bits of Sky, it's thought provoking and should appeal to boys and girls. ...more
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Author S. E. Durrant spent her childhood in Scotland before moving to Leicestershire when she was twelve. She now lives in Brighton with her partner and two teenage children

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