________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 23 . . . . February 17, 2012


Double or Nothing. Rev. ed.

Dennis Foon.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2011.
212 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $21.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-348-2 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-349-9 (hc.).

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4



It's stunning, really. Here I am, in the grotty hell-hole of Louis Pasteur High School, and with a flick of my pinky, I'm high-rolling it in Amsterdam. I feel like Scotty finally beamed me up. It's all there, every game, every sport. You can bet on the point spread or the total points -- over or under. I gaze at the flashing images, the vast array of sport events begging for my attention. And then I place my bets. Fifty that the Bucks win by ten. A hundred that the Raptors lose by eight. Seventy-five bucks says the Leafs score the first goal. Two hundred, the Blackbirds win by two. And so on.

I can't believe how lucky I am. I found the Web casino in the nick of time. It's a gimme, a no-brainer. The big money's there, you just have to take it. King didn't know when to quit. He kept going after he lost his nerve. Not me. Once I've got a big enough stake, I'm done. All I want is to double my university fund, so I've got a start once I get my BA. No stars in these eyes. I'm not looking for a million. Just a modest, achievable goal.

I put three hundred on Dallas winning by three and call it a day. I'll know by tomorrow night how much I've cleaned up. God, I love the Web.

This is an updated edition of Dennis Foon's 2000 book of the same title (CM, Vol. VI, No. 20, June 9, 2000), and the quotation above is from the new chapter inserted to highlight the extra options now open to gamblers of all ages on the Web. However, the book has not changed in its essence -- it is still a powerful picture of the temptations of the quick buck, and the very real effects of a gambling addiction.

     Kip, a teenager in his last year of high school, has a lot going for him. He's smart, his mother, his uncle, and his teachers all think he's wonderful, college is just around the corner, but ... he's bored. Except when he has a bet going. Whether it's lunchtime poker or whether the English teacher will belch within the next 22 seconds, betting gives him "the buzz" that makes life worth living. And he usually seems to win. Then he meets a wonderful girl whose father is a stage magician, an illusionist ... and a big-time gambler. He introduces Kip to "real" gambling at the track and the casino where Kip quickly learns to be a big-time loser, first with his own money, then with his college fund taken from the bank with his mother's bankcard. And the only way to pay back the money is by chasing the big win. It doesn't work, of course. Kip's girlfriend's father commits suicide; she discovers that Kip is also a heart-and-soul gambler who is prepared to steal even from her to get a stake; and she dumps him. His mother discovers the loss of his college money. Down and out. Nowhere to go but up? Maybe. The final chapter has Kip working three jobs in order to be able to finance his first year at college. His ambition? To "do a degree in business, make some connections, get out and become a stock broker. These guys have it made. Why put your own cash on the line when people will actually pay you to lose theirs for them?" Has he conquered, or even really admitted to, his addiction? No way!

     As I said in my review of the previous edition, this is a difficult book. Kip is in some ways an engaging character, but the fact that at first he gets his kicks from fleecing his buddies out of their spare cash is not endearing. His moving from there to bigger and more impersonal games is so obviously a slippery slope. The question is not whether he will hit bottom, but when, how far down, and how many people he will betray on the way. There are a few --- a very few --- touches of humour, but on the whole this is a somewhat depressing read.

     It is, however, an intensely gripping read. I have encountered a lot of books in the past 11 years, reviewed a number of them, and there aren't many whose plots spring instantly back to mind merely on seeing their titles. Did I like the book? No, I did not. But I remembered it; it made a real impression. I think Dennis Foon has achieved his primary aim, and for that I congratulate him.

     A teacher's guide is available, and I suspect this would make a very good novel study for early high-school students.


Mary Thomas spent one afternoon at a casino some years ago, and hated it, in spite of coming away with more money than she started with.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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