Review of Double or Nothing

Double or Nothing is a disturbing book about a most disturbing issue. Gambling and gambling addiction are worldwide phenomena. Double or Nothing, however, opens our eyes to a more hidden issue, but one that is rapidly on the rise—that of teenage gambling.

The book is extremely clever in that it shows how exciting school life becomes for Kip and his friends as they make bets and gamble on the odds, and just how easy it is to get involved. What begins as a game to liven up boring classes spreads like wildfire amongst the group, and they find themselves betting on virtually anything—sports results, drag races, even belches! Kip even makes bets against himself. An ironic twist to the tale, however, enables Kip to meet Joey, a girl he falls in love with immediately, who he meets, of course, over a bet.

Joey is full of mystery and surprises, not to mention magic, being the daughter and assistant of the famous illusionist King Hewitt. Kip spends as much time as he can with Joey and her charismatic father, who turns out to be a gambler. Kip finds himself torn between the love he has for Joey and the excitement he feels while learning the ropes from her father. “Part One of me is right there for her, hating what her dad does and what he’s done to her. Part Two of me is totally pumped about continuing to meet her dad so I can learn some new moves” (p. 69).

Kip spends every moment he can with King at the racetrack betting on the horses or playing the poker machines at the casino, because for a while Kip really is a winner. He soon leaves his small-time bets and school friends behind and is swept away by the chance of winning big money. He sees King winning thousands and knows that he can do it too. He seems blind to the fact that King also loses thousands, because he knows of course that his losing streak will be short-lived. King is so much fun and so full of life that Kip is powerless in his hands. He does everything King asks, including lending him money, but he thinks that’s okay too, because he trusts him completely. “No complaints from me, even if he did lose my money. When he’s flush again, he’ll pay me back. Double. It’s a total win-win situation” (p. 77).

Needless to say, Kip soon finds himself neglecting both his work and school, not to mention Joey. He begins to dip into his college fund, and when his mother asks him to deposit her pay into her credit card account, he dips into that too. It isn’t long before a $100 debt turns into thousands, but he is convinced that he only needs that one big win to pay it all back–with interest. “I’m down just seven grand. You might think that’s a lot of money…I’ve seen guys blow that much on one bet. My seven grand has gone a long way, because I’m smart, and I play it slow and careful” (p. 119). Well…what can you say to logic like that?

His life turns into one continuous lie, a common scenario for addicts. He lies to his mother, his boss, Joey, his friends, his teachers, and of course himself. Lying and addiction go hand in hand, which is something Joey despises. But still he looks at other addicts at both the track and the casino and knows that he is different, smarter, truly a winner.

Early in the book (p. 16), Kip gives us two important lessons about gambling. “Number One: Attitude, attitude, attitude…winners win. And I am the living proof…. Number Two: Never get ahead of yourself…. Once you’re out of the moment, you lose the buzz. And when you lose the buzz, you lose the bet.” The trouble is though, Kip never loses the buzz. But he sure loses the bet.

King also gives advice, “You can’t learn to win till you’re prepared to lose it all” (p. 58), which King certainly does. But Joey knows more than both of them about gambling and gamblers: “Nobody wins” (p. 63), she tells Kip. And she’s dead right; you can bet on it!

After finding out how easy it is to gamble on the Internet using a credit card, even if it is your mum’s credit card, it isn’t long before Kip is down 12 grand. Joey, of course, finds out. So does his mum. Kip truly hits rock bottom. This is a powerful book, one that easily catches the reader up in the excitement, but as an outsider looking in one can see Kip’s falls long before he does, which is enough to put anyone off.

Foon has produced an excellent book, one that sees life through the eyes of a teenager, sounds like a teenager, and hits home with a powerful message. He puts together the final chapter brilliantly. In it we meet the clean, straight Kip. He’s given up gambling, gone back to school, and is working two jobs to earn money for college, because now he has a new ambition. His plan is to “Do a business degree, make some connections, get out and become a stock broker” (p. 167). This new Kip is quite convincing. He’s no longer a betting man, but the final few lines give it all away. Although Joey won’t have anything to do with him, Kip is sure he’ll get her back–“I will…. You see I made a bet with myself. Two hundred that I get her back. Even odds” (p. 168).

While this book deals with an extremely controversial topic and teachers and parents may worry that it could encourage students to gamble, instead I believe it is written in such a way to make readers really think, and that could generate powerful classroom discussion and debate. At first I too thought it encouraged gambling, but Foon places his readers in a far more knowledgeable position than Kip, who constantly sees himself a winner even after losing all. We as readers can see things for what they really are. Ten out of ten, Mr. Foon. This is a great book.
– Sarah Prince, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy