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Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly Hardcover – April 8, 2014

4.8 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up—Arlo Santiago, 17, is a lover of all things extreme, from racing his dirt bike through the New Mexican landscape to competing for the highest score on the video game Drone Pilot. However, it may all be just a cover for dealing with the darkness in his life: his mother's death was all-too sudden, his father drinks too much, and his sister is slowly deteriorating from Huntington's disease. In a plot point that borders a bit on the unbelievable, Arlo's life takes a sudden turn when he is recruited by the United States Air Force to fly a real military drone in an effort to catch the leader of a terrorist group hiding in the mountains of Pakistan. On top of that, his talent for dirt bike racing fuels various dangerous stunts throughout the novel. This sophomore effort from Wesselhoeft feels like a combination of poetry and adrenaline, with sometimes mixed, unfocused results. Fortunately, Arlo is a lyrical wordsmith, and at times, readers can feel transported right into his struggle to deal with his emotions. Other times, however, there's so much action that teens will have to hold on desperately for the ride. Still, it makes for a moving story about loss, love, and learning to let go. Give this to fans of similarly amped-up fiction by Chris Lynch and Carl Deuker.—Kimberly Castle-Alberts, Hudson Library & Historical Society, OH

Review

* "Readers will worry, laugh and ultimately soar along with Arlo as he finds his way. Nuanced supporting characters and a vivid New Mexico landscape ground Arlo’s dilemma, creating a superbly well-balanced narrative."
—Kirkus, starred review

"A moving story about loss, love, and learning to let go."
—School Library Journal

"Wesselhoeft's mesmerizing descriptions of Arlo's New Mexico home...and giddy exhiliration when he's riding his Yamaha bike...will keep readers in the thrill of the moment."
—Publishers Weekly

"Features both a supporting cast lit up with larger-than-life characters and a protagonist who loves flying recklessly close to the edge but makes right choices in the clutch."
—Booklist
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: HL590L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (April 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544232690
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544232693
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #959,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Conrad Wesselhoeft worked as a tugboat hand in Singapore and Peace Corps Volunteer in Polynesia before embarking on a career in journalism. He has served on the editorial staffs of five newspapers, including The New York Times. He is the author of ADIOS, NIRVANA (2010) and DIRT BIKES, DRONES, AND OTHER WAYS TO FLY (2014), two contemporary young-adult novels from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Wesselhoeft began to write for young adults after meeting the acclaimed YA novelist Scott O'Dell (ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS). "When we met, Scott was eighty-five--more than fifty years older than I," Wesselhoeft said. "He was still very active and disciplined as a writer and critiqued my early efforts at writing YA fiction. He taught me many things about writing, but one stands out: Writing is about perseverance--never give up."

Wesselhoeft's ancestors were homeopathic doctors to Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. His three children are in various stages of university study or career exploration. He lives in West Seattle with a poodle named Django. You can learn more about him at conradwesselhoeft.com and adiosnirvana.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Imagine a literary, realistic, contemporary version of Ender's Game.

If this isn't on a bunch of award lists next year, I'll be shocked.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly this author has taken what is actually a very time worn premise and used it as the basis for a story that is surprisingly original and very exciting. We've all read stories and seen movies about the young teen video game master who gets recruited by the government/abducted by aliens/kidnapped by terrorists because he is just so good at video games he can totally change the world. Arlo Santiago is that good at Drone Pilot, which turns out to be a video game that uses the same technology as the government. When White Sands comes calling, Arlo is drawn into the hunt for terrorists and must examine his own feelings about war and what he wants to do with his life. If that was all there was to this story, then I would certainly not be giving this book five stars. Fortunately, there's a lot more to this novel that will speak to young readers with a voice that is unerringly authentic, action that is top notch, and a heart as big as the sky.

Arlo is an adrenaline junkie. When he's not playing Drone Pilot, speeding off to White Sands to work with the military, or performing daring motorcycle jumps, this kid is sky diving. Yep, there's a little bit of everything in this book. Amidst all this action and adventure, Arlo is also dealing with the death of his mother, a father who seems determined to drown his sorrows in a bottle, and a sister with a degenerative, ultimately fatal disease. Add in a new girl who steals his heart, and you get a novel packed with emotion. This novel offers up some truly perceptive and poignant observations on family, love and grief. These characters are so complete and complex that they will steal your heart, spark your imagination and leave you wondering what you would do in their situations.
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Format: Hardcover
Fly with Arlo Santiago on his dirt bike and as he pilots drones over Northwest Pakistan. That's right, dirt bikes and drones in the same breath, just as the title says. But that's only part of this great yarn. At its heart lies Arlo's shattered family that must pull together after his mother's death and his father's newspaper goes under, all set in picturesque New Mexico mesa country. DIRT BIKES is really about the boy's many talents and his big heart, both fueled by generous amounts of testosterone. The characters are just one step the other side of ordinary: the pacing unstoppable. Best part of the book, however, is the author's use of language, pared down to razor-sharp essentials, perfectly reflecting the hero's state of mind. A thrilling read!
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Format: Hardcover
Bought it yesterday and couldn't put it down. Real characters and a very rivetting plot. Just what i was looking for.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Arlo's life on the surface sounds like fun - he rides trick bikes and is the top player in the world at Drone Pilot. But under that he has to deal with his dad crawling into the bottle, his sister's Huntington's problems and they are all grieving the death of their mother. And now he's being hired by the government to fly drones over Pakistan. In some ways I get the parallels to Ender's Game but I think this book is perhaps a little deeper, a little closer to home.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I loved it! The characters are likable, believable, interesting. The dialog is sharp and engaging. The New Mexico setting comes through in living color. And the story just flows – moves effortlessly forward at just the right pace. You know you're in the hands of a first-rate storyteller. This book is fun, it's poignant, it's tragic. And it gets you right inside the head of a teenage boy - with all the excitement, adrenaline, and tender feelings that involves. A terrific read.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I really have mixed feelings about this book.

Some parts I really, really liked. When Arlo is on his bike, Wesselhoeft makes you feel every bump, crunch and exhilarating emotion.When the author paints the New Mexico landscape you are right there on the mesa or in the canyon. The characters and relationships in this book are well developed and complex. All good things.

Two, maybe three, hang ups
1. This book should really be in classified as a YA, not a children's book. The publisher recommends this book for 12 years and up. I would say that 9th grade would be more appropriate. The language is rough at times and the subject matter is pretty heavy. The main character is 17 years old and he acts and talks like an older teenager/almost man. I believe the story would be most meaningful to a high school student.

2. You are suppose to believe that the US Government secretly recruits this 17 year old and use him for an extremely important mission when:
a. he gets absolutely no training
b. when he makes it clear he is a pacifist (so they try to bribe him)
c. use him when he could be mentally unstable and under the influence (of prescribed medicine)
d. and the military believes he is the only one capable of flying the drone well enough to take the target out.

This part of the plot so bothered me that I put down the book several times because I just couldn't get over this unrealistic portrayal.

3. This is not really a knock, just an observation. It seems like the author spoke both his political and faith beliefs through one character in particular, a high school english teacher. At times it seemed a little heavy handed.

The bottom line: the book is about a young man wrestling with who he is as a man and how that is going to play out in his life.
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