Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly

Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly
Age Range
Release Date
April 08, 2014
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Seventeen year-old dirt-bike-riding daredevil Arlo Santiago catches the eye of the U.S. military with his first-place ranking on a video game featuring drone warfare, and must reconcile the work they want him to do with the emotional scars he has suffered following a violent death in his family. Adios, Nirvana author Conrad Wesselhoeft, takes readers from the skies over war-torn Pakistan to the dusty arroyos of New Mexico's outback in this young adult novel about daring to live in the wake of unbearable loss.

Editor review

1 review
Video Games and Extreme Biking
Overall rating
Writing Style
Arlo lives in a dying New Mexican town with his sister Siouxsie, who has Huntington's disease, and his father, who is barely functional. There are reasons-- not only was Arlo's mother killed in a convenience store robbery, but Arlo's father lost his job as editor of the local newspaper, which folded. Arlo survives by immersing himself in motorcycle riding and in planing war games where he manipulates drones. His skills are such that he comes to the attention of the Air Force, who want Arlo to come and try his hand at operating drones. He does well enough that the Air Force wants to train him, but Arlo is leery of the military, especially when they want him to operate a drone that will take out an evil leader. He is torn, however, because the Air Force promises him a large sum of money and care for his sister as long as it is needed. In the meantime, he hangs out with Lee, a motorcycle riding beauty from Washington state who is living with his mother's best friend while her father is off fighting in the Middle East, and attempts Evel Knievel style motorcycle jumps in order to get on a television program and secure money for Siouxsie's treatments. How can Arlo manage to take care of his family and still be true to his own values?

This had so many good elements to it: motorcycle stunts, video games, an adolescent fantasy scenario where the military needs Arlo to save the day, a romantic interest who is cute and shares Arlo's fondness for motorcycles, and an obnoxious dog to add a little vulgarity. Add a strong sense of place, a character with a specific ethnicity (Hispanic) that is important to the story but not the whole story, and a family dealing with grief in a realistic but practical way, and this was a winner for me.

I always enjoy books more when I am rooting for the main character, and Arlo was fully developed, flawed, but tried so hard to help everyone around him while relying on his own coping mechanisms. The supporting characters are interesting as well, and the plot device of having the Air Force interested in Arlo because of his skills is handled in a way that made me believe it could actually happen.
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