Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly by Conrad Wesselhoeft (review)
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Reviewed by
Wesselhoeft, Conrad. Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. 341p. ISBN 978-0-544-23269-3 $17.99 R Gr. 7-10.

Ever since his mother’s recent death, Arlo Santiago’s enthusiasm for off-roading on his Yamaha and playing Drone Pilot has morphed into an obsession. His rise to first place among DP gamers has caught the attention of the military, who have invited him to test for an actual position at the White Sands Missile Range. Arlo scores off the boards on both simulations and actual drone operation but, leery of the military, he agrees on the condition that he will only be involved in reconnaissance. With a source of income for his financially strapped father, health care support for his sister suffering from Huntington’s disease, a new girlfriend in the wings, and all the daredevil riding he can handle on his old wheels and his new perk from the feds, life is looking up. Then comes the day when his boss at White Sands corners him into taking the lead on a drone mission to assassinate a bin Laden–esque terrorist [End Page 546] in Afghanistan’s Swat Valley, and Arlo, who is more than willing to risk his own life but not that of others, must find a way to wriggle out of his commitment while covering his family’s debts. Wesselhoeft takes the ethical implications of both the drone program and stunt riding seriously, and Arlo’s introspective musing on why he takes risks and where he sets his limits are a thoughtful contribution to an otherwise programmatic action/adventure story. While the motorcycle story sometimes intrudes on the more interesting drone plot, Wesselhoeft successfully manages to bring a ripped-from-the-headlines issue to the attention of teens who may not pay much heed to the news but are up for a fast-paced novel.

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