New YA novel explores grief, guts, and healing at high altitudes

by Conrad on February 3, 2014


DIRT BIKES, DRONES, AND OTHER WAYS TO FLY has just landed on Air & Space/Smithsonian’s  2014 list of Best Aviation and Space-Themed Books for Young Readers. The list is an annual roundup of children’s and YA titles that focus on flying. It will be published in December.

Flying is exactly what DIRT BIKES, DRONES, AND OTHER WAYS TO FLY is all about. It’s  the story of Arlo Santiago, a seventeen-year-old adrenaline junkie who catches the eye of the U.S. military with his top ranking on a drone warfare video game.

Arlo, who lives in a dusty corner of New Mexico, joins the military’s drone program but grows increasingly troubled by the blurred line between simulation and reality. Meanwhile, he’s got a father who drinks, a dangerously ill younger sister, and a girlfriend who won’t let him run from his past. He’s still healing, emotionally, from a violent death in his family.

Several months ago, I was asked by the West Seattle Herald to describe how Arlo and Jonathan, the narrator in my previous YA novel (ADIOS, NIRVANA), differ. I like how the reporter summed it up:

“Betraying his love for the Beatles, Wesselhoeft explains that Jonathan is a poet-philosopher like John Lennon—loud, caustic, and vulnerable. Arlo is more like George Harrison—quiet, spiritual, and escapist. Both are young men at a developmental stage of their life, haunted by grief, and confronted with a crossroad.” (Here’s a link to the article.)

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