Holy cow, what a book! I was completely taken with Watt Key's latest book and even more so than Alabama Moon, a book which has received a huge amount of praise. A companion novel rather a sequel, Dirt Road Home follows Hal, one of the characters in the previous novel, as he is sent to Hellenweiler Boys' School, a juvenile prison.
From his first day there, Hal is taunted by two gangs, each wanting him to join their side and threatening his life if he doesn't join. While Hal attempts to simply stay neutral and do his time, he is flooded with hope of his future after his sentence is through. He has a girlfriend on the outside and his father is getting clean and finally working, allowing Hal to believe he can be a normal kid.
What most stood out to me was the believable character connections between Hal and Pack, one of the gang leaders. We have this kid who only wants to keep his nose clean, get out and enjoy life, but is instead living in a place where those goals have been made practically impossible, and then we have a leader of a gang who makes some of the most philosophical statements of any character I've ever read. They don't like each other, but they manage to work together in the strangest, most appealing of ways.
The pacing in this story was absolutely spot on and the short chapters keeps the paging turning quickly. Reluctant readers are going to eat this up, boys and girls alike. Reading Alabama Moon is definitely not necessary, this stands on its own. A great read!
Dirt Road Home
Book borrowed from my local library