Dirt Road Home [NOOK Book]


After his recapture at the end of ALABAMA MOON, gutsy 14-year-old Hal Mitchell is sentenced to live at Hellenweiler, an institution that is more like a jail than the boys' home it's supposed to be. Hal could walk out in just a few months if he keeps out of trouble. But in a place like Hellenweiler, the more he tries to avoid the gangs and their violence, the stronger Hal's fellow inmates try to ...

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Dirt Road Home

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After his recapture at the end of ALABAMA MOON, gutsy 14-year-old Hal Mitchell is sentenced to live at Hellenweiler, an institution that is more like a jail than the boys' home it's supposed to be. Hal could walk out in just a few months if he keeps out of trouble. But in a place like Hellenweiler, the more he tries to avoid the gangs and their violence, the stronger Hal's fellow inmates try to make him fail.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This gritty sequel to Key's Alabama Moon tells what happens to Moon's friend Hal after their escape from the Pinson Boys' Home. The book begins with 14-year-old Hal being sent to the Hellenweiler Boys' Home in Tuscaloosa, a "high-security jailhouse to lock down eighty bad boys." Desperate to return to his father and to reunite with his girlfriend, Hal vows to "play it cool." It's hard to avoid trouble, however, when guards do nothing to prevent fights and two warring gangs pressure Hal to choose a side. As he becomes aware of underlying corruption in the system, preventing any chance for release, Hal has to decide between using brute force or his wits to survive. Readers will feel Hal's fear and temptation to give up, but unlike the boys' home itself, the novel is not without hope, and Hal hatches a plan to make the institutional corruption known. With authentic characters and a candid first-person narrative, Key's story offers a disturbing appraisal of life in a juvenile facility, and a riveting battle for justice. Ages 10-14. (July)
From the Publisher
“Key nicely paces his tale, steadily building the tension. . . . There’s more than enough action to keep the fidgitiest adolescent boy glued to the page here.”—Mobile Press-Register


“With authentic characters and a candid first-person narrative, Key’s story offers a disturbing appraisal of life in a juvenile facility, and a riveting battle for justice.”—Publishers Weekly

“The short chapters, quick pacing, and plentiful dialogue make Key’s impressive second effort an especially appealing choice for reluctant boy readers.”—The Horn Book

“A gripping tale of a 14-year-old caught in a justice system that is not about justice at all.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Hal quickly learns that the boys who want to fight him aren’t his real challenge—it’s the guards who allow it to happen.”—Birmingham Magazine

“. . . Hal’s efforts to contain his rage and navigate brawls keep the atmosphere tense and pacing fleet. . . . for comeuppance it doesn’t get much more satisfying.”—Booklist

Children's Literature - K. Meghan Robertson
Key's story of fourteen-year old Hal Mitchell at Hellenweiler School for Boys, as a companion novel to Alabama Moon, broaches a variety of topics in this easy-to-read and hard to put down novel. More appropriate for a slightly more mature reader, Dirt Road Home uses bold imagery, incorporating language and concepts related to gangs, violence, and life in an institution. Hal will be free to live his life—clean and right, as he affirms—if he can avoid trouble during his stay at Hellenweiler. However, after witnessing the injustices that surround him and after denying acceptance into the two gangs (Ministers and Hounds) at the boys' school, Hal begins to make alliances so that he can learn more of the inner workings of the facility. Hal learns that perhaps the trouble is not just the boys—that perhaps the trouble is in the corruptness of the facility's staff as they go out of their way to cover up and falsify incident reports that go to the state. Hal goes out on a limb to expose the true enemies of the school, which results in exposure of the administration on a grand scale. Reviewer: K. Meghan Robertson
VOYA - Victoria Vogel
This companion novel to Key's well-acclaimed Alabama Moon (Farrar Straus Giroux/Macmillan, 2006/VOYA October 2006) is an engrossing tale of a teen's struggle to endure in a juvenile detention center. When fourteen-year-old Hal Mitchell arrives at Hellenweiller Boys' Home, he is prepared to do his time and get out. After already escaping from another state residence, he is clear on what it takes to function as a "ward of the state" and has made a pact with his father to stay out of trouble until he is able to get out. This is nearly impossible in a place where violence and revenge are the norm. When he arrives, Hal is recruited by two rival gangs, the Death Row Ministers and the Hell Hounds, but refuses to get involved in either one. In a place where authority is a matter of perspective, it is nearly impossible to stay out of trouble. He soon realizes that the guards and the head of security are the real enemy. Hal is a noble character, and readers will certainly like him. Key does a fabulous job of keeping his readers involved in the story and vested in the characters. Even reluctant readers will most likely find this one hard to put down. Controversial elements include violent scenes and references to juvenile alcohol use. Reviewer: Victoria Vogel
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—A companion to the award-winning Alabama Moon (Farrar, 2006), this novel stands on its own. The book opens with lots of action, as 14-year-old Hal is led in chains to the Hellenweiler Boys' Home, a lockdown facility in Tuscaloosa where he is to serve out his sentence. He and his father have an agreement: Daddy is going to stop drinking and Hal is going to keep a clean slate while incarcerated. However, the teen soon discovers that this is almost impossible; he is immediately pressured to "claim" for one of two gangs, with both choices guaranteed to bring him trouble. Hal chooses the unthinkable—to join neither. The tension, positioning, threats, and shifting alliances among the boys are believable and will hook readers. The teen's focus on his relationship with his father, as well as a new girlfriend, add moments of hope. The corruption of the supervising adults is also credible, and Hal's idea to reveal it creates a page-turning experience. Unfortunately, the staff's downfall is a little too easily accomplished and rings false, especially after all the gritty realism that comes before it. A happy ending with Daddy, Hal, and Caboose (another loner from the facility) neatly wraps up the story, putting this book squarely in the camp for younger readers with a tougher edge.—Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, Oakland, CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429933353
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 7/20/2010
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 273,550
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • File size: 182 KB

Meet the Author

Albert Watkins Key, Jr., publishing under the name Watt Key, is an award-winning southern fiction author. He grew up and currently lives in southern Alabama with his wife and family. Watt spent much of his childhood hunting and fishing the forests of Alabama, which inspired his debut novel, Alabama Moon, published to national acclaim in 2006. Alabama Moon won the 2007 E.B. White Read-Aloud Award and has been translated in seven languages. Key’s second novel, Dirt Road Home, was published in 2010.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 7, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Sally Kruger aka "Readingjunky" for TeensReadToo

    Hal Mitchell finds himself back in a boys' home after having escaped the Pinson Home with two other boys. They headed for the woods and almost eluded the authorities in ALABAMA MOON. Now, Hal's lawyer tells him he'll only have to stay at Hellenweiler Boys' Home until a few things get straightened out - and until his dad proves he has given up alcohol and is capable of providing a decent home for Hal. It turns out that Hellenweiler is much worse than Pinson. There are two gangs, the Hounds and the Ministers. Leaders from both groups insist that Hal needs to pledge allegiance to one or the other, but he is determined to remain neutral. His only goal is to stay clean, serve his time, and get out as soon as his lawyer gets everything straightened out for his release. As the days pass, Hal discovers that it's not just the inmates that can make trouble for him. Those in charge of the boys' home are out to make life miserable for him, as well. He learns about faked paperwork, guards who look the other way when gang leaders want to use physical violence, and he personally experiences the pain of solitary confinement. It quickly becomes obvious that Hal will have to use cleverness and trickery to uncover the illegal activities going on behind closed doors. Author Watt Key follows up his survival adventure, ALABAMA MOON, with this story about Hal Mitchell's determined efforts to return to life with his father. Key takes readers into the mind of a young man desperate to maintain control of his temper and emotions so he can satisfy the legal requirements that will allow him to rebuild his life.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2011

    epic x3

    epic action packed awesome

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2012


    Is at result thirty now.

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  • Posted January 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    gripping and satisfying

    Hal struggles to stay straight while living inside Hellenweiler Boys' Home. If he can avoid gang fighting and repeated stays in solitary, he just might make it. Hal impresses a few others while on the inside. They are tough guys, like him, who are victims of circumstance but who are also courageous and able to maintain their dignity.

    Watt Key has created a gripping young adult novel that is unlike any other. It is set almost entirely inside a juvenile detention center. The book is action-packed, and the tension mounts as Hal tries to expose guard corruption. The ending is extremely satisfying. Young readers will enjoy this edge-of-your-seat novel. Watt Key understands what troubled teens must endure and in Dirt Road Home, he gives them hope.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    An Absorbing Sequel to Alabama Moon

    Having been in on the escape from Pinson with Moon Blake, Hal Mitchell has a short term to serve so that he can get back home to his dad, his truck, his girl, and his interests. But he has to keep his cool and stay out of trouble. That's not easy to do in a facility where the mists of doom poison the air and the adults in charge consider the kids dogs fighting for their place, boys who are just part of a human landfill and future fodder for the penitentiaries.
    To survive here, the inmates must be part of a gang: the Death Row Ministers, whose leader is an insane, bullying repeat offender named Jack; or the Hell Hounds, whose leader is an big, oddly unusual Mexican named Paco. Hal finds himself drawn to the huge, silent unencumbered boy called Caboose who manages to live in no-man's land. How does Caboose survive alone, and can he?
    After studying his options and being beaten, Hal uses two "friends" to help him come up with a plan to destroy the facility instead of letting it destroy him when he realizes the superintendent's plan is to keep all the boys in Hellenweiler until they are eithteen by padding conduct reports and losing information he does not choose to include. This is a poignant story of one boy's courage and determination in the face of corruption.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted April 24, 2011

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    Posted May 16, 2012

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    Posted July 28, 2010

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    Posted November 18, 2011

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