Dirt Road Home is a fast-paced, taut and engaging read. Mature tween boys or younger teen boys will care tremendously about Hal and his predicament. Hal's determination to keep his promise to his father is what guides his decisions, and he opts to do the unthinkable--to not join either gang. He must be emotionally stronger than he ever thought possible to withstand the fallout of this choice, and in doing so, he earns the respect of two strong characters as well as the ire of several who only know violence as a way to solve problems. Even though Hal does everything he can to avoid fighting, violence between the boys in general is frequent, and corrupt guards do little to stop it. On only one occasion is a weapon involved. Hal has a would-be girlfriend on the outside. There are flashbacks to their meeting, which include kissing and sharing a single beer. Hal's father's alcoholism is described mainly with the ever-present whiskey bottles in Hal's memories. His father is struggling, but succeeding in his quest to get sober, and is very supportive of Hal. When the real villains of the story are revealed, Hal leads an operation to bring them to justice with legal means. This is a fairly gritty story for the middle grade set, with an overriding message of hope that people can change their destinies.