The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 24 January 2000

Rocket Boys

by Homer H. Hickam, Jr.

When the Russians launched the Sputnik spacecraft, it sent shockwaves throughout the United States. Many Americans were touched by this landmark event in human history, the first flight into space. Homer Hickam, son of a coal miner, looked up and watched the bright dot of that satellite pass over his southern West Virginia town and dreamed of one day helping Werner von Braun build the rockets that would take America into space and to the Moon. He and his friends became the Rocket Boys of Coalwood, West Virginia. Using spare parts from the local coal mine, and developing their own rocket fuels, these boys built and flew their remarkable little rockets from a slack heap they dubbed Cape Coalwood. Throughout the story, Hickam recalls the battles with his stubborn father, who wanted his son to follow him into the dark and dangerous mine. Hickam's mother and dozens of the citizens of Coalwood, though, saw Homer and his friends as adventurers who would one day break out of the dying mining town. The entire town partook in the rocket project, and when Homer went on to a national science fair, the whole town hoped for victory. The book is touching and warm. Hickam recalls his own coming of age, and with compassion the people who helped him and the people who lived in the hills around Coalwood. He also recalls the paradox of von Braun, and that of his bitter father who surreptitiously helped his son almost every step of the way. The book captures the dreaming of a teenaged boy, and the places that dreams can take us. (I, myself, built rockets and developed my own fuel as a teenager, but I never learned the math Hickam mastered...) This book was subsequently published as October Sky when the 1999 movie of the same name came out. The book was released again under its original title in January 2000.

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