December 28, 2019

Looking Back - Rocket Boys

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam
Nonfiction - Memoir
1998 Delacorte Press
Read in March 1999
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

"Until I began to build and launch rockets, I didn't know my home town was at war with itself over its children, and that my parents were locked in a kind of bloodless combat over how my brother and I would live our lives. I didn't know that if a girl broke your heart, another girl, virtuous at least in spirit, could mend it on the same night. And I didn't know that the enthalpy decrease in a converging passage could be transformed into jet kinetic energy if a divergent passage was added. The other boys discovered their own truths when we built our rockets, but those were mine."

So begins Homer "Sonny" Hickam Jr.'s extraordinary memoir of life in Coalwood, West Virginia - a hard-scrabble little mining company town where the only things that mattered were coal mining and high school football and where the future was regarded with more fear than hope.

Looking back after a distinguished NASA career, Hickam shares the story of his youth, taking readers into the life of the little mining town of Coalwood and the boys who would come to embody its dreams.

In 1957 a young man watched the Soviet satellite Sputnik shoot across the Appalachian sky and soon found his future in the stars. 'Sonny' and a handful of his friends, Roy Lee Cook, Sherman O'Dell and Quentin Wilson were inspired to start designing and launching the home-made rockets that would change their lives forever.

Step by step, with the help (and occasional hindrance) of a collection of unforgettable characters, the boys learn not only how to turn scrap into sophisticated rockets that fly miles into the sky, but how to sustain their dreams as they dared to imagine a life beyond its borders in a town that the postwar boom was passing by.

A powerful story of growing up and of getting out, of a mother's love and a father's fears, Homer Hickam's memoir Rocket Boys proves, like Angela's Ashes and Russell Baker's Growing Up before it, that the right storyteller and the right story can touch readers' hearts and enchant their souls.

A uniquely endearing book with universal themes of class, family, coming of age, and the thrill of discovery, Homer Hickam's Rocket Boys is evocative, vivid storytelling at its most magical.

In 1999, Rocket Boys was made into a Hollywood movie named October Sky starring Chris Cooper, Jake Gyllenhaal and Laura Dern. October Sky is an anagram of Rocket Boys. It is also used in a period radio broadcast describing Sputnik 1 as it crossed the 'October sky'. Homer Hickam stated that "Universal Studios marketing people got involved and they just had to change the title because, according to their research, women over thirty would never see a movie titled Rocket Boys" so Universal Pictures changed the title to be more inviting to a wider audience. The book was later re-released with the name October Sky in order to capitalize on interest in the movie.

My Original Notes (1999):

I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir! Very well-written. I enjoyed learning about the specifics of rocket building, but didn't find the book too technical. I liked the strong female figure in Hickam's mother; despised his father. What a jerk! I was very impressed with Homer's diligence to learn Calculus and not give up his dream. Really a beautiful coming-of-age story. So much more impressive than the movie (October Sky), which I saw after reading the book.

My Current Thoughts:

I'm tempted to read this again. It was so good!


  1. I have not read the booI, but I remember how much my son and I loved watching this movie when he was in first grade.

    1. Meredith, I know I enjoyed the movie, but the book was so much better! I love that you watched it with your son. How old is he now? My daughter just turned 36. Unbelievable.

  2. I remember watching the movie! It's been so long though that I'm sure if I picked up this book it would all seem new to me.

    1. Iliana, it has been a long time since it was first released. I wonder if the book lives up to the passage of time.

  3. Eric is looking for a book to read and I told him about this. We really appreciate your reviews! (And I'm sure I'll read it, too.)

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Laurel. Whenever I get the urge to quit blogging, comments like yours boost my enthusiasm to continue. I hope Eric enjoys this memoir as much as I did. I haven't finished, but I'm almost to the end of Peter Heller's *The River* and can't wait for my husband to pick it up. It might be one you and Eric would enjoy. I'll keep you posted!

  4. I know what you mean about sometimes feeling like quitting blogging. I'm feeling like that right now because my attention is consumed by my parents, and I'm soooo far behind on our blog. Like you, I'm inspired to continue when people leave appreciative comments.

    I do appreciate your blog, and I love your book reviews. You've led me to so many wonderful books! Eric was able to get Rocket Boys last night from our library (online) and he's loving it!

    1. Again, thank you for your kind words. I'm so glad you (and Eric) are enjoying my book recommendations. I'm all caught up on books, so now I need/want to get back to my travel posts!


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