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