Old Reads That Are Good: The Boys from Cape Coalwood

by gbcpl on September 4, 2014

In 1957, find pills
Homer Hickam Jr. was a sore spot for his father. He wasn’t interested in football, capsule website like this
like his older brother. He wasn’t interested coal mining, find like his father. He wanted to build rockets.


Rocket Boys (1998) is your quintessential coming-of-age story, a memoir written by Hickam Jr. about growing up in a rural West Virginia town appropriately named Coalwood; for coal is the town’s life blood, what feeds, shelters and – sometimes – tears apart its families. Hickam Jr., nicknamed “Sonny,” is constantly at odds with his father, Homer Hickam Sr., who shows little interest in his son’s desire to join America’s race to space. Hickam Sr. has two passions in life: his oldest son Jim’s budding high school football career and, of course, the coal mine he supervises.

Encouraging Sonny is his mother, Elsie. Elsie, having seen the toll working in the mine has taken on her husband, wants something better for Sonny.

So, gathering a group of his friends together with similar aspirations, Sonny sets out to build his rockets.

SPOILER: He does, successfully. Homer Hickam Jr. went on to work for NASA as an engineer, following his graduation from Virginia Tech and subsequent tour of duty in Vietnam (It was Hickam Jr. who designed the cannon, Skipper, fired off at Tech football games – until its fatal last shot in 1982).

Rocket Boys is a fun read. Of course we have to keep in mind that “Sonny” Hickam is viewing past events through the rosy prism of his own memory. And he admits in the preface that some license has been taken in regards to the words and actions of his friends and family.

And yes, I’ve seen the film based on the book. October Sky, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper, was released in 1999. It translates well. (Oh, and October Sky is an anagram of Rocket Boys – apparently the film’s producers were afraid the original title would deter women audiences).

A physical copy is available at the library or you can download as an eBook.

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