"It was 1957, the year Sputnik raced across the Appalachian sky, and the small town of Coalwood, West Virginia, was slowly dying. Faced with an uncertain future, Homer Hickam nurtured a dream: to send rockets into outer space. The introspective son of the mine's superintendent and a mother determined to get him out of Coalwood forever, Homer fell in with a group of misfits who learned not only how to turn scraps of metal into sophisticated rockets but how to sustain their hopes in a town that swallowed men alive. As the boys began to light up the tarry skies with their flaming projectiles and dreams of glory, Coalwood, and the Hickams, would never be the same." (description from book cover)
Note: The book was originally published under the title Rocket Boys, and some releases following the making of the movie were re-titled to match the movie.
Book Rating: **** (out of five)
Movie Rating: **** (out of five)
- Readability. One might expect a memoir by an engineer to lack, how shall I say, interest to a general reading population. Yet this book is well-written and accessible. His prose is clear and elegant in its simplicity. Sometimes, it is easy to forget that you're reading non-fiction.
- Story. Hickam's story of being a bright boy trying to escape a future of coal mining is beautiful and poignant. As a coming of age story, I think that most readers will find something to which they can relate.
- History. not only does this book have a lot to say about life in a coal mining town, but it also illustrates cold war life and the changes caused by the beginning of the space race.
- Slow Pace. The book is not an action filled adventure novel. It is a fairly leisurely book, which sometimes includes small digressions that, though they add color to the story, don't necessarily drive the plot.
I first read this book as summer reading for English my freshman year of high school. At the time, it seemed long and difficult to get through (probably because I left it to the last minute). Now, it doesn't seem long anymore (but nothing does after Gone with the Wind), and the last time I read it, I did so in two or three sittings, curled up in a chair, listening to L.A. Woman, and it was a marvelous day and a half. I found Hickam's story to be engaging and hopeful. For all that it is about adolescence, it is a very mature book. We would all be so lucky to be able to look back on our lives with the same ability to learn from ourselves.
It is a story about both self-reliance and the importance of community, and it vividly demonstrates the importance of perseverance. I think that there is a little bit that everyone can take from the book. There's a wonderful sense of nostalgia without any sense of bitterness or cynicism, which can make it a pleasant antidote to modern life.
My sister, my dad, and I were playing catch out in the backyard one afternoon when my mom came out and asked if we wanted to go see a movie, because she'd read about this great family movie. I think that we all went to humor her, but we didn't regret it. There are definitely differences between the book and the movie, but the movie has the same sense of hope that the book had. The movie was well cast, and the portrayal of Homer's relationships, particularly that with his father, are faithful to the spirit of the book. It is truly a wonderful family movie, and I would highly recommend watching it with others. Be warned that both the book and movie are liable to make you cry, so keep some tissue close by.