Rockets Boys by Homer Hickam

June 1, 2011

Rocket Boys. Hickam, Jr. Homer H. New York: Delacorte Press,1998
The story is about four real-life boys at Big Creek High School in the late 1950's, that decide to build rockets to rival the Russians, who, in October 1957, launched Sputnik and stunned the world, including the hidden hollers of West Virginia. In Homer`s skilled hands the memior of many life lives and its time springs to reality.
The coal culture, for example. His dad was superintendent at the Coalwood Mine, where owners and workers were locked in the eternal tension that marked labor relations in our colony.
Homer's real life brother was a football star who earned a scholarship and is today a coach. You may enjoy the scene where a recruiter from West Virginia University enters the Hickam home before the adoring glance of fathers and sons, but not of Mom.
"Big Creek High School sat on their outskirts of war beside the river that gave the district its name. It was a grimy three-story brick building with a carefully tended football field in the front."
Football and mining, two things indelibly linked in our culture. In both you pit your wits, you body and your courage against a formidable foe.
But Homer Hickam Jr., though he tried out for football, was to make a greater mark by "dropping out" of the predominant tough-man culture and entering a tougher one of his own. He led a band of boys who, defying the authority of family and school principal and even the State Police, built a sophisticated rocket and won a National Science Fair scholarship for their work.
Among the more poignant scenes Hickam portrays are those that feature him and his high school buddies cruising in their old car, chasing not only their rockets but also the two-legged Coalwood beauties.
"I believed equally in both, so I volunteered for Vietnam, delaying my dream of working on spaceflight."
"The irony was not lost on me when I climbed out of a bunker one morning and found a dud Russian 122-mm rocket buried near by. I inspected its nozzle and thought it crudely designed."
A dominant theme is the tension that boys in the Mountain State, sons of tough Coal Miners, feel when they want to go a separate way.
Mothers, too, play a pivotal, often antagonistic roles. Homer's artistic mother supported his dreams in wondrous ways.
For Homer, those dreams would lead to early agony but eventual triumph- and for us who share his triumphant art, they lead to joy and remembrance in a portrait of us truly rendered.

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