Everyone dreams about achieving something that seems impossible. Homer Hickam was no exception. Like many American scientists, as a teenager he dreamed about exploring the cosmos. Hickam’s memoir, October Sky, describes the action, suspense, and even humor in his quest to construct a rocket. The character development, sentence structure, and inspirational themes make this book a must-read for teens who are looking for inspiration.
In October Sky, every character has their own motives, personality, and opinions – and these differences are illustrated well. For example, Hickam’s father is tough and practical, with a rigid stance in favor of the town’s coal mine. His wife is loving, optimistic, and supports Hickam’s dreams. Each character is unique and goes through significant changes throughout the book.
Hickam quickly realizes after his first test run that engineering a rocket requires chemistry and math concepts beyond his grade level. He spends hours studying trigonometry and calculus in order calculate the rocket’s height. Hickam’s determination is inspiring. He grows from struggling with algebra to fluently understanding trigonometry, calculus, and chemistry. His character growth can be seen in the small details he has chosen to include. For example, when Hickam asks his dad for cement, his father refuses – but a day later, two bags appear on the porch. Details like this show that Hickam’s father changed to become more supportive of his son.
Hickam also uses rich vocabulary and language. This can be seen in the dialogue, where words like “huffed” and “confessed” are used to convey the tone and a character’s personality.
Yet, the most important element in this book is the theme. If you haven’t guessed already, this book champions the idea that anything can be achieved with enough effort and self-confidence. This theme branches into smaller ideas, such as not letting anybody interfere with your goals and not being afraid to fail. These themes show up frequently, especially since Hickam and his friends do not always succeed in building their rockets, and Hickam is constantly pressured to work in the mines.
Other ideas, such as industrial and economic change, are addressed in this book. In the late 1950s, demand for coal dropped, which meant Hickam’s village of Coalwood became unstable. Hickam had to continue his work so he could get out of Coalwood and go to college. Everyone is confronted with these changes, and Hickam adds details about how his family reacts. His mother insists that he must build a rocket and pursue his dreams, while his father denies that the coal industry is going to collapse.
The true story of Homer Hickam’s adventure is a must-read by adolescents and adults alike. It combines character development, an engaging plot, and sophisticated language to present a moving story filled with obstacles and triumphs, and – as the book says – “the dreams of boys.”
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.