From Earth To Space
Inspired by the Russian's Sputnik in 1958 and the resulting space race, Homer takes up designing and building rockets with a few like-minded friends. This is far from easy, since there are few resources for them to draw on. With little money, equipment, or information, they rely on trial and error and for a long time, it's mostly error. Their (sometimes disastrous) attempts are frequently met with mockery and/or hostility from their peers and community. Yet they stubbornly keep on with their efforts, and each rocket goes a little higher, lasts a little longer. Eventually their perseverance pays off, and they end up taking their rocketry project to a national science fair.
Despite the increasingly bleak outlook- or perhaps because of it- the town gradually gets behind their once despised "Rocket Boys". People begin gathering to watch their launches, teachers find them books on rocketry, miners who put in long shifts at the mine spend hours of their own time building pieces the boys need for their rockets, and their triumphs are now celebrated as much as their failures used to be mocked. Perhaps the people of the town, stuck in their rather grim reality, see in those rockets rising to heights beyond their view hope for a better and brighter future. Or maybe, as the town fails, it becomes more and more important for everyone that they have this one success.
Sonny has a teenage boy's need to make his father proud but for most of the book it's obvious that he believes himself to be a disappointment to him. It's therefore a very important event when Homer Sr. turns up to watch their final rocket launch. The boys talk him into launching the rocket himself and, as it lifts off, we see for almost the first time an understanding between father and son. As Homer Sr. watches with amazement and delight, the rocket gains speed and altitude, disappearing from view and he and Sonny are, temporarily at least, united in their wonder and appreciation for what the Rocket Boys have achieved.
I really enjoyed Homer Hickam Jr.'s memoir; he's a talented writer and the book is much more than just an account of rocket building in the early days of space exploration. It also provides a picture of growing up in a small coal town which is slowly declining, and shows that relationships, familial or otherwise, can be just as complicated and fraught with difficulty as rocket science.