“All I’ve done is give you a book,” she said. “You have to have the courage to learn what’s inside it.”

Books on Tap met outside at Champion Brewing company on Thursday, July 7th to discuss Rocket Boys by (Va Tech graduate) Homer Hickam. This memoir, published in 1998, is the story of a boy with a dream to build rockets, which was inspired by the 1957 launch of Sputnik.  Set in Coalwood, WV, a mining company town, 14 year old Homer has the support of his mother and high school science teacher, but a more complicated relationship with his father, who hopes to see Homer follow in his footsteps and work in the mine.  Corralling a ragtag group of friends, including the class “nerd,” Homer forms The Big Creek Missile Academy.   With determination and the support of many in the town and materials/skilled help from the miners, they manage to master the science of rocketry; so much so that they win a national science competition.

The story was made into a 1999 film called October Sky, starring a 17 year old Jake Gyllenhaal as Homer (with Chris Cooper and Laura Dern in supporting roles). 

Our readers generally liked the poignancy of the story despite not necessarily liking the writing style. It took readers back to the “space race” when US schools ramped up the academic curriculum due to fear that the Russians were ahead of the US.  

We discussed the dysfunction of the Hickam family and the secrets and hopes/dreams the mother (including her secret stash of money) and Homer kept between them due to the personality and strong expectations of the father.  The town was “at war” over its disparate hopes for the futures of its children.

A timely read as recent headlines suggest the US is potentially beginning a new space race with China?

Other titles mentioned:

The Coalwood Way by Homer Hickam

Hidden Figures by Margot Shetterly

The Great Santini by Pat Conroy

South to America by Imani Perry

Upcoming titles:

August 4th: The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

September 1st: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

October 6th: Kindred by Octavia Butler 

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