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The Coalwood Way: A Memoir Mass Market Paperback – Sep 4 2001

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Island Books; Reprint edition (Sept. 4 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440237165
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440237167
  • Product Dimensions: 10.7 x 2.5 x 17.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 281 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #203,267 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Amazon

In this follow-up to his bestselling autobiography Rocket Boys, Homer Hickam chronicles the eventful autumn of 1959 in his hometown, the West Virginia mining town of Coalwood. Sixteen-year-old Homer and his pals in the Big Creek Missile Agency are high school seniors, still building homemade rockets and hoping that science will provide them with a ticket into the wider world of college and white-collar jobs. Such dreams make them suspect in a conservative small town where "getting above yourself" is the ultimate sin and where Homer's father, superintendent of the Coalwood mines, is stingy with praise and dubious about his son's ambitions. Homer's mother remains supportive, but bluntly reminds him, "You can't expect everything to go your way. Sometimes life just has another plan." Indeed, Hickam's unvarnished portrait of Coalwood covers class warfare (union miners battling with his authoritarian father), provincial narrow-mindedness (the local ladies scorn a young woman living outside wedlock with a man who abuses her), and endless gossiping along the picket "fence line." These sharp details make the unabashed sentiment of the book's closing chapters feel earned rather than easy. Hickam can spin a gripping yarn and keep multiple underlying themes and metaphors going at the same time. His tender but gritty memoir will touch readers' hearts and minds. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Not really a sequel to Hickam's first memoir, Rocket Boys (which was made into the successful movie, October Sky, and dealt primarily with his gang of misfit friends and their inventive, adventurous exploits) this book, set around Christmas 1959, is a study of the town of Coalwood and how a fast-moving world affects a small community resistant to change and the introspective teenage boy in its midst. Hickman's reading is flawless. His voice and perspectiveAas a man looking back on his childhoodAconvincingly conveys experience and a reminiscent tone, while at the same time sounding so full of youthful exuberance that listeners will be certain they hear the voice of teenage Homer himself. Coalwood, W.Va., is a coal-mining town. Homer Hickam Sr., the author's father, is the superintendent of the mine and resented by the workers. To his children, he is a formidable man, and his imaginative second son, Homer Jr., aka "Sonny," obsessed with the 1950s space race, does not want to follow in his father's black, dusty footprints. With Christmas fast approaching, the tension in the town grows as layoffs threaten miners' jobs, until Sonny's father takes a huge risk to save them and the town's livelihood. Simultaneous release with the Dell hardcover (Forecasts, Sept. 18). (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

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OF ALL THE lessons I learned when I built my rockets, the most important were not about chemistry, physics, or metallurgy, but of virtues, sins, and other true things that shape us as surely as rivers carve valleys, or rain melts mountains, or currents push apart the sea. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brad Hartman on June 11 2001
Format: Hardcover
To Win Idle: I must say that I disagree with several of the points you make in your review. First of all, I loved "Rocket Boys," and that is why I decided to read "The Coalwood Way." "Rocket Boys" is a great novel with a fantastic story. It is unfortunate the sequel couldn't live up to the original.
Where you love the "return to the fullness of [Sonny's] senior high school year," I find it boring, and often confusing. The timeframe keeps switching throughout the memoir. Sometimes Hickam refers to things that he had already discussed in "Rocket Boys," and sometimes he introduces new material. It is constantly hard to tell exactly what's going on, and where the story is taking place. Especially towards the beginning, I find this to be far from the great novel that you describe. Maybe the difference in opinion comes because you enjoy the detail that Hickam uses in this second book, and I find it tedious. It seems fairly obvious to me that all the action was used up in the first book, and nothing "good" was left for the sequel. This story is made up of filler material that was (rightfully) omitted from "Rocket Boys."
I, too, see the message you write of (what it's like to fight through the hard times), but I don't find the story as emotionally intense as you do. In this sequel, we learn only about some of Sonny's schoolboy crushes, but we don't discover anything more that really lets us come to a better understanding of Sonny as a person. It is true that the ending of the book is far superior to the opening. However, Win Idle, you are over exaggerating the amount that the reader will learn about himself by discovering Coalwood. You also over emphasize Hickam's use of emotion.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Written by the same author of October Sky, about the same period in his childhood, the COALWOOD WAY and OCTOBER SKY cover the exact same themes-a son trying to shine despite the disappointment/disapproval of his father, rocket trial and error, etc-and have the exact same arcs. Minor characters and sub plots are different, however, and are very poignant and engaging.The protagonist, Sonny is an earnest boy with enough flaws to make him interesting. He is smart yet a little too proud; a friend but sometimes too self-centered to see when his closest friends are in trouble; he's handsome yet can't get a date to the senior dance. These imperfections make him the perfect Everyman, easy to root for. Minor characters are well drawn, and some are heartbreaking to watch. Dreama's tragic arc is painful but gives the story a darkness and depth. Her ostracization by town snobs is well-depicted, and shows that the author didn't just sail through his childhood without noticing the little evils that men do. Great read.
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Format: Hardcover
This is not to the same level of The Rocket Boys, which is a story much better told. However, The Coalwood Way is an interesting read, especially for those who truly liked The Rocket Boys.
For one thing, i was a bit disappointed about the author's foreword. He swears that even though the events in the book passed so long ago (1959), he remembers everything in tremendous detail. If he hadn't said that, i wouldn't have even thought about it. As a person with very bad memory, i don't believe him.
Some of the characters are described to a point that they almost seem caricatures. I couldn't help think of Martin on The Simpsons when reading about Quentin. Roy Lee reminded me of Elvis Presley in one of his cheesy movies.
The memoir almost redeemed itself in page 267 (chapter 27), when Sonny finally realizes what has been bugging him all along (here's something i wish i had done: jot down the items on Sonny's list as you read along). That discovery makes the book worthwhile. However, the memoir ends with the Christmas Pageant, and that image really ruined the moment for me.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Aimlessly wandering the fiction aisles of the library, glumly looking over the "been-there-done-that" Grisham novels, wishfully scanning the Hiaasen section in slim hopes of finding something new, when out of the corner of my eye, I caught a name on a book spine: Homer H. Hickam Jr. I instantly recognized the name as a character from one of my all-time favorite movies, "October Sky". I pulled the book, expecting it to be "Rocket Boys", the memoir on which the movie was based. I had always meant to pick up that book and get more familiar with the story that so captivated me in the movie. Only, the title of this book was "The Coalwood Way". Instantly, I knew that my browsing malaise was cured (funny how that often works)!
Not only did I now have a chance to get more familiar with the "Rocket Boys" story and characters, but I also had a whole other novel with which to do it. For, you see, this memoir isn't really a sequel to the aforementioned book, but actually an expansion of a section of the original story; a kind of story within a story. Think of it as zooming in on just one section of a fractal image to see all of the intricate details within the new image.
The scope of the first memoir was pretty much the entire high school career of Homer (Sonny) and the Rocket Boys and focused predominantly on their exploits with amateur rocketry. But, the real charm of the original story came from the background setting and people of Coalwood, West (by God) Virginia. The boys of the Big Creek Missile Agency (BCMA) still play a big part in this story that spans basically only one year of high school from roughly Christmas of their junior year through Christmas of their senior year.
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