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Coalwood Way: A Memoir

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Overview

From the #1 bestselling author of October Sky comes this rich, unforgettable tale. With the same dazzling storytelling that distinguished his first memoir, Homer Hickam takes us deeper into the soul of his West Virginia hometown at a moment when its unique way of life is buffeted by forces of time and change.

It is fall 1959. Homer “Sonny” Hickam and his fellow Rocket Boys are in their senior year at Big Creek High, and the town of Coalwood ...

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Coalwood Way: A Memoir

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Overview

From the #1 bestselling author of October Sky comes this rich, unforgettable tale. With the same dazzling storytelling that distinguished his first memoir, Homer Hickam takes us deeper into the soul of his West Virginia hometown at a moment when its unique way of life is buffeted by forces of time and change.

It is fall 1959. Homer “Sonny” Hickam and his fellow Rocket Boys are in their senior year at Big Creek High, and the town of Coalwood finds itself at a painful crossroads.

The strains can be felt within the Hickam home, where Homer Sr. struggles to save the mine, and his wife, Elsie, is feeling increasingly isolated from both her family and the townspeople. Sonny, despite a blossoming relationship with a local girl, finds his own mood darkened by an unexplainable sadness.

Then, with the holidays approaching, trouble at the mine and the arrival of a beautiful young outsider bring unexpected changes in both the Hickam family and the town of Coalwood ... as this luminous memoir moves toward its poignant conclusion.

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Editorial Reviews

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Our Review
Welcome back to Coalwood, West Virginia, home of high school student and regular guy Homer Hickam. When we last saw Homer, in the first installment of his memoirs, Rocket Boys, he was doing his part for the space race by overcoming astounding odds to design functional model rockets propelled by a mixture of zinc and moonshine. The Coalwood Way picks up where Rocket Boys let off, but whereas Hickam's first book spotlighted his efforts to shoot his rockets miles into the atmosphere, his second effort swings the young man's searching gaze around to focus on his immediate surroundings: Appalachia, 1959.

Everything is puzzling for our Coalwood boy. His father, a single-minded mine foreman, is engaged in an exhausting battle to save the mine -- the town's lifeblood -- from the evil cost-cutting measures of its new corporate owners. Hickam's indomitable mother is insisting on going to Florida for Christmas and leaving everyone else behind. His Big Creek Missile Association is having trouble with its rockets. His favorite girl, the piano teacher's daughter, has a boyfriend whose father owns a car dealership. Oddest of all, Homer is suffering from some kind of intermittent, inexplicable depression. Through his efforts to understand his own feelings and place in the world, we learn all about the happenings in his small town that's anything but sleepy.

Indeed, the town of Coalwood is a magnetic character in Hickam's life. And Coalwood is in trouble. Miners are out of jobs, children are starving in the next hollow over, and capitalism is just wreaking havoc on the once peaceful spot. As Hickam begins his tale, "Coalwood's men still walked with a trudging grace to and from the vast, deep mine," but he knows, and the reader knows, that this world is slipping away. All we can do is watch the slow slide through Hickam's eyes.

It's a tough job to write a balanced story about a place you have loved and lost. The Coalwood Way has so much heart it fairly oozes off the pages, but, happily, Hickam manages to keep his account just this side of saccharine. His sincerity and knack for spinning a yarn allow the reader to let her guard down and simply enjoy the tale of a place that once existed in an America that used to be.

--Rachel Fishman

From the Publisher
“A heartwarmer ... truly beautiful and haunting.”—People

“Irresistible ... as compelling and rousing as a NASA liftoff.”—Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Compelling ... riveting ... extremely satisfying reading.”—Boston Globe

“[A] sparkling memoir.”—Chicago Sun-Times

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 perspective--as a man looking back on his childhood--convincingly 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 Cahners Business Information.
VOYA
This autobiographical sequel to the popular Rocket Boys (Delacorte, 1998), which was made into the movie October Sky, chronicles the events in Coalwood, West Virginia, in the autumn of 1959. The Rocket Boys still are attempting to develop and launch a "great rocket"—one that can soar more than a mile above the Earth—while the town still is trying to dig a future out of the maze of mines in the surrounding hills. Sonny Hickam, founder of the Rocket Boys, struggles with many issues besides differential equations and rocket design. The death of Sonny's grandfather the previous Christmas, the increasing fragility of the town's way of life, and a new awareness of the prejudices surrounding the people of Coalwood all shift the focus of this novel. Emphasis on the launching of rockets changes to deeper thoughts of the future of coal mining and of the Hickam family. As Sonny continues to try to attain his goals of making straight As in school, building a great rocket, and finding a girlfriend, an overwhelming sadness creeps into his life. He first attempts to work it out logically, then seeks the advice of friends and the local church pastor. It is not until he has an epiphany during a pre-Christmas snowstorm that he realizes that it all stems from his relationship with his father. Hickam tackles many issues for teenagers in this amazing memoir. His use of anecdotes, colloquialisms, and humor complement this beautifully crafted tale of a man and his son seeking to save their worlds. Best suited for older teens, it will be a particularly appropriate book for boys as it deals with boys' relationships—with fathers and with girls—and with how boys begin to develop their ownplaces in the world separate from their families. VOYA CODES: 5Q 4P S A/YA (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Broad general YA appeal; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2000, Delacorte, 256p, . Ages 16 to Adult. Reviewer: Heather Hepler SOURCE: VOYA, April 2001 (Vol. 24, No.1)
Library Journal
In this follow-up to his acclaimed Rocket Boys, retired NASA engineer Hickam recounts tensions in his household during his last Christmas before college, even as the Rocket Boys are drafted to help celebrate the holidays with a really big bang. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440237167
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/4/2001
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 275,006
  • Product dimensions: 4.14 (w) x 6.85 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Homer Hickam
Homer H. Hickam, Jr., was born and raised in Coalwood, West Virginia. The author of Torpedo Junction, a Military History Book of the Month Club selection, as well as numerous articles for such publications as Smithsonian Air and Space and American History Illustrated, he is a NASA payload training manager for the International Space Program and lives in Huntsville, Alabama.
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Read an Excerpt

Song of the Cape

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. I would learn these lessons at a time when Coalwood, the mining town where I had lived my entire life, was just beginning to fade away. Yet, as the fall of 1959 began, and the leaves on the trees in the forests that surrounded us began to explode in spectacular color, Coalwood’s men still walked with a trudging grace to and from the vast, deep mine, and its women bustled in and out of the company stores and fought the coal dust that drifted into their homes. In the dark old schools, the children learned and the teachers taught, and, in snowy white churches built on hillside cuts, the preachers preached, and God, who we had no doubt was also a West Virginian, was surely doing His work in heaven, too. At the abandoned slack dump we called Cape Coalwood, rockets still leapt into the air, and boyish voices yet echoed between ancient, worn mountains beneath a pale and watchful sky. Coalwood endured as it always had, but a wheel was turning that would change nearly everything, and no one, not even my father, would be able to stop it. When that brittle parchment autumn turned into our deepest, whitest winter, this and many other lessons would be taught. Though they were hard and sometimes cruel things to learn, they were true, and true things, as the people of Coalwood saw fit to teach me, are always filled with a shining glory.

To me, there was no better time to launch a rocket than in the fall, especially a West Virginia fall. There seemed to be a cool, dry energy in the air that filled us with a renewed sense of hope and optimism. I had always believed that our rockets were lifted as much by our dreams as by burning propellant, and as the lazy summer faded and a northerly wind swept down on us with its lively breath, anything seemed possible. It was also when the school year started and I always felt an excitement stir within me at the thought of learning new and wonderful things. Fall had other marvels, too. At the Cape, we were often treated to V-shaped flotillas of migrating Canadian geese, bound from the far north to places we had only read about or imagined. We always stopped our rocket preparations to gaze longingly at the great creatures as they winged their way high overhead, and to listen to their joyful honking that seemed to be calling us to join them. “If only we could,” Sherman said once to my comment. “Even for just a moment, to look down on our mountains and see them the same as angels.” Sherman always liked to remind us that we lived in a beautiful place and I guess we did, although sometimes it was easy to forget, especially since we’d never known anywhere else.

Once, a rare snow goose, as purely white as moonbeams, landed on the old slack dump, perhaps fooled by the reflection from the slick surface of the coal tailings. We gathered around the great strutting bird, awed by the sight of her. Then I noticed that her wing tips were as black as the faces of Coalwood miners after a shift. O’Dell said the reason for the black tips was so the geese could see each other inside a white cloud. O’Dell knew a lot about animals so I believed his explanation, but it got me off to thinking. How did the snow geese decide what colors their feathers would be? Did they all get together up north somewhere a million years ago and take a vote? It was a mystery and the snow goose made no comment. She just looked annoyed. When she tired of us gawking at her, she flapped her wings and continued her journey, and I confess I was relieved. I knew the snow goose did not belong in Coalwood. Some people, especially my mother, said neither did I.

Our first rocket of the fall was Auk XXII-E. A serious little rocket, it began its journey with a mighty spout of flame and turmoil and its shock wave rattled our wooden blockhouse as it climbed. I ran outside with the other boys, but no matter how much I strained my eyes, I couldn’t see it. All I could see were clouds that went, as far as I knew, all the way up to heaven. The seconds ticked by. We had never lost one of our rockets, but I was beginning to wonder if maybe this one was going to be our first. If it had fallen on Rocket Mountain, buried itself into the soft black West Virginia loam up there, maybe we had missed it. “Time, O’Dell,” I called nervously.

O’Dell looked at the stopwatch he’d borrowed last year from one of the coal company industrial engineers and forgotten to give back. “I think it’s still flying,” he said.

“Then where is it?” I demanded. We couldn’t lose it. Like every rocket we launched, it held answers we had to know.

“There it is!” Billy yelled as he began sprinting across the slack. I still couldn’t see anything but I ran after him anyway. He easily pulled away from me with athletic grace, his muscles like small coiled springs, his shoes sending up little puffs of black grit as he ran. How that boy could run! Nobody could keep up with Billy Rose when he had his sharp eyes locked on a rocket. I, on the other hand, tended to be a pretty slow runner. I think it was because I was so nearsighted. I was always afraid I was going to run into something.

O’Dell trotted up alongside me, putting a hand on my elbow to straighten me out. “Time looks good,” he said, and then ran on ahead, his mop of blond hair bouncing as his short legs churned. He held his stopwatch in front of him, his finger poised to click it off the moment our rocket hit the slack.

Roy Lee caught up with me next. He was in his Dugout clothes, a tight pair of draped and pegged black pants, brown loafers, a pink shirt with black piping, and hair thoroughly lacquered down into a swept-back DA. He had a date for the Saturday-night dance at the teen hangout in War and was headed that way right after the launch. “I never can see the blamed things,” he griped as he ran by me. Roy Lee’s long legs soon had him beside O’Dell, but Billy was still far ahead.

Behind me, I could hear Sherman’s uneven gait, his left leg slung in an arc at each step, his built-up shoe scuffing the slack. Polio had given his leg a twist and turned it thin as a sapling. I slowed to let him catch up and run alongside me. “O’Dell said the time looks good,” I gasped.

Sherman broke into a grin at my report. “Maybe it’s going to be a great rocket,” he said.

A “great rocket” was what Quentin, the brains of our outfit, called the rockets that did exactly what we’d designed them to do. I sincerely hoped Sherman was right. Auk XXII-E used an untried propellant. With rockets, anytime you changed one thing, a lot of other things changed, too, and it was hard to predict what all they might be. In that, I guess they were a bit like me and the rest of the boys. Even though we were all seniors in high school and thought of ourselves as being grown up, the truth was we had a way to go. I was sixteen, they were seventeen, and every day, it seemed we grew a little, usually in some unpredictable way. Sometimes, I had trouble recalling who I had been the day before, or might be tomorrow. Coach Gainer called it the “teenage boy crazies.” When I got too afflicted with it, my mom always jerked a knot in my tail and said, “Straighten up and fly right.” And so I did.

Quentin was downrange so that he could measure the altitude of our rocket using trigonometry. To do it, he had to see the rocket at peak altitude and aim at it with a device he had built out of a broomstick, a nail, a wooden ruler, and a plastic protractor. He called his invention a theodolite. But clouds had defeated him today, the rocket disappearing through the heavy layer that hung overhead. We would have to depend on O’Dell’s stopwatch.

“Whoa! Stop!” Billy cried as we ran up to him. He had his arms outstretched to hold us back. I could hear the rocket whistling as it came in, and then, a hundred yards ahead, there was a big metallic retort and a plume of slack. The Auk had struck nosefirst. “Come on!” Billy yelled, and we ran on.

“Thirty-one seconds,” O’Dell reported as we reached the rocket. I did a quick mental calculation. I had designed Auk XXII-E to reach an altitude of 6,000 feet. It had reached, according to the formula we used, less than 4,000 feet. That was a disappointment. The Big Creek Missile Agency (or BCMA, as we liked to call it) had been in business for nearly two years, ever since the sight of the Russian Sputnik flying through the starry sky over Coalwood had first inspired us to join the space race. We’d started off slow, our rockets mostly blowing up, but after a while we had gotten the hang of it. We had already sent rockets higher than a mile using our old rocket candy propellant. The new propellant we were using should have easily gotten us past the mile mark. Something had gone seriously wrong with this little rocket, and I itched to find out what it was.

The smoking Auk was too hot to touch, so I gave it a quick eyeball once-over. The casement, which is what we called the body of the rocket, was made from a three- foot-long, one-and-a-quarter-inch-diameter length of seamless steel tubing. Steel tubing of that size and make was incredibly strong, yet it was now slightly bent. That wasn’t unexpected, since it was flying at over three hundred miles per hour when it had hit the hard slack. The wooden nose cone that had capped it had been reduced to splinters. One of the four fins welded to the casement had broken off. The machinists in the coal company machine shop would be interested in the damage. They had become dedicated rocket builders, sneaking in the work between jobs sent down by the mine. My father, the mine superintendent, had tried for months to stop them but had finally given up. “Bill,” Dad had said to their supervisor, “they’re your problem. Just remind your boys who pays their wages.” The machinists heard Dad’s reminder but it didn’t make much of an impression on them. Building rockets, after all, was a lot more fun than working on mine equipment.

I wanted most of all to look inside the nozzle, the working end of the rocket. Our new propellant, which we called “zincoshine,” consisted of zinc dust, sulfur, and the purest alcohol John Eye Blevins could produce from his still up Snakeroot Hollow. The nozzle and the propellant were the keys to our success. Unless both worked according to our designs, our rockets might fly but they were not going to be “great.”

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Table of Contents

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Introduction

This Reading Group Guide to Homer Hickam's The Coalwood Way is designed to stimulate discussion and enhance the reader's appreciation of this remarkable book.

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Foreword

1. As you read this memoir, did you begin to feel as if you knew the people involved? Did you like them? Do you think you’d have been happy to live in Coalwood in the late 1950s? If you had, what position in it would you have wanted? Coal miner? Foreman? Teacher? Housewife? Preacher? Doctor? Rocket Boy or Girl? Football Star? An outsider like Dreama?

2. Was this memoir similar in its construction with others that you have read? What do you think of the memoir genre? Do you think it might be hard to write a memoir that is interesting to readers?

3. How would you describe this book? Would you call it a man’s book or a woman’s book? Is it just a story of a boy with a dream or the story of a small mining town? Or is it something grander and deeper?

4. How would you describe Sonny’s parents? Do you think Homer (Senior) and Elsie love each other? How do they display their love? Why do they fight?

5. Compare and contrast the hopes and dreams and attitudes of Dreama and Ginger.

6. Why did Elsie think the Christmas Pageant was so important to her and to Coalwood? Why did she initially give up on it and decide to go to Myrtle Beach? Why did she change her mind? Why did Sonny not want to help her on the Pageant? Why did he change his mind?

7. Is this a universal story? Could it be set in other times or is it specific to Coalwood and West Virginia in the late ‘50s?

8. This story is also about the rewards and costs of nonconformity. Who conforms, who doesn’t and what are the consequences of their actions? Is that a problem today and can this story help those who tend to go against the expected norms? How was Quentina nonconformist? How was Dreama different? Why did Elsie love Quentin so much but seemed to reject Dreama? Would you consider Ginger a non-conformist?

9. When you began to read about it, why did you think Sonny felt strangely sad? Did the real reason for it surprise you? Do you think allowing Quentin to psychoanalyze Sonny would have been a good idea? Why do you think Sonny didn’t think so? Do you think Sonny would be diagnosed as clinically depressed these days?

10. Why do you think Dreama stayed with Cuke? Was Cuke all bad? Why did Coalwood accept Cuke but not Dreama? Why did Dreama want to be a Coalwood girl? Did her encounter with “Santa Claus” Clowers change your opinion of her? Why did Roy Lee seem to have such a problem about Dreama? Did Dreama have a destiny that she couldn’t escape?

11. Why do you think Sonny wrote the Pageant script the way he did? Why did he choose the three “Kings” of Coalwood to be who they were? Do you think it was wrong for Coalwood to pretend it was where the Christ-child was born?

12. Do you think Ginger and Sonny were really a “cute couple?” Do you think they should have worked harder to be together?

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Reading Group Guide

1. As you read this memoir, did you begin to feel as if you knew the people involved? Did you like them? Do you think you’d have been happy to live in Coalwood in the late 1950s? If you had, what position in it would you have wanted? Coal miner? Foreman? Teacher? Housewife? Preacher? Doctor? Rocket Boy or Girl? Football Star? An outsider like Dreama?

2. Was this memoir similar in its construction with others that you have read? What do you think of the memoir genre? Do you think it might be hard to write a memoir that is interesting to readers?

3. How would you describe this book? Would you call it a man’s book or a woman’s book? Is it just a story of a boy with a dream or the story of a small mining town? Or is it something grander and deeper?

4. How would you describe Sonny’s parents? Do you think Homer (Senior) and Elsie love each other? How do they display their love? Why do they fight?

5. Compare and contrast the hopes and dreams and attitudes of Dreama and Ginger.

6. Why did Elsie think the Christmas Pageant was so important to her and to Coalwood? Why did she initially give up on it and decide to go to Myrtle Beach? Why did she change her mind? Why did Sonny not want to help her on the Pageant? Why did he change his mind?

7. Is this a universal story? Could it be set in other times or is it specific to Coalwood and West Virginia in the late ‘50s?

8. This story is also about the rewards and costs of nonconformity. Who conforms, who doesn’t and what are the consequences of their actions? Is that a problem today and can this story help those who tend to go against the expected norms? How was Quentin a nonconformist? How was Dreama different? Why did Elsie love Quentin so much but seemed to reject Dreama? Would you consider Ginger a non-conformist?

9. When you began to read about it, why did you think Sonny felt strangely sad? Did the real reason for it surprise you? Do you think allowing Quentin to psychoanalyze Sonny would have been a good idea? Why do you think Sonny didn’t think so? Do you think Sonny would be diagnosed as clinically depressed these days?

10. Why do you think Dreama stayed with Cuke? Was Cuke all bad? Why did Coalwood accept Cuke but not Dreama? Why did Dreama want to be a Coalwood girl? Did her encounter with “Santa Claus” Clowers change your opinion of her? Why did Roy Lee seem to have such a problem about Dreama? Did Dreama have a destiny that she couldn’t escape?

11. Why do you think Sonny wrote the Pageant script the way he did? Why did he choose the three “Kings” of Coalwood to be who they were? Do you think it was wrong for Coalwood to pretend it was where the Christ-child was born?

12. Do you think Ginger and Sonny were really a “cute couple?” Do you think they should have worked harder to be together?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 19 )
Rating Distribution

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(16)

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 30, 2011

    might as well

    i loved the rocket boys, coalwood way, and sky of stone by homer

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 24, 2010

    This Book Soared its Way Into My Mind

    The Coalwood Way
    By Homer Hickman
    This book is a memoir of Homer Hickman's life in Coalwood West Virginia. Coalwood is a mining town where you either mine for your live or you get lucky as a teenager and leave on a scholarship for football; but Homer has other ideas in mind. Him and his friends (The Rocket Boys) start building rockets and their hopes for college. This book tells about Homer's tragedies and his greatest moments in Coalwood. I thought this book is great for any member of the family. This memoir is full of sadness, comedy, and happiness. The ending of the book will leave you feeling full and satisfied. I recommend this book to anyone who likes to read or is a West Virginian

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2002

    Just Can't Get Enough Hickam

    Im only half way through the book and I just can't put it down. After seeing the honorary movie, October Sky I just knew that I had to read the book. It was awesome and true mix of heart and desire. And if you loved October Sky, you'll definetly love The Coalwood Way... Its absolutely one of the best follow-up books that i have ever read...i cant wait until I'm done and can begin reading Sky of Stone...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2001

    10 stars

    AWSOME BOOK, COMBINES CHILDHOOD DREAMS WITH FAMILY DRAMA!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Interesting "Sequel"

    "The Coalwood Way" is a "sequel" to "Rocket Boys" and "October Sky", but it is unusual. The story takes place in the during the time period of the original books, but, being a memoir, it focuses on different things. Almost all the characters are the same in both stories, including the Rocket Boys, Homer and Elsie Hickam, Jake Mosby, and Miss Riley. However, some characters are less significant, such as Dorothy Plunk, and a few new characters are introduced, such as Dreama Jenkins and Ginger Dantzler. The main difference between the two stories is that while "Rocket Boys" and "October Sky" focus on rockets and the science fair, "The Coalwood Way" is mostly about problems in Coalwood, WV. Although a great book for both teens and adults, "The Coalwood Way" is more fun to read if you have already read either "Rocket Boys" or "October Sky".

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2003

    A deeply compelling memoir

    There is something about Mr. Hickam's writing that draws you in immediately. It seems that each and every word that he writes is meaningful not just as a word in a sentence, but in the overall context of the novel. It is almost like poetry, but a kind of no-frills, down-to-earth poetry. But it is not really the words that you recognize when you read the novel. It is more the way he tells you the story, the patient, completely trusting way that you learn about him. He writes this book for the whole world to see, and you get the feeling that he bares his soul and trusts you completely. It is this trusting ability that he imparts that is so compelling about his works because although he is a great writer and shaper of phrases, it is ultimately his voice, even more than his message, which will keep you focused in the novel. Moreover, he has a gift of being able to impart whatever feelings he has at the moment onto the page, and in doing so, puts you into his world. This novel has been called an equal of Rocket Boys, but I think that in some ways, this novel is even better. It focuses more on the people of the town instead of showing Mr. Hickam's childhood. I also find this novel more honest and realistic of the his life. There are parts in Rocket Boys where you don't get the full story and which are covered in this book. These parts may not be the wonderful, life-always-turns-out-great kind of stories, but that's life. I think that the idea that life's not always fair, but you do what you can is conveyed even more clearly in this novel than in Rocket Boys. Having said all this though, I must admit that I like Rocket Boys more. It is not that this book is written more poorly (no, on the contrary, this book feels more mature), but simply because I enjoyed the details of Mr. Hickams early forays into the world of rocketry in that earlier book. However, The Coalwood Way is most certainly my second favorite book and I would recommend everyone to read this fascinating memoir.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2003

    A compelling portrayal of Coalwood

    There is something about Mr. Hickam's writing that draws you in immediately. It seems that each and every word that he writes is meaningful not just as a word in a sentence, but in the overall context of the novel. It is almost like poetry, but a kind of no-frills, down-to-earth poetry. But it is not really the words that you recognize when you read the novel. It is more the way he tells you the story, the patient, completely trusting way that you learn about him. He writes this book for the whole world to see, and you get the feeling that he bares his soul and trusts you completely. It is this trusting ability that he imparts that is so compelling about his works because although he is a great writer and shaper of phrases, it is ultimately his voice, even more than his message, which will keep you focused in the novel. Moreover, he has a gift of being able to impart whatever feelings he has at the moment onto the page, and in doing so, puts you into his world. This novel has been called an equal of Rocket Boys, but I think that in some ways, this novel is even better. It focuses more on the people of the town instead of showing Mr. Hickam's childhood. I also find this novel more honest and realistic of the his life. There are parts in Rocket Boys where you don't get the full story and which are covered in this book. These parts may not be the wonderful, life-always-turns-out-great kind of stories, but that's life. I think that the idea that life's not always fair, but you do what you can is conveyed even more clearly in this novel than in Rocket Boys. Having said all this though, I must admit that I like Rocket Boys more. It is not that this book is written more poorly (no, on the contrary, this book feels more mature), but simply because I enjoyed the details of Mr. Hickams early forays into the world of rocketry in that earlier book. However, The Coalwood Way is most certainly my second favorite book and I would recommend everyone to read this fascinating memoir.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2001

    Deep and Rewarding; a Real Page Turner

    I enjoyed reading all of Homer Hickam's memoirs, and this one was no exception. He pulls you into the small town of Coalwood, and like many who have come before me, I was reluctant to leave. The Coalwood Way adds another dimension to the Rocket Boys, concentrating more on Sonny as a person, showing his fledgling attempts at love, and the struggles with his father. This one is a must read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2001

    A Wondrous story of love

    'Rocket Boys' was indeed a great novel with a fantastic story. Its sequel is as well, although it is a decidedly different book, both in content and tone. I loved both and marvel anew at Mr. Hickam's ability as a writer to turn the mundane into glory. The novel begins with a brief retrospective (although Hickam is clever to place it within the action so it doesn't seem as if he's bringing the reader up to date, especially the reader who hasn't read October Sky). All his main characters are firmly in place by the end of Chapter One. Where October Sky was really about Sonny's relationship to his father, The Coalwood Way is really his mother's book so keep an eye on Elsie! It is important to realize that The Coalwood Way actually takes place during the same timeframe as October Sky, actually before the science fairs. Readers who think they know the October Sky book because they've seen the movie are often confused by this if they start the series with The Coalwood Way. People, the movie is filled with errors about this story - Sonny (Homer) didn't win a scholarship! Sonny didn't quit school! Sonny didn't go to work in the mine! The true October Sky story is vastly richer than the good but essentially simple-minded story told in the movie. In the Coalwood Way, we learn so much more about the Hickam family, its relationship to Coalwood, and the really harsh rules that govern the people who live there. Although she actually occupies only a small part of the story, probably the most fascinating character is Dreama, the girl from the rough town of Gary. All she wants to be is a Coalwood girl. I won't reveal what happens to her except to say her tragedy represents all the is wrong with Coalwood society although its aftermath represents all that is good. To sum up, this is a grand book. For Jan Karon fans, this is the Mitford tale told true, and far, far richer than those books. Still, if you like Karon, you'll love Hickam!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2001

    A great book for all in the family

       'Rocket Boys' (aka October Sky) was indeed a great novel with a fantastic story. Its sequel is as well, although it is a decidedly different book, both in content and tone. I loved both and marvel anew at Mr. Hickam's ability as a writer to turn the mundane into glory. The novel begins with a brief retrospective (although Hickam is clever to place it within the action so it doesn't seem as if he's bringing the reader up to date, especially the reader who hasn't read October Sky). All his main characters are firmly in place by the end of Chapter One. Where October Sky was really about Sonny's relationship to his father, The Coalwood Way is really his mother's book so keep an eye on Elsie! It is important to realize that The Coalwood Way actually takes place during the same timeframe as October Sky, actually before the science fairs. Readers who think they know the October Sky book because they've seen the movie are often confused by this if they start the series with The Coalwood Way. People, the movie is filled with errors about this story - Sonny (Homer) didn't win a scholarship! Sonny didn't quit school! Sonny didn't go to work in the mine! The true October Sky story is vastly richer than the good but essentially simple-minded story told in the movie. In the Coalwood Way, we learn so much more about the Hickam family, its relationship to Coalwood, and the really harsh rules that govern the people who live there. Although she actually occupies only a small part of the story, probably the most fascinating character is Dreama, the girl from the rough town of Gary. All she wants to be is a Coalwood girl. I won't reveal what happens to her except to say her tragedy represents all the is wrong with Coalwood society although its aftermath represents all that is good. To sum up, this is a grand book. For Jan Karon fans, this is the Mitford tale told true, and far, far richer than those books. Still, if you like Karon, you'll love Hickam!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2000

    A Great Book From a Great Writer

    Wow, I thoroughly enjoyed this book as I do with all of Mr. Hickam's novels. I really felt as if I was in Coalwood. I think it is amazing how he remembers his past experiences so accurately. :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2000

    Coalwood Way

    I was surprised to find that although there's a lot more to this book, in the end, it was a Christmas story. And a story of miracles. Mr. Hickam has a rare gift, to make a memoir read like a novel yet you can feel the underlying truths. It isn't often I can say a book has changed my life. This one has. I urge everybody to get this book for anyone troubled about life. There are wonderful answers here and they really go beyond Christmas. Even after Christmas, I would give this book to anyone sick or afflicted or spiritually troubled. Mr. Hickam doesn't write about rockets. As he says in his opening paragraph, he writes about lessons of life, or truth, as Coalwood gave him the vision to tell it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2000

    Coalwood Way

    My heart and soul have been stirred by this book. I have been trying to figure out some things about myself lately and then somebody gave me this book. I hadn't read October Sky but if it's half as good, I can't wait to read it. Sonny Hickam tells a story here of true values, of miracles, of passionate truth. I'm in love with all the wonderful people of Coalwood. I especially liked the story of the deer on Christmas Eve. I will be assigning this one to my class to see how a memoir should be written.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2000

    Coalwood Way

    I loved October Sky. I love The Coalwood Way. There's something about Mr. Hickam's writing that just tickles me in the right way. I read him and pretty soon it's as if I'm right beside him and we're having this adventure together. I can't think of another writer that so absorbs me into his writing. If you have someone who needs cheering up, this book would make a great gift. It cheered me up and I wasn't even unhappy! My class and I are reading it aloud for the holidays. So far, all smiles!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2000

    This book is sooooo good!

    I lost sleep reading October Sky and now Homer's done it to me again! The Coalwood Way is very different than October Sky yet it had the same means to capture my imagination and not let go. The Rocket Boys are all there, and Homer's folks, and the people of Coalwood, and some new people, too, yet I sense this book is much more spiritual than the other. Homer tells of fighting a kind of sadness that he couldn't figure out. I tell you what - I'm giving this book to all the people I know who aren't happy with their lives. I think there are a lot of answers here. Oprah, are you listening????

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    Posted August 19, 2012

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    Posted September 19, 2011

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    Posted July 6, 2010

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    Posted December 12, 2011

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    Posted January 19, 2010

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