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From Barnes & NobleOur 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.