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The Coalwood Way (The Coalwood Series #2) Hardcover – October 10, 2000

105 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

In his bestselling memoir, Rocket Boys (which became the 1999 movie October Sky), former NASA engineer Hickam looked back at the mining town of Coalwood, W.Va., when the 1957 ascent of Sputnik prompted Sonny and his teenage pals to launch their own rockets and aim at the stars. This sequel is set in 1959, when Sonny is a high school senior, still sending up rockets at "Cape Coalwood," at local launches that became full-scale social events with numerous spectators: "Even the Big Creek cheerleaders came, dressed in full uniform." Hickam digs deeper into his own family life, recalling an ambivalent relationship with his father, the superintendent of the local mine: "My dad was, in many ways, [a] general, plotting strategy and tactics against an unyielding foe, the mine itself." Hearing the constant miner's cough in her own house, Hickam's mother, Elsie, wants to leave the coal dust-covered community for the "fresh, clean air" of Myrtle Beach, since "she knew very well lung spots never got smaller, only bigger," but Homer Sr. is determined to stay and save the mine. Amid the resulting household tension, Sonny suffers from an inexplicable sadness, despite his growing relationship with a local girl and his various science and writing projects. His recollections are occasionally reminiscent of the youthful exploits in tales by Jean Shepherd and Ray Bradbury, but Hickam's voice is his own. Recalling a lost eraDthe transition between small-town life and the dawning of the new technological ageDhe brings his American hometown to life with vivid images, appealing characters and considerable literary magic. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press; First Edition edition (October 10, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385335164
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385335164
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #384,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Winner of the prestigious University of Alabama's Clarence Cason Award and the Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award for his memoirs and fiction plus many other writing awards including an honorary Doctorate of Literature from Marshall University, Homer Hickam (also known as Homer H. Hickam, Jr.) is probably best known for his # 1 New York Times best-selling memoir Rocket Boys which was adapted into the ever-popular movie October Sky. Mr. Hickam has been a coal miner, Vietnam combat veteran, scuba instructor, NASA engineer, and now a best-selling author. For more information, please go to

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Win Idle on October 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
If you enjoyed Homer Hickam's Rocket Boys or the movie October Sky, this book is for you. Homer doesn't so much pick up where he left off at the end of Rocket Boys, but rather returns to the fullness of his senior high school year. He weaves a tapestry that provides detail in breadth and depth that keeps the pages turning. You'll suddenly discover it's well past bedtime and you are content to keep reading.
Homer discovers truths about himself and others, even as he's about to move away from home. There is always more to learn from one's parents. There are many emotional highs and lows in Coalwood, but lessons learned from both will leave you feeling hopeful for the human spirit. The people of Coalwood continue to display a dogged determination to get though the difficulties, even if they stumble along the way. Not one to cry easily, I found my eyes welling up with tears during the last chapter. It is possible to find great joy and beauty in hard times.
Homer doesn't miss on emotion. There's anger, joy, fear, excited anticipation, sorrow, laughter, and contentment. You may very well learn something about yourself while reading The Coalwood Way. I highly recommend it!
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Len LaCara on October 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
While not as lyrical as "Rocket Boys," Homer Hickam still tells an engrossing tale in his new memoir, "The Coalwood Way." The same people we grew to love are here: Sonny, Elsie and Homer; the Rev. "Little" Richard; Quentin, Roy Lee and all the Coalwood boys. But instead of focusing on his rocketing exploits, Hickam delves into the psyche of a town that's changing in ways it doesn't even know. This is less a story about Homer Hickam than it is a story about Coalwood, West Virginia. As readers, we're richer for the experience.
With the clear eye of a scientist, Hickam focuses on two watershed events in the Christmas of 1959. One delves into the undercurrent of spite and envy that marred his beloved hometown. The other shows a proud man, Homer's father, feverishly working to save his town the only way he knows how -- in the mine. But even that battle has unintended consequences.
The book starts a little slowly and the ending seems a little contrived. But it must ring true, or Homer's mother surely would have called him on it. And these are minor flaws in an otherwise excellent story.
As someone who lives in West Virginia but didn't grow up here, I never will fully appreciate Homer Hickam's world. But as one who loves the Mountain State and wants to see it thrive, I thank Hickam for sharing Coalwood with the rest of us. Homer Hickam has a message for the Mountain State: Honor the legacy of coal, but let it go. Education and a refusal to quit will take you wherever you wish to go. If those of us he left behind work hard enough, we can make our dreams come true -- without leaving our West Virginia hills.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By jeanne-scott on November 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Homer Hickham has done it again!! I loved Rocket Boys so much and didn't think it could happen again. Then along came The Coalwood Way!! This is a marvelous book about life. Homer takes the reader on a journey to a time when lives and times were changing, not always for the best. The author shows us a picture of a coal town and the Country in a period of transition, much like Sonny and his friends in their period of transition from high school, stepping into their future. The story tells us that no matter how bright or strong or motivated someone is, that life can throw some hard curve balls, and it is always good to know that you can count on family, friends and neighbors. Mr. Hickam also points out the importance of looking out for each other and knowing when it is time to step up to the plate for others. The story ends with a brilliant Christmas scene that really tells the reader that we are a wondrous creation molded by all the experiences in our lives, those that happen to us and those that we initiate ourselves and that always, always, the Creator's hand is with us. That he can do all this in "The Coalwood Way" without once being preachy is unique. This was an inspiring book, that takes real life examples and attempts to draw the readers along to look at the big picture of life. This book was fun, humorous, introspective, open, honest and very touching. I enjoyed it immensely.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Alice Rice on October 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In a time when so much that is published and shown in the media is negative and inconsequential, 'The Coalwood Way' uplifts the spirit with the honest reflections of a young man who discovers the secret of growing up. Homer Hickam reveals the deepest longing of his heart as the book carries the reader through a short but significant period of time that changes his life. Homer's heartwarming self-searching is so reflective of what I experienced as a teen that I'm certain that many others can also relate to his story. The Coalwood Way is not a sequel to Rocket Boys but rather an 'equal' that enlarges upon the relationships and complex personalities of the characters in the town. Homer (who is as sincere and nice as he comes across in the story, and is married to ones of the most beautiful and talented ladies around) seems to unroll the story like a red carpet, encouraging the reader to follow and explore the richness of this coal mining community in southern WV. My husband, daughter and I have visited Coalwood several times and spent time with the gracious people who live there and who are working so hard to bring restoration to this gem of a town. There is a proud spirit among the citizens and that rare closeness that the word 'community' stands for. The reader of Homer's Coalwood books are able to experience this spirit. If you are wondering what exactly Homer means by 'The Coalwood Way' I encourage you to read the book. It's one of those 'life lessons' we need to share with our kids, model ourselves, and encourage in others. Warm, rich, uplifting, thoughtful, and engrossing. It's a rare treat to find an author like Homer who writes with consistent integrity and unashamed joy. I'm so thankful he is working on a third book and can hardly wait to read it!
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