Rocket Boys

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Rocket Boys Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Homer Hickam's Rocket Boys. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Homer Hickam
 Homer Hickam grew up in West Virginia. When he was in high school, he and a large group of friends—dubbed the “Big Creek Missile Agency (BCMA)—collaborated to design a series of amateur rockets. In 1960, their designs won the gold and silver medals from the National Science Fair. (These events form the plot of his memoir, Rocket Boys). Hickam then studied at Virginia Tech, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering. Following his time in college, Hickam served as a First Lieutenant in the Vietnam War, where he was awarded a Bronze Star for his bravery. He then worked for NASA as an engineer, designing spacecraft for the Hubble Space Telescope. In 1989, he published his first book, Torpedo Junction, about the history of the American navy. The book was a best-seller, and enabled Hickam to write full-time. His most successful book was his second, Rocket Boys (1998), a memoir about his high school years with the BCMA. The memoir was an international bestseller, and within a year of its release it had been adapted as a film, October Sky, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. In the last 15 years, Hickam has been an energetic author and public speaker, authoring science fiction thrillers about outer space, additional memoirs about his adolescence in West Virginia, and adventure novels set during World War II. He resides in West Virginia.
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Historical Context of Rocket Boys
 The most important historical event related to Rocket Boys is the Cold War. Following the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were the only two remaining global superpowers. While the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. never fought each other directly, they competed in various indirect ways.
Other Books Related to Rocket Boys
 Rocket Boys is a Bildungsroman­—a “coming of age” story. While there are thousands of Bildungsroman, Hickam’s memoir is a little different than the usual example of the genre, since his “protagonist,” Homer, comes of age by discovering the beauty of science, mathematics, and engineering. In this regard, one close cousin of Rocket Boys is Sinclair Lewis’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Arrowsmith (1925), the story of a young boy from a small town, and his ascent to the position of a respected doctor. Arrowsmith was hugely popular in its time, and is said to have inspired dozens of noted doctors (including several Nobel laureates) to study medicine. Hickam also wrote two other memoirs about his early life and his experiences with engineering: The Coalwood Way (2000) and Sky of Stone (2002).
Key Facts about Rocket Boys
  • Full Title: Rocket Boys: A Memoir
  • Where Written: Coalwood, West Virginia
  • When Published: Fall 1998
  • Literary Period: Cold War memoir
  • Genre: Memoir, Bildungsroman
  •  Setting: Coalwood, West Virginia, United States
  • Climax: Homer wins first prize at the National Science Fair
  • Antagonist: Pooky Suggs, Jim Hickam, the football gang, the anti-intellectual citizens of Coalwood
  • Point of View: First person
Extra Credit for Rocket Boys

Who says writing is for wimps?: Homer Hickam has won various honors—science awards, medals for military excellence, literary prizes—but received arguably his most impressive honor in 1984. In Alabama, Hickam aided in the rescue of a sinking paddleboat in the Tennessee River, risking his life several times to save the passengers from drowning. For his incredible bravery, Hickam was awarded the Alabama Distinguished Service Award, one of the state’s highest civilian honors.

Rocket Boys Day: In the late 90s, Rocket Boys was a huge bestseller, and sparked tremendous interest in West Virginia’s culture and history. In gratitude for everything Hickam did to put his state on the map, the governor of West Virginia, Gaston Caperton, declared an annual “Rocket Boys Day” in celebration of Hickam’s literary and scientific achievements.