Rocket Boys

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Rocket Boys Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Homer describes the “golden age of rock and roll.” High school students throughout Coalwood would gather every Friday night to listen to Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and others on the radio. Ed Johnson is a local hero: an ex-marine who fought in Japan, Johnson invites the locals over to listen to new records on his hi-fi sound system.
At times, Hickam take a break from the narrative of Rocket Boys to describe the culture of Coalwood in the 1950s. Although Coalwood is isolated from the rest of the county in many ways, the invention of radio links it to broader cultural trends like rock and roll.
Themes
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
One day in April, Sherman calls Homer and tells him that it’s time to take a short break from rocketry—the BCMA needs to go to Ed Johnson’s “Dugout,” which is in the basement of a local restaurant. Homer agrees, and suggests that they ride with Jim. Unfortunately, Jim has already left by the time Homer calls to ask him for a ride. As a result, Sherman and Homer decide to hitchhike to the Dugout.
We are reminded that the Rocket Boys are still just boys—not rocket scientists devoted to full-time work. Notably it’s Sherman, not Quentin, who asks for a break (we can imagine that Quentin would be perfectly happy to continue working on rockets all night).
Themes
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
Sherman and Homer successfully hitchhike to the Dugout, where they find Ed, his girlfriend, and a big crowd of dancers. Sherman goes off to dance with a girl he likes, and Homer finds himself alone, trying to find someone to dance with. Suddenly, he sees Valentine arguing with Buck. Homer is horrified to see Valentine with Buck in the first place, though he’s a little happy to see that they’re not getting along.
Homer may be increasingly popular in Coalwood, but this doesn’t mean he’s a ladies’ man. Buck and the other football players continue to attract the most attention from the girls of Big Creek High School. Homer isn’t above showing some childish pleasure when Valentine and Buck don’t get along.
Themes
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Homer sees Dorothy, looking beautiful. He’s glad to see her, until he realizes that she’s going out with Jim. He watches in horror as they dance, slowly and romantically. Suddenly, he hears a voice—it’s Valentine, asking him for a dance. Homer accepts, eager to have a reason not to be looking at Dorothy and his brother.
Homer was irritated seeing Valentine with Buck, but he’s furious when he sees Dorothy with Jim. Jim is not only the opposite of Homer—handsome, athletic, non-intellectual—but he’s also Homer’s brother and closest rival, so this hits him especially close to home.
Themes
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
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Homer dances with Valentine, and in the middle of a song, she kisses him on the lips, much to his surprise. She leads him outside, into Buck’s car, where she turns on the radio. At one point, Buck comes outside and bangs on the door, but afterwards he leaves them alone. Homer modestly doesn’t describe what happens inside the car, but afterwards, Valentine tells Homer, almost sadly, that she’ll always be the one who “had him first.” Homer leaves the car, and notices Buck looking depressed. For the first time, he feels a wave of sympathy for Buck—he’s now lost both his scholarship and his girlfriend.
Homer treats Valentine as a kind of “consolation prize”—he would have preferred to dance with Dorothy, but he’ll settle for Valentine instead. It’s implied that Homer loses his virginity to Valentine, though Hickam doesn’t say so explicitly. It’s no coincidence that Homer feels sympathy for Buck immediately after he loses his virginity. Hickam suggests that Homer has become more mature (and sexual maturity is part of this), developing genuine sympathy even those who show nothing but disdain for him. This contrasts to the early scene where Homer mocked Buck for losing his sports scholarship.
Themes
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Since it’s well after midnight, Homer returns from the Dugout. As he rides home, he notices lights on in houses, and a group of people walking toward the mine. At home, he finds Elsie, waiting for him. She tells him that he’s not to go to the mine that night, no matter what else he does.
The chapter ends on a note of suspense. Once again, Homer’s teenage trials and triumphs are interrupted by the harsh reality of life in Coalwood.
Themes
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