Rocket Boys

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Homer Hickam Jr. Character Analysis

The young narrator and protagonist of Rocket Boys, Homer Hickam, Jr. is a curious, adventurous, and ambitious teenager from the town of Coalwood, West Virginia. During the course of the book, Homer, inspired by the onset of the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union, endeavors to build rockets like his hero, Dr. Wernher von Braun. He founds a group, the BCMA, composed of his high school friends, which builds and launches rockets. Because his projects inspire a huge amount of ridicule and mockery from the townspeople of Coalwood, Homer becomes braver and more passionate with each rocket he designs. At the beginning of Rocket Boys, Homer is confused—about his future, his ambitions, and his relationship with his family. By building rockets, Homer strengthens his desire to become a NASA engineer and escape the career that his father, Homer Hickam, Sr., has planned for him—as an engineer in Coalwood’s mines. While this desire occasionally causes Homer to despise his hometown, he comes to respect the people of Coalwood and accept their sincere support of his dreams. As an adult—indeed, the narrator of Rocket Boys—Homer looks back on his childhood in Coalwood with regret and sadness, but also nostalgia and appreciation.

Homer Hickam Jr. Quotes in Rocket Boys

The Rocket Boys quotes below are all either spoken by Homer Hickam Jr. or refer to Homer Hickam Jr. . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dell edition of Rocket Boys published in 2000.
Chapter 1 Quotes

For all the knowledge and pleasure they gave me, the books I read in childhood did not allow me to see myself past Coalwood. Almost all the grown-up Coalwood boys I knew had either joined the military services or gone to work in the mine. I had no idea what the future held in store for me.

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

Homer Hickam Jr., the protagonist of Rocket Boys, grows up in a town where the vast majority of residents never leave even after they've grown into adults. Furthermore, most of the adults who stay in the town end up working in the mine—the cornerstone of the town's economy.

Homer Jr.'s ambition eventually leads him to build a rocket, earn a scholarship to college, and become a notable rocket engineer. But as a young boy, he has no idea that he'll take an engineering path later on. All he has is a strong instinct to escape the confines of his town and explore the world—an instinct he describes in this quotation. But Homer makes it very clear that this instinct by itself simply isn't enough to get him out of town: he becomes a rocket scientist because of his natural curiosity, but also because of his hard work, his accidental discovery of rockets, and sheer luck. By showing that his curiosity and adventurousness are necessary but insufficient for escaping from town, Homer makes it clear that he is "one of the lucky ones." Many of his childhood friends were just as curious or ambitious as he was, but didn't have the good fortune to find their passion, go to college, and leave town.

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Chapter 2 Quotes

The men crossed the tracks and I saw the glint of their lunch buckets in the tipple light, and I came slowly back to reality. They weren’t explorers on the moon, just Coalwood miners going to work. And I wasn’t on von Braun’s team. I was a boy in Coalwood, West Virginia. All of a sudden, that wasn’t good enough.

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Wernher von Braun
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Inspired by the launch of Sputnik, Homer Jr. wants to build rockets that can soar high into space, eclipsing Sputnik. But Homer's ambitions go much deeper than the desire to design impressive rockets. Suddenly, Homer sees a new path for himself in life—a path that will take him out of the town of Coalwood to engineer rockets for Dr. Werner von Braun, the most famous rocket scientist in the world. (In real life, von Braun was a former Nazi scientist who, due to his vast intelligence and talent, was recruited by the United States to build American weapons.)

Homer Jr. has always had vague ambitions to explore the world and get out of Coalwood. But it's not until the beginning of the Space Race that he finds a suitable plan to focus his ambitions. Rockets represent a way for Homer to escape a life spent mining coal in West Virginia: he thinks that if he builds impressive rockets he'll be able to escape his childhood home forever.

Chapter 3 Quotes

I knew Dad thought about Jim all the time, was always telling people what a great football player my brother was, and how he was going to tear up the world in football when he went to college.

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Homer Hickam Sr. , Jim Hickam
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

At home, Homer Jr. competes with his brother, Jim, for the attention of their father, Homer Sr., the chief engineer of the Coalwood coal mine. Jim is as different from Homer Jr. as two brothers can be: as the quotation explains, Jim is a talented football player, and Homer Sr. supports Jim's athleticism, since he thinks Jim will be able to go to college on a scholarship, get an education, and make a better life for himself. Homer Jr. is clearly jealous of Jim's success. More to the point, he's jealous that his father is impressed with Jim's dreams of playing college ball, but pays little attention to Homer's dreams of launching rockets.

The quotation is important because it shows that one of Homer's primary motivations for building rockets is impressing his family, especially his father. While Homer wants to go to college, meet Dr. von Braun, etc., his dreams are also very simple: he wants his father to love and respect him.

I didn’t know what to say. I just stared at her. She sighed. “To get out of here, you’ve got to show your dad you’re smarter than he thinks. I believe you can build a rocket. He doesn’t. I want you to show him I’m right and he’s wrong. Is that too much to ask?”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Elsie Lavender Hickam (speaker), Homer Hickam Sr.
Related Symbols: Rockets
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Homer's mother, Elsie, gives her son the encouragement he needs to build rockets. Elsie knows that Homer wants to design rockets, and she also recognizes that he wants to do so partly to impress his father, who's always turned a deaf ear to Homer's accomplishments. Elsie tells her son to build rockets to prove Homer Sr. wrong: to prove that Homer Jr.'s dreams of engineering aren't just dreams at all.

The quotation also sheds light on Elsie's motivations for encouraging Homer. While it's true that Elsie, like any loving mother, wants her son to succeed, there's also a more complicated side to her actions. As Homer Jr. makes clear throughout Rocket Boys, Elsie is frustrated with her life in Coalwood: she doesn't have many creative outlets, and she seems unable to discuss her problems with Homer Sr., since he's been living in Coalwood for years, and can't sympathize with her. In part, then, Elsie tells Homer Jr. to build rockets because Homer's success will be an outlet for her own frustrations: she wants her child to succeed and escape town because she can't.

Chapter 4 Quotes

“You gonna build another [rocket]?” asked Tom Tickle, one of the single miners who lived in the Club House.
Tom was friendly. “Yes, sir, I am,” I said.
“Well, attaboy!” the step group chorused.
“Shee-it. All he can do is build a bomb,” Pooky said.

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Pooky Suggs (speaker), Tom Tickle (speaker)
Related Symbols: Rockets
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Homer Jr. goes through a lot of teasing during his time as a "rocket boy," he's also fortunate to come across people who support his science projects whole-heartedly. In this quotation, Homer crosses paths with Tom Tickle, an enthusiastic supporter of rocket-building, but also Pooky Suggs, one of Homer's most frequent detractors.

Pooky's nasty criticism of Homer Jr.'s rockets tells us a lot about the kind of man he is. In part, Pooky bullies Homer because he's been arguing with Homer Sr., Homer's father. But also, Pooky resents Homer for daring to dream of something truly original. Pooky is a frustrated, lonely young man, and he's jealous of Homer for finding a creative outlet that Pooky himself can never understand.

On the other hand, Tom's enthusiasm for Homer's rocket science reminds us that there's nothing particularly "un-Coalwood" about Homer's project. On the contrary, Homer only succeeds in building successful rockets because of the support and mentorship of the townspeople: their ingenuity and encouragement gives Homer the skill and confidence he needs. 

Chapter 5 Quotes

The first rocket emitted a boil of nasty, stinking, yellowish smoke and then fell over, the glue on its fins melted. “Wonderful,” Roy Lee muttered, holding his nose. Quentin silently wrote the result down on a scrap of notebook paper. Body of knowledge.

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Roy Lee (speaker), Quentin
Related Symbols: Rockets
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

This quotation is important because it shows us how much failure and bitterness Homer Jr. has to deal with before he attains any real success with rocket science. Many of Homer's early rockets don't launch at all—they just burn up on the launch pad, or explode, or worse.

In the quote, Hickam shows us two possible reactions to the rocket's failure: Roy Lee's and Quentin's. Roy Lee, an ambitious but somewhat impatient boy, is irritated by the failure of the rocket. Quentin, on the other hand, doesn't think of the rocket as a failure at all. An important part of the scientific method, he understands, is recognizing what not to do. Therefore, a rocket that burns up on the launchpad communicates some valuable lessons to the Rocket Boys. Quentin's patience and wisdom about the way science works is invaluable to Homer and his team as they proceed with their work.

Chapter 6 Quotes

“Maybe one day we’ll have a trophy in here, Sonny, for our rockets.”
“Are you kidding?”
“Absolutely not. Every spring, science students present their projects for judging at the county science fair. If you win there, you go to the state and then the nationals. Big Creek’s never won anything, but I bet we could with our rockets.”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Quentin (speaker)
Related Symbols: Rockets
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

After Homer Jr. and his friends begin designing rockets, they get a taste for rocket building: in other words, at this early stage in the book, they're building rockets for fun. A turning point comes during this scene, when Quentin tells Homer about the annual science fair, and suggests that the BCMA (rocket team) could enter their rockets in the competition. Judging by Homer's behavior in the scene, he's never heard of the science fair before. Homer's surprise, then, is a reminder that he would never have succeeded in becoming a rocket science had it not been for friends like Quentin. Homer may be intelligent and ambitious, but he's not always sure how to go about translating his enthusiasm into actual success (had it not been for Quentin, after all, he may not have entered the science fair, won a medal, gone to college, or become a scientist).

Chapter 7 Quotes

“You want to thank me.” He nodded toward the box. “Make these fly. Show your dad what you and I did together.”
My father had clearly, in no uncertain terms, told me to stop building rockets. The BCMA was now an outlaw organization. I don’t know why, but that felt good. I had the urge to hug Mr. Bykovski, but resisted it. Instead, I stood straight and tall, and said firmly, and what I hoped was manfully, “Yes, sir. You can count on me.”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Mr. Isaac Bykovski (speaker), Homer Hickam Sr.
Related Symbols: Rockets
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Homer Jr. goes to many neighbors and friends for help as he designs his rockets, and one of the most important mentors he comes across is Isaac Bykovski. Isaac teaches Homer valuable information about rocket design, and acts as a supportive father figure in place of Homer Sr.'s criticism. But then Homer Sr. fires Isaac from his job in the metal shop—Homer Sr. doesn't want anyone helping his son building rockets. In this scene, Isaac tells Homer Jr. to keep building rockets anyway.

The scene is important partly because it shows Homer Jr. accumulating a "debt" to the people in his community. While it's true that Homer Jr. feels a strong ambition to build rockets and go to college, he's helped along this path by dozens of mentors and friends in the town of Coalwood. By the end of the book, Homer isn't just launching rockets for himself; he's launching rockets because he "owes" it to people like Isaac. Furthermore, the scene is important because it shows us how Homer Jr. becomes an adult in the process of designing rockets. Here, Homer comes to learn the concept of honor-he must honor Isaac's help and support by succeeding with his project. Rockets aren't a childish diversion for Homer; they teach him the importance of honor, as well as integrity, loyalty, and maturity.

Chapter 8 Quotes

“Love to help ya, I really would,” he said, “but I don’t have enough for my roof as it is.”
I looked up. “But your roof is shingled.”
He nodded “If I had shingles, I’d use ‘em. But I don’t. I’ve got tin.”
“Emmett Jones has a bunch of shingles stacked up next to his coal box,” O’Dell said. “almost the same color.”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Reverend “Little” Richard (speaker), Emmett Jones
Related Symbols: Rockets
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Homer and the other BCMA members get an impromptu lesson in engineering. They're trying to find materials to design rockets and a rocket launching pad, but find it difficult to track down the necessary metal and shingles. Here, the Reverend Richard gives the boys some advice in obtaining resources, referring them to someone (Emmett) who has what the boys need.

During their days as engineers, the Rocket Boys are often forced to spend large hours tracking down the materials they need to build rockets. Their mission to track down shingles and tin might seem like a waste of time, considering that many other students in the country wouldn't have to go to such an effort—their parents would have the money to just buy them what they needed. But surprisingly, having to track down resources doesn't necessarily disadvantage the BCMA: on the contrary, it makes them better workers and better scientists. Where wealthier students would buy tin and shingles without batting an eye, the BCMA are forced to think critically and practically about what materials would make for the best rockets, as their decisions about design and material need to be well thought-out in a way that their wealthier rivals' decisions don't. Furthermore, tracking down materials trains the boys to be gifted problem-solvers. When launching rockets, they apply the same resourcefulness they've acquired while tracking down what they need.

Chapter 9 Quotes

“We’re making progress.” I put out my hand, palm down. “Come on, put your hand on mine, like the football team does.”
One by one, Sherman, O’Dell Roy Lee, and Quentin solemnly placed their hands one on top of the other, all on top of mine. “Rocket boys,” I said. “Rocket boys forever!”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), O’Dell , Sherman , Quentin , Roy Lee
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Homer and his new friends christen themselves the "rocket boys." The scene is full of symbolism; most importantly, the rocket boys take on the behaviors of football players, cheering for their "team." As Homer has already made clear, science and math have eclipsed football as the point of emphasis in Coalwood schools. It's only appropriate, then, that the rocket boys behave like football players—the science students have replaced the jocks.

More generally, though, the scene establishes the importance of groups for Homer and his friends. Homer doesn't always have much in common with his fellow rocket boys, and yet they're all united in their ambitions of building rockets and going to college. By working together, the rocket boys all benefit. There are many times throughout the novel when one of the boys considers leaving the group altogether, and it's only because of the encouragement of the rest of the group that everyone remains involved. Individually, the rocket boys have their own strengths and weaknesses: together, their strengths multiply and their weaknesses disappear.

Chapter 10 Quotes

Instead of swaggering heroically through the halls in their green and white letter jackets, Jim and the football boys trudged to class sullen and trigger-sensitive to insult.

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Jim Hickam
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

In his final year of high school, Jim Hickam is dismayed to learn that football has been cancelled in West Virginia schools. Football—a staple of community life in Coalwood—has been cancelled because of the national shifts in the school system. Because of the Space Race, schools have decided to focus their attention on math and science, and suddenly football is seen as a distraction from the subjects that "really matter." In this quotation, we see the results of the changes in the school system: Jim and his football buddies are understandably angry and upset about not having an outlet for their talents and ambitions. The quote also foreshadows the way that Homer Jr. and his friends will become the new heroes of the school: their rocket launches will become a community "event," filling the vacuum created by the banning of football games.

Chapter 12 Quotes

Machining and materials for gravel. Gravel, like all things in Coalwood, could be supplied by my father. After I completed my engineering drawing of the nozzle, there was nothing to do but to go up to the mine. Dad looked up from his desk when I entered his office. “I heard you’ve been talking to Ike Bykovski,” he said. “And now you’re visiting Leon Ferro. You get around, don’t you?”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Homer Hickam Sr. (speaker), Mr. Isaac Bykovski , Mr. Leon Ferro
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

Homer Jr. is under strict instructions from his father, Homer Sr., not to build any more rockets. In part, Homer Sr. doesn't want his son building rockets because he thinks they're a danger to the mine: indeed, Homer's first rocket blows up, nearly hurting bystanders. Furthermore, Homer Sr. doesn't want Homer Jr. asking anyone in town—Ike and Leon included—about rocket design. In this quotation, Homer Sr. calls out his son for disobeying him on more than one occasion.

Homer Sr.'s gruffness in this scene might suggest that he doesn't want his son building rockets—in other words, just reiterating what he told his son earlier. But the very fact that Homer Sr. knows so much about Homer Jr.'s actions may suggest that he's keeping on eye on Homer Jr. for reasons other than criticizing or punishing him. As the book goes on, Hickam leads us to believe that Homer Sr. is grudgingly impressed with his son's intelligence and determination. So as intimidating as Homer Sr. might seem to be in this scene, there's also faint suggestion that he's secretly impressed with and supportive of his son.

“Mining’s in your blood, little man,” he shrugged. “I guess you’ll figure that out, sooner or later.”
“I still want to work for Dr. von Braun.”
He nodded. “We’ll see.”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Homer Hickam Sr. (speaker), Wernher von Braun
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

In this confrontation between Homer Sr. and Homer Jr., a lot is revealed about both characters. Homer Jr. makes it very clear that he has lofty ambitions of working for NASA, under the leadership of Werner von Braun. Indeed, von Braun is something of an alternate "father figure" for Homer Jr.—a role model. Homer Jr.'s love for von Braun suggests that he sees something insufficient in his father's personality and career choice: he wants to be something more than a mining engineer, and for this reason he looks beyond Coalwood for his heroes.

Homer Sr.'s behavior in this scene is equally revealing. He's an engineer, meaning that he can't entirely dislike what his son is doing with rockets. Homer Jr.'s rocket launches are a tribute to his father's own talents as an engineer (one could say that engineering, not mining, is in his blood). So it's not that Homer Sr. doesn't want his son to become a NASA engineer; instead, he just doesn't think this is a realistic dream. Homer Sr. wants his son to have a good, steady job that will enable him to raise a family. It's for this reason that he wants his son to abandon rocket science for the time being and focus on becoming a mining employee.

Chapter 13 Quotes

I suddenly felt proud of [my father], more than for just his long-ago act of heroism, but because of what he had once been back in Gary and all that he had become because of his hard work.

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Homer Hickam Sr.
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

Homer discovers that his father is a hero: years ago, Homer Sr. found a baby in a burning building, and he risked his own life to carry the baby to safety. Years later, Homer meets that "baby," now a grown woman named Geneva Eggers, and learns about his father's bravery.

In spite of the anger he sometimes feels toward his father—mostly when his father forbids him from pursuing his passion of building rockets—Homer also develops a deep respect for the way his father has lived his life. It is important to note that it's not Homer Sr.'s bravery that really impresses Homer. Rather, Homer is more impressed with Homer Sr.'s hard work and perseverance while working for the mine in Coalwood. Homer's respect for his father's hard work suggests that it "takes one to know one"; in other words, Homer respects his father because Homer himself has been working very hard on his rockets.

Chapter 17 Quotes

I told him about my conversation with the machinist. “I think he’s right,”: I said. “It’ll take us forever your way.”
“And when this rocket blows up and you don’t have a clue what caused it?” Quentin asked, his face pinched. “What will you have learned then?”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Quentin (speaker)
Related Symbols: Rockets
Page Number: 230
Explanation and Analysis:

This excerpt shows us one of the most important clashes between Quentin and Homer. The quotation is also important because it underscores the differences between Quentin and Homer's ways of conducting scientific research. After the BCMA proposes a number of major changes to rocket design, Homer wants to add all 5 or 6 changes modifications to the group's rockets at the same time. Quentin, however, believes that the changes should be added one at a time; this will allow the group to identify the results of each change, establishing a more scientific relationship between causes and effects.

The quotation shows that Homer may be a little too enthusiastic about rocket designing: in his haste to build a good rocket, he takes short cuts and neglects the important scientific research needed to maximize results. It's also the case that Quentin is a little too cautious and slow-paced: in his love of the scientific method, he's ignoring the fact that the BCMA only has a finite amount of time before the upcoming science fair.

While Quentin turns out to be right about the need for a careful, slow-paced approach to rocket design, the more important point here is that Homer and Quentin need each other; in other words, they balance each other out. Only as a group can the BCMA succeed—if it were just Quentin or just Homer, the rockets would never win any prizes.

Chapter 18 Quotes

“Ike built your rockets,” Doc said resolutely, “because he wanted the best for you, the same as if you were his own son. You and all the children in Coalwood belong to all the people. It’s an unwritten law, but that’s the way everybody feels.”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), “Doc” Lassiter (speaker), Mr. Isaac Bykovski
Related Symbols: Rockets
Page Number: 248
Explanation and Analysis:

After Isaac helps Homer Jr. with his rockets, Homer Sr. sends him sent to the mines as punishment. During his time in the mines, Isaac dies in a tragic accident, and Homer blames himself for the death: if he hadn't asked about rockets, Isaac would never have been in the mine in the first place. In this scene, Doc Lassiter encourages Homer to continue with his experiments. Doc's main point is that in the tiny town of Coalwood, everyone helps everyone else out, family or not.

Doc's quote is an eloquent summary of small-town American life. In Coalwood, there's an "unwritten law" that compels people like Doc and Isaac help Homer pursue his dreams. (Of course, another reality of small-town life is that there are lots of people whom Homer can't avoid seeing almost every day, and who try to bully him into giving up his dream.) Dozens of people support Homer, lending him their time, money, and resources as if he were their own son. One result of this setup is that Homer owes it not only to himself but to other people to continue with his rockets. It's for this reason that Doc wants Homer to keep pursuing his dreams.

Chapter 19 Quotes

“Sonny,” [Miss Riley] said, “a lot has happened to you, probably more than you know. But I’m telling you, if you stop working on your rockets now, you’ll regret it maybe for the rest of your life.”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Miss Riley (speaker)
Related Symbols: Rockets
Page Number: 254
Explanation and Analysis:

With only a short time before the year's science fair, Homer wonders if he should give up building rockets out of guilt for (supposedly) causing the death of Isaac Bykovski. It's only because of the encouragement of mentors like Miss Riley that Homer finds the strength to continue with his project. Here, Miss Riley tells Homer that if he gives up now he'll regret his choice forever.

Miss Riley's advice reminds us that Homer doesn't succeed in life simply because the people of Coalwood give him their time, money, and technical expertise, but because they give him their wisdom as well. Miss Riley is young, but she's seen more of life than Homer has; for this reason, she knows full well that Homer's guilt at causing Isaac's death will transform into regret at having given up so suddenly.

Chapter 20 Quotes

There, with nobody around but Roy Lee, Sherman, and O’Dell, I could be just another boy again. I put Coalwood and even my parents out of my mind and took in all the sounds and sights and smells of God’s nature everywhere about me. For the first time in months, I was genuinely happy.

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), O’Dell , Sherman , Roy Lee
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Homer and his friends on the BCMA take a camping trip outside of Coalwood. During the course of their trip, Homer begins to get over his sense of guilt for Isaac Bykovski's death. He's been fixated on having caused Isaac's death for weeks and weeks. In part, he's been feeling so guilty because he's been surrounded by the same buildings and people—each one a reminder of some connection between Homer and Isaac, and therefore a reminder of Homer's guilt. Outside of Coalwood and away from most people, Homer finds it easier to move on with his life, focusing on what he's most passionate about—rocketry and his friends. In general, Homer finds here that his friends are one of his most important "resources" in life. On the many occasions when he's at the point of quitting rocketry altogether, his friends encourage him to stick with it.

Chapter 22 Quotes

“You had the calculus class, Quentin. You work them.”
“No,” he said adamantly. “Miss Riley gave you the book. You know calculus as well as I do. Quit stalling!”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Quentin (speaker), Miss Riley
Page Number: 292
Explanation and Analysis:

One of the final steps in Homer's training as a scientist is his mastery of calculus. Because he's not admitted into calculus class in school, he's forced to study the subject on his own time. While many people help Homer learn mathematics, his most important "tutor" is actually Quentin.  Quentin teaches Homer the ins and outs of calculus, but even more importantly, he encourages Homer to overcome his "mental block" on the subject. As Quentin says here, Homer is just as good at math as Quentin himself is; the difference is that Quentin knows he's good at math, while Homer is so used to thinking of himself as a second-rate student that he finds it hard to work hard at calculus.

Chapter 24 Quotes

Kennedy seemed to be energized by the response. “If I’m elected president,” he said, “I think maybe we will go to the moon.”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), John F. Kennedy (speaker)
Page Number: 336
Explanation and Analysis:

Homer Jr. goes into a nearby town to buy a suit for the science fair, and while he's there, he witnesses John F. Kennedy, a presidential candidate, making a speech. Homer asks Kennedy if man will use rockets to go to the moon, and Kennedy replies that perhaps America will go to the moon. (In real life, Kennedy's emphasis on space exploration led to the United States sending a team of astronauts to the moon in 1969).

The scene suggests that Homer and Kennedy are somehow kindred spirits—young, curious, idealistic men inspired to use science and technology to explore the world. The scene also implies that the Space Race was about much more than a militaristic competition with the Soviet Union (even if that's how the Space Race began). Homer's question for Kennedy betrays his optimism and curiosity; these qualities, as much as a desire to compete with Russia, brought America to the moon in 1969.

Chapter 25 Quotes

Jake jammed his hands in his pockets, sighed, and looked up at the mountains. “I’m not a religious man, Sonny. You want parables and proverbs, go to church. But I believe there’s a plan for each of us—you, me, Freida too. It doesn’t help to get mad about it or want to whip up on God about it. It’s just the way it is. You’ve got to accept it.”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Jake Mosby (speaker), Miss Riley
Page Number: 349
Explanation and Analysis:

Toward the end of the novel, Homer learns that Miss Riley, his beloved schoolteacher and mentor, has been diagnosed with cancer. Heartbroken, Homer turns to his friend Jake Mosby for help and advice. Jake offers Homer some wisdom: he suggests that there is a "plan" for everybody, meaning that people should accept when bad things happen to them. Although Jake's words might sound religious, or even explicitly Christian, he insists that they aren't. Whether one believes in God or not, it's important to accept that there are things in life, both good and bad, outside anyone's control.

Jake's advice for Homer is important because it helps Homer understand his own place in the town of Coalwood. Homer has been extremely successful as a rocket designer: in fact, he's won a prestigious medal for his work. While Homer achieved success in part because of his own ingenuity, there were many factors outside his or anyone else's control that led him to success, such as the timing of the Space Race, the establishment of a special "rocketry" category at the science fair, etc. In short, Homer gradually learns to understand that there are many things in life—both bad and good—that are outside our control; accepting this fact is part of growing into a mature adult.

Chapter 26 Quotes

“You did really good, Dad,” I told him as a spasm of deep, oily coughs racked his body. “Nobody ever launched a better rocket than you.”

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker), Homer Hickam Sr.
Related Symbols: Rockets
Page Number: 362
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Homer allows his father, who's suffering from a horrible coughing fit brought on by decades of working in a mine, to launch the BCMA's final rocket. When the rocket reaches up to a great height, Homer Jr. tells his father that he (Homer Sr.) did a great job launching the rocket. The quotation foreshadows Homer Sr.'s tragic death from lung complications, but the quote also captures an important step in Homer Jr.'s coming of age. Homer seems unusually mature and civil in the way he treats his father. It would be easy for Homer to taunt Homer Sr.—to remind his father of how he once forbade Homer from building any rockets at all. Instead, Homer compliments and encourages his father, showing that Homer has become a mature young man.

Finally, the quote underscores both a poignant moment of closeness and the continued distance between Homer Junior and Homer Senior. By all rights, it should be Homer Sr. complimenting his son on his superlative rocket designs. And yet Homer Sr. never offers such congratulations. Hickam suggests that Homer Sr. is too proud and too stubborn to admit that he was wrong to ban his son from rocket design; but in this brief, almost cathartic moment, the two are united and support each other. However, the politeness and sadness of the scene suggest that Homer will never feel completely close with his father—a conclusion that Hickam confirms in the novel's Epilogue.

Epilogue Quotes

Yet I believe for those of us who keep it in our hearts, Coalwood still lives.

Related Characters: Homer Hickam Jr. (speaker)
Page Number: 368
Explanation and Analysis:

Years later, Homer Jr. looks back on his childhood in Coalwood with a complex mixture of emotions. On one hand, he resents the fact that so many people bullied him for building rockets. He also dislikes that Coalwood was so anti-intellectual in general; there were many times when Homer's peers teased him for daring to be passionate about something other than football. And yet Homer can't entirely ignore his childhood in Coalwood. For every person who bullied Homer, there was someone else who offered him enthusiastic support and advice in rocket design. Even more importantly, the challenges and adversities that Homer had to work through to build rockets made him a harder worker and a better scientist.

In short, Homer—now a talented NASA engineer—cannot separate his current success from his past experiences in Coalwood. Even if Coalwood wasn't always the most supportive place for a budding scientist, it made him the strong, respectful, hardworking man he is today. As a result, Homer believes that Coalwood lives on—though in reality the town disappeared when the mine folded—in his own character, in his success as a scientist, and in the lives of his friends and peers. 

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Homer Hickam Jr. Character Timeline in Rocket Boys

The timeline below shows where the character Homer Hickam Jr. appears in Rocket Boys. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Coalwood
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The narrator, Homer Hickam, Jr., describes his “coming of age.” By learning to build rockets, he explains, he... (full context)
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Homer describes his hometown of Coalwood, West Virginia. In 1957, the year Homer began building rockets,... (full context)
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Homer describes Coalwood in more detail. There is a Main Street (built by the mining company... (full context)
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...is presided over by Reverend Josiah Lanier, a Methodist. Whenever there is a new Reverend, Homer recalls, the religious denomination of the entire town changes. The town has had Pentecostal, Methodist,... (full context)
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Growing up, Homer’s friends at school are Roy Lee, O’Dell, Tony, and Sherman. He invents a fictional Indian... (full context)
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At dinner one night, Homer listens to his parents talk about the history of Coalwood (his brother, Jim, would usually... (full context)
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Homer’s father has been working for the mine since he was 22 years old. Laird recognized... (full context)
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Homer Sr.’s father, whom Homer calls Poppy, moved to Coalwood along with his son, and worked... (full context)
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In 1950, Homer Sr. discovered that he had colon cancer. Instead of seeking medical attention, he devoted himself... (full context)
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Growing up, Homer and Jim saw very little of their father, because he worked long hours. To entertain... (full context)
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One of Homer’s favorite activities is reading. His grade school teachers introduced him to Uncle Tom’s Cabin and... (full context)
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Elsie resents Homer Sr. for spending so much time in the mines. Her four brothers, Robert, Ken, Charlie,... (full context)
Chapter 2: Sputnik
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When Homer is 11 years old, The Captain retires, and Homer Sr. takes his job. Homer Sr.... (full context)
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In 1957, Homer begins high school at Big Creek. He likes the new environment, and appreciates that he’s... (full context)
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On Oct 5, Elsie calls Homer to the radio and tells him to listen. The radio announces the launching of Sputnik.... (full context)
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News of Sputnik spreads through Coalwood quickly. Shortly thereafter, Homer takes the bus to school with Jim. Jim, Homer notes, is a well-dressed, popular boy.... (full context)
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It is the first day of school after the launch of Sputnik, and Homer rides the bus. He sits next to Linda DeHaven and Margie Jones, with whom he’s... (full context)
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...by the same mining company that owns Coalwood. Many of the miners in Caretta hate Homer Sr. for taking The Captain’s job. There’s also Premier, a “red light” area where prostitutes... (full context)
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When Homer arrives at school, everyone wants to talk about Sputnik. Many of the students think that... (full context)
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Homer’s first class is biology. Over the intercom, the school principal, R.L. Turner talks about Sputnik,... (full context)
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A few days later, Homer is spending time at the Big Store. The locals are talking about high school football,... (full context)
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...the course of the next few weeks, the newspapers are full of stories about Sputnik. Homer is fascinated by these articles—he reads about the great German rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun,... (full context)
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The night that Sputnik is said to be passing over West Virginia, Homer goes outside, accompanied by his mother and his friends. Homer Sr. arrives, incredulous that a... (full context)
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...November 3, the Russians launch Sputnik II, which carries a dog named Laika. Soon after, Homer reads an article in Life Magazine about how Wernher von Braun built rockets when he... (full context)
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Homer gathers his friends, Sherman, O’Dell, and Roy Lee, to help him launch a rocket outside... (full context)
Chapter 3: Mom
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Homer has just ignited his mother’s rose-garden fence in a failed attempt to launch a rocket.... (full context)
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A little later, Elsie walks inside, glaring at Homer. She calls his actions “stupid,” and tells him that he’ll be punished soon. Homer dreads... (full context)
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Elsie asks Homer if he thinks he can build a real rocket. Homer, confused, admits that he thinks... (full context)
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After talking with his mother, Homer thinks about Coalwood. He stays up late, and at midnight, hears his father come home... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Football Fathers
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For weeks after Homer blows up the rose-garden fence, Coalwood can talk about little else. Adults and children tease... (full context)
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At home later in the day, Jim confronts Homer about his argument with Buck, and mocks him for his girlishness and stupidity. This further... (full context)
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The next day, Homer encounters Pooky Suggs, a rude young man who blames Homer Sr. for his own father’s... (full context)
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...compete in the state championship game—Big Creek has played too many games with Virginia schools. Homer Sr. is so outraged by this news that he resolves to see a lawyer in... (full context)
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One week later, Homer Sr. has visited a lawyer and put together a case for Big Creek’s competing in... (full context)
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...to Coalwood, and union tension arises. The leader of the miners’ union, John Dubonnet, knows Homer Sr. from high school. In the last ten years, Coalwood has experienced disruptions in its... (full context)
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One night, John Dubonnet visits Homer Sr.’s house. Homer Sr. angrily tells John that he can come to his office, but... (full context)
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Shortly before Thanksgiving, Homer Sr. gets orders from Mr. Van Dyke, the general mining superintendent, to visit the doctor... (full context)
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...December 1957, the U.S. launches a satellite called Vanguard, which blows up on the launchpad. Homer, still interested in launching a rocket of his own, decides to talk to a classmate... (full context)
Chapter 5: Quentin
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Homer explains who Quentin is: a pretentious high school classmate of his, who carries a briefcase... (full context)
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One day, Homer approaches Quentin in class, and asks him if he knows anything about rockets. Quentin smirks,... (full context)
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Quentin tells Homer about the history of rockets: the Chinese invented them, and they were used in various... (full context)
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Homer leaves Quentin and joins his friends, who demand to know why he was talking with... (full context)
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Homer describes the Big Store: there are groceries, radios, musical instruments, candy, and hundreds of other... (full context)
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As Homer leaves the Big Store, he sees John Dubonnet. John knows that Homer has plans to... (full context)
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On Saturday, Quentin goes to Homer’s house. Outside, by the coal furnace, they experiment with different proportions of rocket fuel. After... (full context)
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Quentin and Homer join Roy Lee to test their new rockets. They go to the creek near Homer’s... (full context)
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It is Sunday, and Homer has gone to Dorothy’s house to study with her. Dorothy is eager to hear about... (full context)
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The next day at school, Homer resolves to ask Dorothy out. When he approaches her, however, he’s horrified to see her... (full context)
Chapter 6: Mr. Bykovski
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...Braun is launching the Explorer-1 satellite. The launch is a great success—a fact that invigorates Homer, but leaves Homer Sr. unimpressed. Homer’s friends come by, and Homer takes the opportunity to... (full context)
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Homer tells his friends that he’s forming a rocket club, the Big Creek Missile Agency, or... (full context)
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Quentin and Homer go to the McDowell County Library in search of books about rockets, but they don’t... (full context)
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As Quentin and Homer talk, Miss Riley, a teacher, and Mr. Turner, the principal notice them. When Quentin tells... (full context)
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As they walk away from Mr. Turner and Miss Riley, Homer and Quentin argue about the science fair. Homer is reluctant to join a stereotypically “nerdy”... (full context)
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Homer leaves Quentin to go to his class. Inside, Emily Sue asks Homer about Dorothy. Homer... (full context)
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For the next few weeks, Quentin and Homer research more rocket fuels. Quentin proposes using a combustible glue to make the fuel burn... (full context)
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Back at home, Homer mixes the right proportions of saltpeter and charcoal with powdered glue, creating a thick, pasty... (full context)
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Homer goes to Mr. Bykovski’s house. There, he tells Bykovski that he wants help building a... (full context)
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Homer becomes annoyed with Quentin because Quentin has been unable to find the right books about... (full context)
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The next day, Homer brings another tube to Mr. Bykovski, asking him to weld a washer to it. Bykovski... (full context)
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...fuse on Auk IV, and watches as the rocket flies toward the mine, eventually hitting Homer Sr.’s office. Homer Sr. rushes out of his office toward Homer. He yells at Homer... (full context)
Chapter 7: Cape Coalwood
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After Homer’s rocket fails, Homer Sr. and Homer walk home. Homer Sr. orders Homer to stop “fooling... (full context)
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Elsie speaks with Homer privately. She explains that Homer Sr. is under pressure from his bosses because of Homer’s... (full context)
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The next day, Homer goes to visit Mr. Bykovski. Bykovski explains that Homer Sr. fired him from the machine... (full context)
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Homer finds the thought that his father doesn’t want him making rockets exhilarating. He proposes to... (full context)
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One afternoon, when the BCMA is visiting Homer’s house, Roy Lee proposes that the group focus less on rockets and more on girls.... (full context)
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...group discovers an important rule: the finer the powder they use, the bigger the explosion. Homer notices that locals hear the soda cans exploding, but surprisingly, his father never brings this... (full context)
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Shortly after detonating soda cans for the first time, Elsie brings Homer to talk with Homer Sr. Elsie explains that Homer needs a place where he can... (full context)
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Homer’s family attends Sunday church service. Homer sits with O’Dell and Sherman. The preacher, Reverend Lanier,... (full context)
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Outside the church, Homer Sr. tells Homer that it’s time for him to learn to drive a car. Homer... (full context)
Chapter 8: Construction of the Cape
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In Cape Canaveral, Homer says, von Braun has launched a series of successful satellites. The Americans and Soviets are... (full context)
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As his 10th grade school year draws to a close, Homer attends an auditorium meeting. There, he encounters Valentine Carmina, a girl in the year ahead... (full context)
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As the students leave the auditorium, Homer notices that Dorothy is crying, and the footballer players look furious. Buck yells that he’ll... (full context)
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When Homer and Jim come home from school, Homer can tell that Jim is very angry. Jim... (full context)
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A week after Mr. Turner announcement, Homer goes to the lumber shop at the mine. At the mine, he finds Mr. McDuff,... (full context)
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Homer and his friends go to visit Reverend Richard. They talk to him and find a... (full context)
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...Elsie pays special attention to Quentin, feeding him extra food. After an especially long day, Homer runs into his father, who warns him to keep the rockets out of sight. When... (full context)
Chapter 9: Jake Mosby (Auks V-VIII)
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As the mine superintendent, Homer Sr. brings new mining engineers in from Ohio and shows them how to work in... (full context)
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...to find concrete—a necessity for building a stable launchpad for the rockets. As a result, Homer asks his father for help, and ends up visiting the mine to talk in person. (full context)
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While he is at the mine, Homer sees Mr. Dubonnet, who continues to encourage him with his rockets. Homer has the idea... (full context)
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Homer and the BCMA go to the abandoned corner of the mine and find mint-condition cement.... (full context)
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...takes place on a Saturday, and Mr. Dubonnet is in attendance, along with Jake Mosby. Homer notices that Jake has brought a strangely dressed man with him, who introduces himself as... (full context)
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...and exciting, and scribbles notes. Jake, however, is a little traumatized by the sight—he tells Homer that it reminds him of Korea. Mr. Dubonnet suggests to Homer that the BCMA let... (full context)
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In July, all the miners go on vacation. Homer remembers past vacations he’s taken with his family—on one, Homer Sr. and Elsie were affectionate,... (full context)
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...launching. Jake is present, along with Basil. This time, Auk VI “steers” straight, thanks to Homer’s fin designs, and fires considerably higher, thanks to the longer-cured saltpeter. Auks VII and VIII... (full context)
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The next weekend, Homer gets a visit from Mr. Bykovski, who offers to teach Homer more welding. Homer senses... (full context)
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At the end of the summer, Jake calls Homer and summons the BCMA to the Coalwood Club House. Homer, accompanied only by Sherman (the... (full context)
Chapter 10: Miss Riley (Auks IX-XI)
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Homer begins the 11th grade in the fall of 1958. Right away, he notices that school... (full context)
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Between classes, an attractive girl asks Quentin and Homer if they’re going to the school dance over the weekend. She doesn’t pay any attention... (full context)
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At the end of the school day, Homer sees Dorothy outside. She asks him to come over on Sunday for studying, and adds... (full context)
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Although Homer has never been an outstanding student, he finds that he’s excelling at plane geometry, in... (full context)
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On Sunday, Homer goes to Dorothy’s house to study, and she embraces him warmly for helping her study.... (full context)
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Homer becomes so fascinated by plane geometry that he comes to believe that math is a... (full context)
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...O’Dell doesn’t return the battery, word gets out that the “Rocket Boys” steal everything—and soon Homer finds himself blamed for every theft in town. One weekend, the BCMA finds an abandoned... (full context)
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One day, Tag Farmer, the town constable, calls Homer and tells him that he needs to come to Mr. Van Dyke’s office immediately. Homer... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Homer continues with his studies. He has long hours of homework, during which his only companion... (full context)
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...fuel, the BCMA use a combination of saltpeter—a more stable molecule than potassium chlorate—and sugar. Homer tests the mixture, and finds that it yields flame, gas, and heat—the three vital ingredients... (full context)
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...son of an unemployed former miner, and when Elsie sees him, she provides him with Homer’s old clothing. (full context)
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...a dangerous tactic: melt the rock candy slightly before packing it into the rocket shaft. Homer is reluctant to do so, since this could mean blowing himself up. Eventually he relents... (full context)
Chapter 11: Rocket Candy: Auks XII-XIII
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It is Saturday, and Homer is preparing to melt the rock candy to try and create an efficient rocket fuel.... (full context)
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...them scrape it into a rocket tube, seemingly unaware of how much danger she’s in. Homer turns to draw more of the fuel from the pot, which is a mistake—when he... (full context)
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Later in the day, Homer comes home to find his father sitting in his easy chair. Homer Sr. asks Homer... (full context)
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...there at least fifty other spectators watching as the BCMA prepares for its latest launch. Homer notices that the crowd is shouting “Go Big Creek!” as if the BCMA is the... (full context)
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...Auk XIII doesn’t go as high as its predecessor, but while it’s in the air, Homer has an important insight: the nozzles aren’t working efficiently because of oxidation. Quentin excitedly confirms... (full context)
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...sound of a car horn, and Tag Farmer appears, driving his usual vehicle. He asks Homer what’s going on—but rather than turn Buck in, Homer lies and says that he was... (full context)
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It is Sunday, and Homer Sr. is about to execute his “plan.” Homer stays home from Sunday school, and walks... (full context)
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Homer Sr. shows Homer around the coalmine. He explains that engineers are a vital part of... (full context)
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Homer Sr. tells Homer to stay for the mine’s latest “operation.” He leads him deep into... (full context)
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Homer Sr. asks Homer, point blank, if he’s interested in being a mining engineer, hinting that... (full context)
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Homer and his father climb back to the surface. There, Homer is surprised to find his... (full context)
Chapter 12: The Machinists: Auks XIV-XV
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Elsie has just discovered Homer exploring the mine with his father. Back at their house, she furiously tells Homer that... (full context)
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Homer notes that things are very tense in his house. Jim is still depressed about not... (full context)
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Homer goes to visit Mr. Bykovski at his home, but finds that he’s at work. Instead,... (full context)
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The week after Homer’s visit, Quentin and Homer visit Mr. Ferro at the machine shop. After listening to Homer’s... (full context)
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Homer goes to his father and asks for help obtaining gravel. Homer Sr. says that this... (full context)
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Homer returns to Mr. Ferro’s shop, where Mr. Ferro asks for lumber for his front porch... (full context)
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Homer takes his steel tubing to Mr. Ferro’s shop. Ferro agrees to use the tubing to... (full context)
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...the BCMA has set up another rocket launch. In attendance is Mr. Dubonnet. He asks Homer about the “rounds” he’s making, just to build rockets, and enthusiastically encourages him to keep... (full context)
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A week later, Mr. Ferro calls Homer to his shop, where he shows Homer a new rocket he’s built on his own... (full context)
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In late November, Homer asks Dorothy to the Christmas formal. Dorothy sadly shakes her head—she’s already agreed to go... (full context)
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It is Christmas, 1958. Elsie gives Homer a present: an autographed photograph of his hero, Dr. von Braun. In his brief note,... (full context)
Chapter 13: The Rocket Book
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It is January, 1959. One day Homer wakes up to the sight of snow outside his house. As he gets on the... (full context)
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When Homer arrives in chemistry, Miss Riley tells him that she has a surprise for him, and... (full context)
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The next day, the buses aren’t running, meaning that Homer stays home from school. Along with O’Dell, Roy Lee, and Sherman, Homer goes to sled... (full context)
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Homer leaves school and rejoins his friends, who are still sledding in the area. Roy Lee... (full context)
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After a few hours, Homer’s friends leave Emily Sue’s house. Homer hangs back, hoping to talk to Dorothy a little... (full context)
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...tells Dorothy that her mother is on her way to pick her up. Dorothy and Homer step outside. As she’s getting ready to climb into her mother’s car, Dorothy, quite unexpectedly,... (full context)
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Homer, still reeling from Dorothy’s kiss, prepares to make his way home by sled. He manages... (full context)
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Inside the mysterious woman’s house, the woman asks Homer to remove his wet, cold clothing so that she can dry it—Homer does so, a... (full context)
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Geneva and Homer walk outside, into the snow. Homer sees a heavy dump truck—he stops the truck, attaches... (full context)
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The next evening, Homer Sr. sits down with Homer and tells him a story. When Homer Sr. was in... (full context)
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Shortly thereafter, Homer rides the bus past Geneva’s house. Though they see one another and smile, he doesn’t... (full context)
Chapter 14: The Pillar Explosion: Auks XVI-XIX
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...the first man-made object ever to break away from the Earth’s gravitation pull. Shortly thereafter, Homer meets with Jake at the Club House to look through Jake’s telescope. While he’s at... (full context)
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Homer spends hours at a time reading his “rocket book,” and one afternoon, he and Quentin... (full context)
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The night after Homer’s insight, there is an earthquake in Coalwood. Homer is frightened that Homer Sr., who’s working... (full context)
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On a Saturday, Homer and his friends gather at the launchpad to launch Auk XVI. In the audience for... (full context)
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...in the blockhouse—now, they can communicate with one another from the launchpad to the blockhouse. Homer gives a countdown over the telephone, and Sherman launches the Auk XVI. It shoots straight... (full context)
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Homer and his friends return to Homer’s house, where they find Jim sourly watching TV. Jim... (full context)
Chapter 15: The State Troopers
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Homer approaches Mr. Hartsfield, his math teacher, and asks him for help learning calculus. Hartsfield is... (full context)
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...he’ll need to speak to the superintendent, who will undoubtedly turn down the request. Afterwards, Homer notices that Miss Riley isn’t as cheerful as usual when she teaches chemistry. (full context)
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The next day, Homer and Quentin are called to Mr. Turner’s office. There, they’re shocked to find Miss Riley... (full context)
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Before the officers can handcuff Homer and Quentin, Mrs. Turner, Miss Riley protests that the boys can’t have caused the forest... (full context)
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...an awkward silence. Mr. Turner clears his throat and asks the state troopers, along with Homer and Quentin, to leave. One week later, Mr. Turner summons the BCMA to his office... (full context)
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A few days later, Homer gets some depressing news: there were seven applicants for the six positions in Mr. Hartsfield’s... (full context)
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A few days later, Homer and Quentin are standing together in Miss Riley’s class. Quentin offers to teach Homer calculus... (full context)
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Homer Sr. walks into his house, grinning—he’s just gotten news that Jim will be visited by... (full context)
Chapter 16: A Natural Arrogance: Auk XX
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In March 1959, Homer Sr. leaves Coalwood to attend a mining-engineering conference in Ohio. The entire week that he’s... (full context)
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A few days after Homer Sr. returns, he finds Homer studying calculus in his old math book. Homer Sr. accuses... (full context)
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Mr. Ferro calls Homer, asking him how he’d like to position the nozzle on his latest rocket. Homer calls... (full context)
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Shortly after his phone call, Homer bikes over to Ferro’s store, where he finds a three-foot rocket waiting for him. Mr.... (full context)
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Homer shows the new rocket to Quentin. Quentin is impressed but worried by the additions Mr.... (full context)
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Quentin asks Homer if he’s going to college. Homer isn’t sure how to reply—he admits that he might... (full context)
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...inside the rocket has caused a deep rent in the welded section of the tube. Homer calmly asks Mr. Caton to redo the welding, using a stronger, seamless weld. Homer’s still... (full context)
Chapter 17: Valentine
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Homer describes the “golden age of rock and roll.” High school students throughout Coalwood would gather... (full context)
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One day in April, Sherman calls Homer and tells him that it’s time to take a short break from rocketry—the BCMA needs... (full context)
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Sherman and Homer successfully hitchhike to the Dugout, where they find Ed, his girlfriend, and a big crowd... (full context)
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Homer sees Dorothy, looking beautiful. He’s glad to see her, until he realizes that she’s going... (full context)
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Homer dances with Valentine, and in the middle of a song, she kisses him on the... (full context)
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Since it’s well after midnight, Homer returns from the Dugout. As he rides home, he notices lights on in houses, and... (full context)
Chapter 18: The Bump
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Homer has just learned that there was an accident at the mine—two fans were struck by... (full context)
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Homer goes to bed, still thinking about Valentine. He’s forgotten about Dorothy forever, he realizes—he’ll never... (full context)
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Unable to sleep, Homer decides to slip out of his room and walk toward the mine. There, he sees... (full context)
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Suddenly, Homer hears a shout—it’s his mother, furious that Homer has disobeyed her. Homer tries to argue... (full context)
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Homer begins to cry, and he tearfully explains that if it hadn’t been for him, Mr.... (full context)
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The next day, Homer Sr. goes to the hospital. Homer visits him many times. At the same time, he... (full context)
Chapter 19: Picking Up and Going On: Auk XXI
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Ever since witnessing Mr. Bykovski’s death, Homer becomes sullen and lonely. He talks to his parents as little as possible. He wonders... (full context)
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One day, Mr. Ferro asks Homer if he’ll be launching a new rocket soon, and Homer replies that he’s not making... (full context)
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At school, Homer ignores his friends, gets poor grades, and avoids all contact with Valentine, who seems to... (full context)
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A few days later, Sherman calls Homer, and tells him to come to the Little Shore bus stop. When Homer demands an... (full context)
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Three weeks after Mr. Bykovski’s death, Homer organizes another rocket launching—he’s taken Mrs. Bykovski’s advice to heart. Nevertheless, he looks at his... (full context)
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Mr. Caton delivers Homer the seamless steel tubing he’d asked for. Homer—who has made up with his friends, quickly... (full context)
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...Coalwoodians present for the launch, including Mr. Dubonnet and Basil. Even before the rocket fires, Homer knows that it will be a huge success, and it is. Auk XXI attains a... (full context)
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Always thinking ahead, Homer tells the BCMA that next time the group must use a combination of zinc dust... (full context)
Chapter 20: O’Dell’s Treasure
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Homer Sr.’s eye hasn’t healed properly since the mining accident—he can’t see clearly, and probably never... (full context)
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One day, Homer is hitchhiking to school, having missed his bus because Jim took too long in the... (full context)
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At school, Jake walks Homer to chemistry. There, he seems pleased to meet Miss Riley—Homer notices that they make eye... (full context)
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...their food dries up and eventually gets moldy. Despite the rain and lack of food, Homer loves his camping experiences—he didn’t realize how miserable he’d been since the accident in the... (full context)
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...boys succeed in extracting ten pipes from the ground. While he’s removing the tenth pipe, Homer cuts his wrist, spurting blood everywhere. His friends use their T-shirts to tie the area... (full context)
Chapter 21: Zincoshine: Auks XXII, A, B, C, and D
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The school year begins in the fall, and the BCMA proceeds with its rocketry. As Homer works, he visits the Reverend Richard, who tells Homer that he had a dream in... (full context)
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Homer explains the status of Coalwood in 1959. Steel companies are experiencing deficits, meaning that they... (full context)
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After a particularly difficult meeting with the union, Homer Sr. returns to his home, reporting that the union wants to know how to pay... (full context)
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...his product to make sure that it’s 200-proof. The group decides to taste the alcohol. Homer reluctantly takes a swig, which burns his insides. It’s enough to make him—and the other... (full context)
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As these disturbing changes come to Coalwood, Homer continuers with his rocketry. He mixes moonshine, zinc, and sulfur, and gets a thick, clay-like... (full context)
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The BCMA prepares for its final countersunk nozzle-rocket, Auk XXII-D. Afterwards, Homer and Quentin will experiment with different nozzle shapes, using the proper equations from their guidebook.... (full context)
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The BCMA launches their Auk rocket. It flies straight up, but Homer’s small fins turn out to be a mistake—the rocket swerves and heads toward Frog Level.... (full context)
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Shortly after the launching of Auk XXII-D, Homer Sr. calls Homer to his office. He tells Homer they’re going for a ride. Homer... (full context)
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Suddenly, Mr. Dubonnet drives up to Cape Coalwood. He tells Homer Sr. that it’s not right that Fuller is taking apart Homer’s launchpad. Dubonnet even threatens... (full context)
Chapter 22: We Do the Math: Auks XXII-XXIV
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A few days after Homer Sr.’s argument with Mr. Fuller, Mr. Fuller leaves town. This could be because of Homer... (full context)
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...from Mr. Hartsfield’s class, Quentin’s calculus knowledge, and the group’s previous experiments. Quentin comes to Homer’s house every weekend to research nozzle shapes. The key, they realize, is to make the... (full context)
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Quentin and Homer calculate that their rockets have attained speeds of 545.45 miles per hour—incredibly fast, but still... (full context)
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Homer continues doing the necessary calculations, encouraged by Quentin. At many points, Quentin angrily tells Homer... (full context)
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The next week, Homer takes his calculations to Mr. Hartsfield. Hartsfield is greatly impressed with Homer’s progress as a... (full context)
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Homer and Miss Riley leave Mr. Turner’s office, and Miss Riley tells Homer that she’ll enter... (full context)
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In the months leading up to the science fair, Homer sends his designs to Mr. Ferro and asks him to build the corresponding rocket. He... (full context)
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...rocket. They load their rocket with zinc fuel, drying it for hours and hours. Meanwhile, Homer Sr. is forced to fire miners from Coalwood due to industry cutbacks. This is an... (full context)
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...the seconds it remains in the air in order to determine its distance. Quentin and Homer calculate that their rocket attains a height of 7,056 feet—the highest flight yet for the... (full context)
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...ginseng root will give them a source of income for the foreseeable future. Quentin and Homer dig up the remains of their rocket, and notice erosion on the inside of the... (full context)
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...Auk XXIV. It is twelve inches longer, and features a curved nozzle that will limit erosion—Homer guesses that the excessive heat of the gas caused the erosion on the previous nozzle. (full context)
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...the formal—the other BCMA members will be going unaccompanied after the launch. At the launch, Homer is surprised to see that his rocket doesn’t launch at—it remains on the launchpad. He... (full context)
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When Sherman and Homer crawl toward the rocket, they see that Homer was right: the nozzle is blocked, and... (full context)
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Homer lights the fuse, and the rocket launches instantly. Homer and Sherman are unharmed—and Homer calculates... (full context)
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After the rocket launch, Homer and his friends attend the Christmas formal. The girls there are dressed in beautiful pastel... (full context)
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...national celebrity. While his boyish charm and good looks make him a charismatic speaker nationwide, Homer finds him a little odd, particularly because of his strange, nasal voice and Boston accent.... (full context)
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One day, Homer is talking with Homer Sr. in their house. Homer Sr. is discussing the dangers of... (full context)
Chapter 23: Science Fairs
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Someone has just tried to shoot Homer Sr. in his own home. There is a sound of screeching tires—whoever fired the shot... (full context)
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As Homer Sr. calmly discusses his would-be killer, Elsie interjects: she’s going to buy a house in... (full context)
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Afterwards, Homer goes to talk to his BCMA friends about the sudden events in his family. After... (full context)
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Homer goes to see Miss Riley after school. She looks sad and tired, and Homer finds... (full context)
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The next day, Mr. Caton calls Homer and tells him that he’s no longer able to help Homer with his rockets—the union... (full context)
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Homer is desperate to finish his rocket designs, so he and the BCMA hatch a daring... (full context)
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Homer and the BCMA leave the machine shop, and Homer rides his bicycle back to home.... (full context)
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There is a national wave of strikes, Homer reports. At the same time, Senator Kennedy is visiting West Virginia as part of his... (full context)
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It is the spring of 1960. One day, Homer pays a secret visit to Mr. Caton, where Caton gives him the nozzles, nose cones,... (full context)
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Homer yells at Calvin for making him lose his rocket parts. Calvin looks confused, and mutters... (full context)
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A few days later, Elsie drives Homer to the McDowell County Science Fair in Welch. Roy Lee drives the other members of... (full context)
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The science fair begins. A panel of judges walks around the room, asking questions of Homer and the other presenters. When the panel gets to Homer, their first question is, “You... (full context)
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Homer and his friends go off to lunch. When they return, they’re astounded to discover that... (full context)
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Homer returns to school, where he tells Mr. Turner about his success—Turner grins and congratulates Homer.... (full context)
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Shortly after Homer’s victory at the science fair, Elsie and Homer Sr. leave for Myrtle Beach, since it’s... (full context)
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...the day of the senior prom. There is a healthy crowd at the launch, though Homer notices that the people divide along union and company lines. The Auk XXV attains a... (full context)
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After the rocket launch, Homer and his friends go to the prom. Homer walks into the gymnasium with Melba June.... (full context)
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Homer prepares for the area science fair in Bluefield. One day, while he’s in his room,... (full context)
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Homer attends the Bluefield science fair and proceeds with presenting the BCMA’s findings. He’s accompanied by... (full context)
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The night after the assembly, Homer hears a tapping at his window—it’s Roy Lee. Homer climbs outside, where Roy Lee explains... (full context)
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Alone, Homer goes down to his yard and scoops up a handful of West Virginia soil, putting... (full context)
Chapter 24: A Suit for Indianapolis
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...only a few weeks left before the National Science Fair, Emily Sue volunteers to take Homer to buy a suit. In the car ride to the suit store, Homer asks—as casually... (full context)
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Emily Sue and Homer drive to a men’s store in Welch called Philips and Cloony. Inside, he finds that... (full context)
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While Homer is in Welch, he sees a crowd, and posters saying, “Jack Kennedy for President.” A... (full context)
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Before Emily Sue and Homer can argue about his suit, Kennedy arrives and begins speaking. Homer notes his beautiful brown... (full context)
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At the end of the Kennedy’s speech, he takes questions from the audience. Homer raises his hand, and because of his shocking orange suit, Kennedy calls on him. Homer... (full context)
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Homer and Emily Sue leave the crowd, and Emily Sue insists that Homer must replace the... (full context)
Chapter 25: The National Science Fair
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In the months leading up to the National Science Fair, Homer notices Miss Riley getting healthier and seemingly happier. She visits Homer to prep him for... (full context)
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...Caton outdoes himself with a set of shiny new nozzles, precisely designed for maximum efficiency. Homer notices that Homer Sr. seems relatively uninterested in Homer’s science fair pursuits. He rarely brings... (full context)
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Shortly before the science fair begins, Homer overhears Elsie ask Homer Sr. if he’s told the company he’s quitting yet. Homer Sr.... (full context)
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Homer travels to Indianapolis by bus. Many Coalwoodians show up to see Homer off: Basil, Mr.... (full context)
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At the Science Fair in Indiana, Homer surveys his competition. He’s initially afraid because a team from Texas is also presenting on... (full context)
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...lasts three full days before the judges make their assessments. During the first two days, Homer notes that his project draws a big crowd, but Orville warns that this means nothing... (full context)
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On the second night of the fair, Homer passes through the exhibition hall and is shocked to find his rocket parts missing. Homer... (full context)
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With no other option, Homer calls his home. He explains to Elsie that he needs extra rocket parts, immediately. Elsie... (full context)
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Late at night, Homer wakes up to a call from his mother. She explains that there’s a box waiting... (full context)
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On the day of the judges’ assessments, Homer puts on his blue suit and sets up his display. That morning, Orville gives him... (full context)
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...begin to assess the competitors’ designs. One of the judges, a middle-aged, German-accented man, tells Homer that he’s on von Braun’s research team. The man asks Homer difficult questions about propulsion,... (full context)
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Homer returns to Coalwood. When he gets off his bus, he’s surprised by a crowd of... (full context)
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Homer leaves Miss Riley’s side, tearfully, and Jake runs after him. Jake tells him that God... (full context)
Chapter 26: All Systems Go: Auks XXVI-XXXI (June 4, 1960)
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Homer learns what happened in Coalwood after his nozzles were stolen in Indianapolis. In less than... (full context)
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Homer realizes what Homer Sr.’s decision to sign the union’s agreements mean. Because his relationship with... (full context)
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Homer and his friends graduate from Big Creek. Dorothy is the valedictorian, and Quentin the salutatorian.... (full context)
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...for free. With his parents’ help, Sherman finds the money to attend West Virginia Tech. Homer decides to accept his mother’s help with college, and thinks about studying engineering at the... (full context)
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...height of many miles. The BCMA announces a final rocket launch at Cape Coalwood, and Homer prepares his final rockets. (full context)
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On the first Saturday in June of 1960—the day of the final rocket launch—Homer is sad to see Homer Sr. walk to the mine for his usual schedule instead... (full context)
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...XXVI-XXX exactly as planned, and they attain heights of many miles, wowing the crowd. Finally, Homer announces the launch of Auk XXXI, the final and largest rocket. Inside is the same... (full context)
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Homer calls Homer Sr. to his side and asks him if he would like to launch... (full context)
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Homer turns to his father. Homer Sr. is beaming—he praises the rocket for being “beautiful.” Suddenly,... (full context)
Epilogue
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Homer explains that all of the BCMA members went on to college—something inconceivable before the age... (full context)
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Homer continues to explain what happened to the characters in Rocket Boys. “Dorothy”—which he admits is... (full context)
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Homer, inspired by his dreams of lunar colonization and global freedom, fought in Vietnam. He never... (full context)
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Homer Sr. continued to work at the mine for years, despite his damaged lungs. He was... (full context)
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In 1989, Homer received news from Elsie that the mines at Coalwood were finally shutting down. When Homer... (full context)
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After Homer Sr.’s death, Homer looked through the old boxes left at his parents’ house in Coalwood.... (full context)
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In 1997, Homer’s friend, Dr. Takao Doi, carried one of Homer’s science fair medals aboard the space ship... (full context)
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Homer contemplates Coalwood. The town is largely abandoned now: without a mine, there are few residents... (full context)