Rocket Boys

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The young, beautiful chemistry teacher at Big Creek High School, Miss Riley is enormously important in encouraging Homer and his friends to continue experimenting with rockets. Her lessons give Homer and Quentin many ideas for rocket fuel, and with her encouraging, Homer enters the county science fair and wins. Miss Riley is a tragic, almost saintly, figure, since she expresses nothing but love and support for Homer and his friends, but is nonetheless diagnosed with cancer and dies at a young age. Homer has tremendous respect for Miss Riley, and says on more than one occasion that he loves her with all his heart.

Miss Riley Quotes in Rocket Boys

The Rocket Boys quotes below are all either spoken by Miss Riley or refer to Miss Riley . 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 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.

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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 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.

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Miss Riley Character Timeline in Rocket Boys

The timeline below shows where the character Miss Riley appears in Rocket Boys. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6: Mr. Bykovski
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
As Quentin and Homer talk, Miss Riley , a teacher, and Mr. Turner, the principal notice them. When Quentin tells Mr. Turner... (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
As they walk away from Mr. Turner and Miss Riley , Homer and Quentin argue about the science fair. Homer is reluctant to join a... (full context)
Chapter 10: Miss Riley (Auks IX-XI)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...has long hours of homework, during which his only companion is his cat, Daisy Mae. Miss Riley’s chemistry class is particularly challenging to him. One day, Miss Riley shows her class what... (full context)
Chapter 13: The Rocket Book
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
When Homer arrives in chemistry, Miss Riley tells him that she has a surprise for him, and that he should see her... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
...When Homer is within range of school, he remembers that he was supposed to see Miss Riley . Although school has been canceled that day, Homer finds Miss Riley in her classroom.... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
...hiding, and Homer apologizes for asking her for a kiss. He shows her the book Miss Riley gave him, and Dorothy seems excited—she confesses that she wants to learn calculus, too. (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...and Homer Sr. waiting for him. When he’s alone with Homer Sr., he shows him Miss Riley’s book, and adds that Geneva Eggers took care of him. Homer Sr. seems disturbed by... (full context)
Chapter 14: The Pillar Explosion: Auks XVI-XIX
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...calculus. Homer is disheartened by this news. Nevertheless, he’s glad to find a chapter in Miss Riley’s book on “flow passages”—essentially the same thing as rocket nozzles. An engineer, Carl Gustav De... (full context)
Chapter 15: The State Troopers
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
Aided by Miss Riley , the BCMA goes to talk to Mr. Turner about organizing a calculus class. Miss... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
...day, Homer and Quentin are called to Mr. Turner’s office. There, they’re shocked to find Miss Riley and Mr. Turner standing with two West Virginia State police officers. The two men show... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Before the officers can handcuff Homer and Quentin, Mrs. Turner, Miss Riley protests that the boys can’t have caused the forest fire—their launchpad is too far away.... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
A few days later, Homer and Quentin are standing together in Miss Riley’s class. Quentin offers to teach Homer calculus personally, insisting that Homer is still a part... (full context)
Chapter 19: Picking Up and Going On: Auk XXI
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...comfort him. As he walks away from her, Homer hears Jim say, “what a dope.” Miss Riley asks Homer why he’s not working on rockets anymore, and Homer replies that there’s no... (full context)
Chapter 20: O’Dell’s Treasure
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
At school, Jake walks Homer to chemistry. There, he seems pleased to meet Miss Riley —Homer notices that they make eye contact for a split-second too long. Jake talks to... (full context)
Chapter 22: We Do the Math: Auks XXII-XXIV
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...his calculations to Mr. Hartsfield. Hartsfield is greatly impressed with Homer’s progress as a mathematician. Miss Riley is even more impressed, though Homer notices a certain sadness in her eyes, the source... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Homer and Miss Riley leave Mr. Turner’s office, and Miss Riley tells Homer that she’ll enter him in the... (full context)
Chapter 23: Science Fairs
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...irritated that O’Dell is taking this news so lightly. Suddenly, Billy tells the group that Miss Riley is sick with cancer, and has been for some time. Homer is crushed to hear... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
Homer goes to see Miss Riley after school. She looks sad and tired, and Homer finds himself tearing up as he... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...is carrying his plans and equations for the rocket, along with all his rocket parts. Miss Riley is unable to attend. At the fair, Homer sets up his designs while O’Dell inspects... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...to the state science fair finals. Homer is overjoyed, and he can’t wait to tell Miss Riley and Homer Sr. (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...where he tells Mr. Turner about his success—Turner grins and congratulates Homer. Homer also tells Miss Riley , who’s extremely proud of Homer. Homer doesn’t tells his father personally, since he’s in... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
...the BCMA’s victory, Mr. Turner summons the BCMA onstage during a school-wide assembly. Turner and Miss Riley congratulate the BCMA in front of the entire school for their hard work, and for... (full context)
Chapter 25: The National Science Fair
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
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 the competition, giving... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
...Mr. Ferro, and the entire BCMA. Just before Homer gets on the bus, he sees Miss Riley in Jake’s Corvette—and she looks very happy. (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...friends and supporters. As they cheer, Roy Lee pulls Homer aside and tells him that Miss Riley is in the hospital. Horrified, Homer and the other BCMA members visit Miss Riley in... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
Homer leaves Miss Riley’s side, tearfully, and Jake runs after him. Jake tells him that God has a plan... (full context)
Chapter 26: All Systems Go: Auks XXVI-XXXI (June 4, 1960)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
Parents and Children Theme Icon
...Coalwood history. People have come from across the county for the event. Homer also notices Miss Riley , Jake, and Mr. Turner. (full context)
Epilogue
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
...When Homer saw Dorothy again, 25 years later, he found that he still loved her. Miss Riley died of cancer at the age of 32, in 1969. (full context)