Rocket Boys

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Quentin Character Analysis

The head “scientist” of the BCMA, Quentin is a nerdy, socially inept teenager. Nevertheless, he’s a brilliant mathematician and a talented researcher who gives the BCMA some of their most important ideas regarding propulsion. While Homer and his friends initially find Quentin irritating, they eventually develop a grudging respect for his intellect, following by a genuine respect for him as a friend. Quentin is a thoughtful young man—far more so than his peers—and he’s the first to point out that victory at a science fair could translate into scholarship money and a career in engineering. Quentin goes on to become a successful engineer.

Quentin Quotes in Rocket Boys

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

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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 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 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 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.

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Quentin Character Timeline in Rocket Boys

The timeline below shows where the character Quentin appears in Rocket Boys. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4: The Football Fathers
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
...launching a rocket of his own, decides to talk to a classmate of his named Quentin. (full context)
Chapter 5: Quentin
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Homer explains who Quentin is: a pretentious high school classmate of his, who carries a briefcase and reads books... (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
Dreams, Ambition, and Acceptance Theme Icon
One day, Homer approaches Quentin in class, and asks him if he knows anything about rockets. Quentin smirks, and replies... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
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Quentin tells Homer about the history of rockets: the Chinese invented them, and they were used... (full context)
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Homer leaves Quentin and joins his friends, who demand to know why he was talking with Quentin. Roy... (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... (full context)
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Quentin and Homer join Roy Lee to test their new rockets. They go to the creek... (full context)
Chapter 6: Mr. Bykovski
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
...Agency, or BCMA. To his surprise, his friends want to join the BCMA, even though Quentin is a part of it. Homer announces himself the president, and Quentin the scientist. Roy... (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
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Quentin and Homer go to the McDowell County Library in search of books about rockets, but... (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
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As Quentin and Homer talk, Miss Riley, a teacher, and Mr. Turner, the principal notice them. When... (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
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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” activity, but... (full context)
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Homer leaves Quentin to go to his class. Inside, Emily Sue asks Homer about Dorothy. Homer notes that... (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... (full context)
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...the right proportions of saltpeter and charcoal with powdered glue, creating a thick, pasty substance. Quentin is impressed with this fuel. Together, he and Homer plan to weld a nozzle to... (full context)
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Homer becomes annoyed with Quentin because Quentin has been unable to find the right books about rocket flight. O’Dell impatiently... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
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...Auk II flies ten feet into the air, then turns and shoots toward a tree. Quentin points out that the rocket needs a better guidance system. (full context)
Parents and Children Theme Icon
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In response to Quentin’s point, O’Dell insists that the group should launch Auk III and IV immediately. He lights... (full context)
Chapter 7: Cape Coalwood
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...they test rockets in the Pine Knob area, far from the mines. He also asks Quentin to find a more efficient way to test the rocket fuel, and Quentin promises that... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
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...to remove a bra with one hand—a trick that Homer finds surprisingly difficult. Elsie asks Quentin to stay for dinner, and Quentin says he’d be delighted. Elsie seems to find his... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
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...coming weeks, the BCMA uses a simpler method for testing rocket fuels than the one Quentin developed—detonating small quantities of fuel in soda bottles. The group discovers an important rule: the... (full context)
Chapter 8: Construction of the Cape
Parents and Children Theme Icon
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...build a launchpad, nozzles, and rocket shafts. As they work, Elsie pays special attention to Quentin, feeding him extra food. After an especially long day, Homer runs into his father, who... (full context)
Chapter 9: Jake Mosby (Auks V-VIII)
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...before, he knows that it has to be very dry before it can be mixed. Quentin notes that the group needs to find a better steering system. In general, everyone seems... (full context)
Chapter 10: Miss Riley (Auks IX-XI)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
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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... (full context)
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Later, Quentin suggests that for fuel, the BCMA use a combination of saltpeter—a more stable molecule than... (full context)
Chapter 11: Rocket Candy: Auks XII-XIII
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
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...the air, it loses its nozzle. However, the launch is a useful step forward, because Quentin uses trigonometry to calculate the height the rocket attains—over 750 feet. Auk XIII doesn’t go... (full context)
Chapter 12: The Machinists: Auks XIV-XV
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
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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 explanation of... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
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...shop. Ferro agrees to use the tubing to building the latest rocket, Auk XIV. When Quentin sees the final product, he insists that it is too heavy, and that the nozzle’s... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
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...rocket when it falls to Earth—here, Billy proves himself useful, since he’s a fast runner. Quentin calculates that Auk XIV has reached a height of 3,000 feet. (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
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...new rocket he’s built on his own for the BCMA. The rocket is longer, as Quentin has specified, and the nozzle is fastened with screws instead of welding, meaning that it’ll... (full context)
Chapter 14: The Pillar Explosion: Auks XVI-XIX
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
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Homer spends hours at a time reading his “rocket book,” and one afternoon, he and Quentin take turns poring over its dense chapters. Quentin points out that the book presumes detailed... (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
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Quentin, O’Dell, and Roy Lee have been busy installing telephones in the blockhouse—now, they can communicate... (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
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...find Jim sourly watching TV. Jim insults them for wasting their time on rockets, and Quentin shoots back that Jim is only jealous of their success. The BCMA quickly retires to... (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
...As in algebra. Homer admits that Hartsfield is right, though he points out that his friends—Quentin, O’Dell, Sherman, and Roy Lee, are all good math students. Hartsfield seems somewhat sympathetic to... (full context)
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
The next day, Homer and Quentin are called to Mr. Turner’s office. There, they’re shocked to find Miss Riley and Mr.... (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... (full context)
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After Quentin finishes explaining the origins of the metal flare, there is an awkward silence. Mr. Turner... (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 personally, insisting... (full context)
Chapter 16: A Natural Arrogance: Auk XX
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Homer shows the new rocket to Quentin. Quentin is impressed but worried by the additions Mr. Caton has made—he argues that the... (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... (full context)
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...explode, but they can’t agree—it might have been the casement, the fins, the nozzle, etc. Quentin seems to have been right—because Mr. Caton made so many changes to the rocket, there’s... (full context)
Chapter 19: Picking Up and Going On: Auk XXI
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
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...tubing he’d asked for. Homer—who has made up with his friends, quickly and painlessly—works with Quentin to perfect the De Laval equations and build a satisfactory nozzle for the rocket. (full context)
Chapter 21: Zincoshine: Auks XXII, A, B, C, and D
Hard Work, Scarcity, Science, and Innovation Theme Icon
...stable. Thus, they try to find a way to “bind” the zinc and sulfur together. Quentin decides to use a mixture of alcohol to keep the chemicals together, since alcohol is... (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. For Auk... (full context)
Chapter 22: We Do the Math: Auks XXII-XXIV
The Individual vs. the Group Theme Icon
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...for Auk XXIII: the first rocket based on the group’s lessons from Mr. Hartsfield’s class, Quentin’s calculus knowledge, and the group’s previous experiments. Quentin comes to Homer’s house every weekend to... (full context)
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Quentin and Homer calculate that their rockets have attained speeds of 545.45 miles per hour—incredibly fast,... (full context)
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Homer continues doing the necessary calculations, encouraged by Quentin. At many points, Quentin angrily tells Homer that he’s doing the work wrong—when this happens,... (full context)
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...it, counting 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... (full context)
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...now, and 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... (full context)
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...while the rest of the town’s starvin’ to death.” Homer ignores Pooky and celebrates with Quentin and the other BCMA members. (full context)
Chapter 23: Science Fairs
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...his own—as only one member of the BCMA is allowed to attend. Homer contends that Quentin would be a far better representative, but Miss Riley laughs—Quentin, she explains, would try to... (full context)
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...morning. In the following weeks, the BCMA is invited to the Coalwood Women’s Club, where Quentin boasts about their hard work and ingenuity. (full context)
Chapter 25: The National Science Fair
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...prep him for the competition, giving him elaborate notes on how to present his findings. Quentin helps Homer prepare, as well—he visits Homer’s house and gives him charts and diagrams on... (full context)
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...but doesn’t seem happy. Homer spends the night before he leaves for Indianapolis talking with Quentin, who drills him on trigonometry, calculus, physics, chemistry, and other difficult subjects. (full context)
Chapter 26: All Systems Go: Auks XXVI-XXXI (June 4, 1960)
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Homer and his friends graduate from Big Creek. Dorothy is the valedictorian, and Quentin the salutatorian. Most of the other BCMA members are in the top ten, except for... (full context)
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...his mother’s help with college, and thinks about studying engineering at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Quentin enrolls at Marshall College in Huntington, West Virginia. He’s unsure how he’ll pay for this,... (full context)
The Cold War and the Space Race Theme Icon
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...BCMA decides to say goodbye in style, by launching their remaining rockets into the sky. Quentin proposes that they should launch the rockets from above the ground, first lifting them high... (full context)
Epilogue
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...Sherman died, tragically, of a heart attack when he was only 26 years old. Billy, Quentin, and Homer became engineers. Jim became a hugely successful football coach. Homer admits that he’s... (full context)