This is the story of Homer Hickman. He grew up in the small town of Coalwood, West Virginia. As you might have guessed from the name, the whole town revolved around the local coal mine (and the high school football team.) His dad is one of the higher ups at the mine, and is there all the time. His mom paints beach scenes in their kitchen to distract herself from the layer of coal dust that settles on everything. (Even on the bedsheets, when Homer wakes up in the morning and pushes back his comforter a thin layer of dust rises from it. Bleh). Her main concern is keeping Homer and his older brother Jim out of the mining business. Jim will get to college on a football scholarship, but Homer starts high school pretty rudderless and mom begins to worry.
During this time, Sputnik and the space race have begun. Homer takes a keen interest in it and does research to find out as much as he can about space. He becomes borderline obsessed with Wernher von Braun, a German scientist who works at NASA. If they'd been around at the time Homer would have totally had a "W.W.W.V.B.D?" bracelet. He's so inspired by this brave new world of long distance rockets (and sees it as maybe an oppurtonity to get out of Coalwood and avoid working in the mines) that he starts the BCMA (Big Creek Missile Agency) with a few friends. They all teach themselves about rockets, and chemistry and black powder and explosions. They manage to blow a few things up on accident, but always avoid major injuries to themselves, somehow.
What I liked about Homer is that he took on this ambitious task aaaaaaand he's not good at math. I feel like all rocket scientists (or rocket scientists in training) are doing math equations that I can't even comprehend at a very young age. However it turns out that Homer just can't handle algebra, and he manages to teach himself trigonometry. Which is amazingly impressive.
The story isn't just about boys and rockets. It's about a small town that will die soon because the coal is running about. It's about living in your brother's shadow. It's about a marriage in strife. It's about the incredibly dangerous work that happens in mines. Not everything and everyone has a happy ending.
Considering this wasn't a book that I picked on my own to read (and that I don't know much about rockets), I enjoyed it more than I thought it would. If you're kind of on the fence about reading this, they also made it into a movie with Jake Gyllenhaal, and it followed the book pretty closely. It's one of my dad's favorites! I give this tale of coal dust and star dust a 3 out of 5.