Homer Hickam won the praise of critics and the devotion of readers with his first two memoirs set in the hardscrabble mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia. The New York Times crowned his first book, the #1 national bestseller October Sky, “an eloquent evocation ... a thoroughly charming memoir.” And People called The Coalwood Way, Hickam’s follow-up to October Sky, “a heartwarmer ... truly beautiful and haunting.”
Now Homer Hickam continues his extraordinary story with Sky of Stone, dazzling us with exquisite storytelling as he takes us back to that remarkable small town we first came to know and love in October Sky.
In the summer of ‘61, Homer “Sonny” Hickam, a year of college behind him, was dreaming of sandy beaches and rocket ships. But before Sonny could reach the seaside fixer-upper where his mother was spending the summer, a telephone call sends him back to the place he thought he had escaped, the gritty coal-mining town of Coalwood, West Virginia. There, Sonny’s father, the mine’s superintendent, has been accused of negligence in a man’s death — and the townspeople are in conflict over the future of the town.
Sonny’s mother, Elsie, has commanded her son to spend the summer in Coalwood to support his father. But within hours, Sonny realizes two things: His father, always cool and distant with his second son, doesn’t want him there ... and his parents’ marriage has begun to unravel. For Sonny, so begins a summer of discovery — of love, betrayal, and most of all, of a brooding mystery that threatens to destroy his father and his town.
Cut off from his college funds by his father, Sonny finds himself doing the unimaginable: taking a job as a “track-laying man,” the toughest in the mine. Moving out to live among the miners, Sonny is soon dazzled by a beautiful older woman who wants to be the mine’s first female engineer.
And as the days of summer grow shorter, Sonny finds himself changing in surprising ways, taking the first real steps toward adulthood. But it’s a journey he can make only by peering into the mysterious heart of Coalwood itself, and most of all, by unraveling the story of a man’s death and a father’s secret.
In Sky of Stone, Homer Hickam looks down the corridors of his past with love, humor, and forgiveness, brilliantly evoking a close-knit community where everyone knows everything about each other’s lives — except the things that matter most. Sky of Stone is a memoir that reads like a novel, mesmerizing us with rich language, narrative drive, and sheer storytelling genius.
Retired NASA engineer Hickam became a minor mass market celebrity in 1994 after a last-minute 2,000-word filler for Air & Space magazine (he spent three hours writing about launching homemade rockets in 1950s Coalwood, W.Va.) brought an avalanche of phone calls and letters. He expanded the article into 1998's bestselling Rocket Boys, filmed as the critically acclaimed October Sky (1999). Four hundred schools now use his memoirs in their curricula. The latest episode takes place in 1961 during young Hickam's first summer vacation from college, shortly after a foreman's death at the mine that Hickam's father supervises. Hickam (nicknamed Sonny) plans to read Robert A. Heinlein and meet girls in Myrtle Beach where his mother, Elsie, has a new dreamhouse, but Elsie insists he return home since his father is being accused of negligence in the foreman's death. Stuck in Coalwood, Sonny takes a difficult job laying track. Amid Sonny's travails with unrequited love, the track-laying competition and being stonewalled by his father and the locals when he asks anything about the death, state and federal inspectors arrive to investigate. Hickam prolongs the suspense in this cleverly constructed, richly detailed mystery peppered with colloquial dialogue and vivid characters. This pleasing book only reinforces his oeuvre.
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Sky of stone
Once again, Homer Hickam pulled me into his world of Coalwood,WV and the dreams of a young man growing up in the early 60's. Thank you, Homer!
Mr. Hickam rounds off the final component of the Rocket Boys trilogy with the surprising twists and turns of a college freshman's life. This epochal finale reminds all readers that home truly is where the heart is.