Book Review: The Coalwood Trilogy

October Sky True Story Poster

When asked to name my favorite movie of all time, I don’t even have to think about it. “October Sky,” I answer without hesitation.

It was my senior year of high school, and my close group of friends decided to celebrate our independence (and blow some of the hard-earned cash we’d gained from our first jobs) by heading out to the movies. Many of us were getting ready to graduate and go on to college, and as far as the future was concerned we all had our own share of big dreams – and anxieties. We went to see October Sky, and while not everyone enjoyed it, I was mesmerized.

There was just so much about Homer Hickham (the film’s leading man) that I could relate to. I had also dreamed of working for NASA one day (though I didn’t have the guts or the mathematical skills required to actually go out and do it), people often told me I was a dreamer with my head stuck in the clouds, and I had also grown up in a tiny town that most people were desperate to escape, but which held unmistakable charm. I latched onto this story and the inspiration it brought me for dear life, and it helped carry me through my upcoming college years.

The film was well done, but the primary reason it reached the top of my list was that it introduced me to The Coalwood Trilogy, the three historical memoirs that the actual Homer Hickham wrote about his childhood home of Coalwood, West Virginia. Hickham’s conversational writing style makes you feel as if you’re chatting with an old buddy, and I found myself getting lost in his nostalgic tale. I could read countless chapters at a time, lost in a reverie, and later wonder where the time had gone.

Here’s a quick synopsis of each book in the trilogy:

Rocket Boys Book Cover

Rocket Boys

This is the story which inspired the movie, October Sky (which, by the way, is an anagram… rearrange the letters from “Rocket Boys” and you’ll end up with “October Sky”). It tells the story of a boy named Sonny who everyone expected to end up working in the coal mines like his daddy, but who dreamed of flying rockets into space. Inspired by Werner von Braun at Cape Canaveral, Sonny gathered a few great friends and founded the “Big Creek Missile Agency” (BCMA), which terrorized their small town by experimenting with launching homemade rockets. It’s a charming tale which will transport you instantly to a better time, and inspire you to chase hard after your dreams.

Coalwood Way Book Cover

The Coalwood Way

Many readers thought this book should have been named A Coalwood Christmas, and I tend to agree. Set during the same time period as Rocket Boys, this book shares the heartwarming tale of how Sonny is recruited by his mother to help organize their town’s annual Christmas pageant. In a town being ripped apart by grief and poverty, Sonny’s determination to keep an old tradition alive and save Christmas for his small town will warm your soul. And, as a bonus, the book introduces us to Ginger, a romantic crush who eventually becomes an official Rocket Girl!

Sky of Stone Book Cover

Sky of Stone

The last installment of the trilogy finds Sonny finishing up his first year of college. Though he thought he had escaped Coalwood forever, a mysterious phone call from his mother draws him back home for the summer. He ends up spending the summer falling in love, working in the dreaded coal mines as a “track-laying man,” and helping his father through a crisis by solving an old mystery (and dredging up many of the town’s darkest secrets along the way).


At the conclusion of each memoir, I closed the book feeling both utterly satisfied and genuinely sorry to see the story come to an end. The books are heartfelt, raw, and extremely well written. But they also manage to work that magic that we hope for with every new read…they leave you feeling like you know these people.

At first I thought I was simply picking up another set of books that had caught my interest. But in the end, I couldn’t escape feeling that I had found much more than a set of books…

I had found a genuine friend.


October Sky Movie Poster


Christian Reader Rating: PG – These books are clean for the most part, but a few of the miners will curse on occasion and some of Sonny’s “romantic memories” touch on subjects that you probably wouldn’t want young children to start asking you about. While the books are fine for adults, you will probably not want your children to read this series until they are older teens.



Writing 101 Day 13 Challenge: On Day Four, you wrote a post about losing something. Today, write about finding something.


7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Coalwood Trilogy

  1. This is one of my favorite movies as well! I did not even know there was a book connected to it! Thanks, I am going to go check it out now!


  2. I’ve always loved this movies, but never have read the books. Last year I introduced my children to the movie and was pleased to discover they enjoyed it just as much as I. Perhaps we need to read the books this summer … it will give us an excuse to watch the movie again. 🙂


    1. Sure! There are a few disappointments (wonderful movie moments that didn’t actually happen in real life), but there are some cool surprises as well! As always, real life is more heartbreaking – and therefore more inspiring – than the movie version!


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