October 23, 2000 12:00 PM

by Homer Hickam

Here’s a heart-warmer about every boy’s childhood dream—meeting scientist Wernher von Braun. Okay, so maybe that’s an unusual goal for a kid. But the sweet, accessible way Hickam tells his story of growing up and building rockets in a bleak West Virginia coal mining town turns his second memoir—a follow-up to the lyrical 1998 bestseller Rocket Boys—into another classic coming-of-age tale. The first volume (which inspired the movie October Sky) described how the 1957 sputnik launch first spurred his love of science. Here Hickam, 57, an ex-NASA engineer, recounts his tricky teenage years in Coalwood, where the faces of soot-caked miners represent dreams denied. (A third memoir is planned.)

Young Homer beats the odds by launching makeshift rockets a mile into the sky, an exuberant exploit that Hickam again makes seem poignantly heroic. His precise recreation of long-ago events suggests he renewed his poetic license, but so what? Hickam’s plain and tender stories of his first crush, losing his grandfather and craving his dad’s love are truly beautiful and haunting. (Delacorte, $23.95)

Bottom Line: The Rocket Boy soars again

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