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This straightforward, un-self-conscious memoir is set in Coalwood, W. Va., where the author was 14 years old in 1957, the son of the local mine superintendent. Hickam divides his life in West Virginia into two phases—before and after the October 1957 launching of the Soviet Sputnik satellite. Hickam Sr., a straight company man, despised the Russian Communists and saw his budding scientist son as a future mining engineer, but his son had other plans. After reading all about rockets in Life magazine, Homer Jr., a disciple of the esteemed US engineer and Cape Canaveral team leader Wernher von Braun, decided to build a rocket of his own. Hickam satisfies in his characterization of his rocketeer cohorts, including the brains behind the operation, the school nerd, whose jet-black hair “looked as if it had been plastered down with about a quart of Wildroot Cream Oil.” After several mishaps in town with their dangerous steel missile projectiles, the boys set up a rocket center on an old dump site and called it Cape Coalwood, complete with a cement launch pad and a “blockhouse,” or building for the rocketeers— projection, made of scavenged wood and tin. The author and his friends are adept at breaking things, including his mother’s rose garden fence and bathroom scale, but when they break the one-mile barrier in their launches, the entire town has to take them seriously. Hickam admits in an author’s note to having used a certain license in telling his story. This seems evident in its idealization of his mother and her near-religious insistence that her son not follow her husband into the mines. A simple small-town story of larger-than-life dreams, in the vein of Rinker Buck’s recent coming-of-age adventure, Flight of Passage (1997). Heavy on ’50s nostalgia, invoking song lyrics throughout and portraying the era’s inhibition of sexual relations among young people. (First serial to Life; film rights to Universal; Literary Guild alternate selection; author tour; radio satellite tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-33320-X

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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