Here's a great gift idea for that young reader on your Christmas list (or even a young person you'd like to turn into a reader). How about an extremely entertaining book that any good reader over age 10 can enjoy - and it's even got a movie tie-in!
No, it's not Harry Potter, but it's just as captivating and better for you.
Homer Hickam's first memoir, "Rocket Boys," was made into the popular family saga, "October Sky," and was one of the best films of 1999. "Sky of Stone" is the true sequel to "Rocket Boys." (The events in "The Coalwood Way," Hickam's second book, actually happened concurrently with "Rocket Boys").
As "Sky of Stone" opens, Homer "Sonny" Hickam Jr. has returned home from his first year of college to find many of his foundations shaken. His pals have all gone their separate ways to college or the military, his mother finally is remodeling her dream of a house in Myrtle Beach, but Homer Sr., her husband, is not necessarily part of the plan. Even worse, he is under investigation by the company to which he has devoted his adult life.
Many things are the same, however, including the Coalwood "fence line," the gossip express that means everybody exaggerates how much Sonny has struggled with his grades - and everything else that has to do with the current Hickam problems.
After wrecking the family car, Sonny is in need of cash, so he joins the union - much to the glee of his dad's nemesis/friend, the local head of the miners union. This increases tensions between father and son, even though Sonny really came back to Coalwood only at his mother's insistence that his father needed him.
Homer assigns Sonny to the most brutal work in the mine, the laying of new track. Surprisingly, however, Sonny takes to the work, and his three-man team enters a contest with the rival town at the other mine entrance to see who can reach the tunnel's midpoint first.
Another wedge between the two becomes a beautiful female engineer, who is determined to be the first woman to go down in the Coalwood mine, defying years of miner superstition. Sonny develops a deep crush on the older woman even though he suspects she is using him to get to his father and further her career.
Hickam undoubtedly took some liberties with the way each of the subplots comes to a head near the end of the summer, just as they would in a novel or a movie, but who cares? It may not be a surprise that, just as her two men are about to make a complete hash of things, Elsie - who was such a force of nature in the first two books - arrives to save the day, but it's still cheer-out-loud dramatic.
The Coalwood trilogy is a great tribute to a disappearing way of life that is exemplified by Hickam's own experience - the move from physical labor to technology and brain power as the driving forces in the economy.
It is also a celebration of community that respects both labor and management's roles. In fact, if Hickam really wants to make a zillion bucks, he should write a motivational business book centered around his father's management rules contained in this book and hit the corporate lecture circuit.
Though this volume seems to wrap up Sonny's time in Coalwood, readers will hope that the long epilogue in "Sky of Stone" is not the last we read of Hickam's life.
Like Tobias Wolff - the other great American memoirist of the last half of the 20th century - it appears that Homer Hickam's life as an adult was every bit as interesting as his youth in Coalwood.