The era was the 1960’s. America found itself in the space race, an extension of the Cold War, with Russia. President Kennedy had issued a challenge to the US to get a man to the moon by the end of the decade. Russia won the first round by getting the first man into orbit. The question was, could any nation get a man to set foot on the moon safely? Patriotic fervor was on the rise, and the nation rose to meet the challenge at a time when the country was also fighting in a senseless war overseas. To some readers, all this may be just a history lesson; but to many baby boomers, this was part of our personal life story. The author, Rebekah Lyn, brings fresh perspective of this exciting era by allowing readers to experience it all through the eyes of Jessie, the youngest of four brothers growing up in the coastal region of Florida within viewing distance of the earliest launch sites at Cape Canaveral (later renamed Cape Kennedy for 10 years).
Jessie Cole was nine when it occurred to him to become an astronaut. None of his brothers were as obsessed with the space program as he was. Their interests waned over time as they followed other interests, while Jessie never lost his focus. What the boys did have in common was their sense of adventure, enhanced by living on the hunting mecca of Merritt Island. Among other adventures, the boys had built a treehouse just ten miles from the earliest launch sites. They enjoyed ring-side seats for many of the launch events.
Eventually the space program bought the island to expand the site, and families were moved to the mainland, including Jessie’s family. Jessie’s father took this move hard; he had kept a still on the island for many years to support his habit. The Coles’ new home was adjacent to a larger area of wilderness, so the brothers didn’t mind the move. Instead of just a treehouse, the boys built a hidden fort in the forest, with several huts inside for their “stash”. But life wasn’t quite the lark it appeared to be on the surface. Eugene Cole was a mean drunk, bitter and disillusioned with his life. Often, Jessie and Max as the youngest and the oldest took the brunt of his rages and beatings. It wasn’t the most supportive environment for a budding astronaut. Nor were Jessie’s grades anything to boast about. With poverty nipping at their heels, Jessie’s prospects for the future looked grim and foreboding. But Jessie possessed grit and tenacity. He eventually realized as soon as he entered High School his grades mattered. Putting pride aside, he asked for help. But would his father drag him down? Would his inner resentment and turmoil short circuit his efforts?
The author in this coming of age chronicle has managed to capture the three dimensions of an important era in US history by tying it intricately to the obstacles a young boy must overcome to realize his dreams. Jessie faced numerous physical, mental and spiritual hurdles. Symbolically, this reflects obstacles our nation and society has faced from its inception. Many of those struggles are currently ongoing. Jessie’s story reflects the story of the ’60’s…dreams, trials, struggles, wars and betrayal, bullies, friendships, failures, money issues and successes.
Another aspect of this story that I admire is how well the author conveyed the details of the space race with its failures and successes in its various stages, as NASA broke orbit, spent time in space, and finally reached the moon. Learning from the epic fails and accidents were valuable lessons of the consequences of our ambitions and the need to weigh the merits against the drawbacks. Jessie too realized these same factors in his own life. They were important agents needed to help move him forward if he was to ever become an astronaut. Seriously good writing here.
Finally the author’s creation of family life in the ’60’s (very much similar to my own family growing up), populated with living breathing people we care about and empathize with, is top notch. Jessie’s family is endearing, warts and all. His mother was the strong female figure, the pillar, that kept the family unified and strong, even during the temporary absence of their father. By the conclusion of the book, we see some truly wonderful character development, pithy and heart-warming. I highly recommend this book for you to enjoy. Young adults may enjoy the retro atmosphere, and people my age may like a reflection of the past events we remember. Everyone else, it’s a good story. Go read it.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Smashwords on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”