Wednesday, April 26, 2006

#44 Say Cheese and Die--Again!


#44 Say Cheese and Die--Again!

Front Tagline: Think negative. Real negative.
Back Tagline: Picture-Perfect Nightmare!

Official Book Description:
Sourball. That's what Greg calls his English teacher, Mr. Saur. He's a real grouch. And now he just gave Greg a big fat "F" on his oral report.
He didn't believe Greg's story. About the camera Greg found last summer. About the pictures it took. About the evil things that happened.
Poor Greg. He just wanted to prove old Sourball wrong. But now that he's dug up the camera, bad things are happening. Really bad things. Just like the first time...

Brief Synopsis:
So here we are, back again with Greg and Shari, the two intrepid (sorry, I mean insipid) heroes of the first Say Cheese and Die! A year has passed since the events of the first book. Greg gives an oral report in his English class about his adventures with the evil camera, but for some reason, his English teacher Mr. Saur doesn't believe him and gives him an F, in front of the entire class no less, which is something teachers often do. He chides Greg on giving an oral report on a lie when the assignment was to tell a true story. Greg reveals that all the students hate Mr. Saur because he is so prickly, and that they call him Saur Sourball behind his back. That seems awfully redundant though when they could just call him Saurball.

Mr. Saur tells Greg that if he can prove his story is true, that the camera is evil, than he will give him an A. Greg decides it would be a good idea to go back to the abandoned house where they left the camera and retrieve it, which his friends are against, mainly because the last time they had their pictures taken, they were all, you know, horribly maimed or erased from existence. But Greg valiantly decides his grade is more important than anyone's safety. That night, he sneaks out to the Coffman House, only to find the house demolished, with even the basement torn out. He despairs until he meets a young boy named Jon whose father recently bought the land. He explained that the wrecking crew had just torn the house down and that everything in the house is in a large dumpster. Greg goes digging around in the dumpster and finds the camera hidden beneath a dead raccoon carcass. Say Cheese and Yuck.

Greg tries to tell Jon he's only borrowing the camera but Jon struggles with Greg for the prized possession and the camera goes off. Of course it does. There's like eight pictures taken in this book and seven of them happen because of a struggle. The picture reveals Jon on the ground in agony, a large roofers nail poking out of his foot. Jon runs to go find his dad to make Greg give up the camera when he, you guessed it, turns out to really be a dog.

Jon's father rushes his son to the emergency room to have the nail removed and Greg slinks away back home. The next morning, Greg tries to sneak out of the house but Shari catches him and tries to stop him from taking the camera to school. Another scuffle and another picture is accidentally taken, this time of Shari. But the camera produces a normal photo, but in a negative image. Shari maliciously grabs Greg's camera and takes a picture of him in retaliation for, well, for her scuffling and causing the first photo to be taken in the first place.

The photo develops and reveals Greg to weigh about 800 pounds, with huge quadruple chins and giant rolls of fat. Greg panics and hides the photos in his back pocket. He scrambles to school and bursts into Mr. Saur's room, but he has fallen ill and there's a substitute instead. Greg locks the camera in his locker and the rest of the day is filled with Greg getting progressively fatter and fatter. I imagine this book did a whole lot of damage for young adult readers with weight issues, as they probably went around blaming being fat on having their picture taken with a magical evil camera, and not, you know, Cheetoes.

The next day, Greg has gained maybe 20 pounds from the day before. He goes to see Mr. Saur but he's having a meeting with the principal and won't speak to Greg until class. Once class starts, Greg interrupts a girl giving a report on her cat to force Mr. Saur to look at his proof, the magical evil camera. Unfortunately, Greg gained 100 pounds since when he came into the class and is stuck in his desk. He manages to squeeze out and brings the camera and the snapshot of Jon's nail in the foot over to Mr. Saur. Mr. Saur makes fun of him in front of the class some more and Greg leaves in tears, waddling out of the class. In the hallway he runs into Shari. At that precise moment, Shari's skirt falls down off her waist and wraps around her ankles and the book gets a whole lot sexier. Shari pulls up her skirt and tells Greg that she's lost a bunch of weight and none of her clothes stay on any more.

RL Stine stops his Flesh Gordon-cribbing and treats the reader to the further humiliation of a fat person by their peers. Greg gains over 300 pounds by the end of the day. His parents think it must be an allergic reaction and schedule an appointment for the next day. At school the next day, he runs into Shari, who has lost so much weight that she is described as looking like a stick with a lemon at the top, which is really sort of unappealing. She then tells him she was late to school because the wind kept blowing her over. In class, Mr. Saur mercilessly mocks Greg, telling him when he walks in that he's clearly too fat to sit in a desk, so he should stand over by the window. But not directly in front of the window or he'll block the sun. I wasn't aware middle school teachers had tenure.

After class, Greg's father shows up in a large van that he rented so he could haul Greg to the doctor. At the doctor's office, the nurse loses her stethoscope in the folds of Greg's fat.

That night, Greg goes over to Shari's with the camera so they can figure out what to do. Why not just tear up the photos like in the last book I had been asking this book, out loud, for the past 30 pages? Because they are afraid they themselves might get torn up into little pieces. No, a better idea would be for them to take new photos of themselves, and maybe that will reverse the process. Okay. Shari takes a picture of Greg and in the snapshot he is covered in scales like a reptile. Greg begins to itch all over his body as his skin flakes off in huge chunks and falls to the floor. Say Cheese and Gross.

Greg gets another idea: He'll go visit his older brother, who works in a photo development lab, and have him print a negative of both their pics. That is, a positive of Shari's negative and a negative of Greg's positive. The older brother does this for them and when they wake up the next morning, all is well. WHAT A CLIMAX.

But the Twist is:
Greg, still bitter about Mr. Saur refusing to raise his grade, takes the camera with him to take a picture of his teacher. Greg's killed people with this camera, so this is clearly RL Stine's Columbine/Elephant moment. Greg confronts Mr. Saur and Mr. Saur, you guessed it, scuffles with his student and grabs the camera, taking a picture of the entire classroom full of students.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
It's still Greg and his best friend Shari, whose waistline disappears half-way thru the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
When Greg begs his parents to not force him to go to school in his condition, they tell him to just suck it up and tell his friends that he's sick and they won't make fun of him. This is directly followed by a scene where Greg can no longer fit into the family's Honda Civic.

Questionable Teaching:
Mr. Saur welcomes Greg into class by cheerfully telling him he's gained a lot of weight.

Orson Welles Alert:
Mr. Saur tells Greg he's going to give him an F, "F for Fake."

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 19/20:
Greg's wearing baggy shorts, but... they're now skin tight. OH MY GODDDDDD,
AHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Great Prose Alert:
"Sweat poured off my forehead and rolled down my round cheeks and chins."

Conclusions:
I wonder if I took a picture of Say Cheese and Die--Again! with an evil magic camera, would it gain anything in quality? Because there's nowhere to go but up. This was, as you can imagine from reading the synopsis, stunningly bad, even for a Goosebumps book.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

#04 Say Cheese and Die!


#04 Say Cheese and Die!

Front Tagline: One picture is worth a thousand screams.
Back Tagline: Every Picture Tells A Story.

Official Book Description:
Greg thinks there is something wrong with the old camera he and his friends found. The photographs keep turning out wrong. Very wrong. Like the snapshot Greg took of his father's new car that shows it totaled. And then Greg's father is in a nasty wreck.
But Greg's friends don't believe him. Shari even makes Greg bring the camera to her birthday party and take her picture.
Only Shari's not in the photograph when it develops.
Is Shari about to be taken out of the picture permanently?
Who is going to take the next fall for...
the evil camera?

Brief Synopsis:
Greg and his friends Shari (Female), Michael (Fat), and Bird (Show-Off) are aimlessly walking around town bored. Good thrilling start to this book already. They decide to break into the Coffman House, an abandoned house at the end of their block. I know the Real Estate market is tricky, but how is it that every character in a Goosebumps book lives in a neighborhood with an abandoned house? The group of friends has heard that a homeless man named Spidey lives in the abandoned house, but they decide to explore the house anyways, since the opportunity to break into a homeless man's home proves far too wonderfully ironic to pass up.

While exploring the basement, Greg finds a secret camera hidden in a secret compartment that was secretly kept secret. He takes the camera and in one of the more homoerotic scenes in the book, has Michael "pose" for a picture. Shortly after the picture is snapped, Michael falls off the basement's staircase and hurts his ankle. Footsteps from upstairs alert the group of children and they escape, with Greg taking the camera with him. Once outside, Michael asks to see the picture Greg took, only to discover the camera captured what occurred immediately after the picture was snapped: Michael falling. The kids attribute this and subsequent futuristic camera captures to the camera being broken. Because that's what broken cameras often do, they often capture the future.

Greg and his friends split up and return to their respective households. Greg sees a brand new station wagon (lol at SUVs not existing yet) parked in the driveway. He's thrilled and takes a snapshot because a station wagon is just that freaking cool, jack. Running upstairs to hide the camera, he is shocked to discover the photo he snapped of the car shows the station wagon totaled. This leads to a preview of the last ten minutes of Fat Girl (minus ax-murdering) as Greg awkwardly is forced to ride in the car that he suspects will crash at any moment. This is then tempered with about five pages of station wagon-based observational humor ("Cup-Holders sure are funnie," etc). When the family arrives safely at home (after almost being hit by a truck), Greg chalks the whole photo thing up to the camera being broken again.

Shari and Greg attend Bird's baseball game and snap his photo. The picture develops and shows Bird on the ground, writhing in agony. Bird then tricks them by pretending to be injured, and then gets actually injured, mimicking the photo. At the same time, Greg's brother arrives at the baseball game to tell Greg that their father was just in a highly convenient car accident.

A few days later, Shari calls up Greg and insists that he bring his camera to her birthday party to take photos, because "it will be fun." Shari might be the dumbest Goosebumps character ever. At her party, Greg obliges her request and takes a picture of her... but the picture develops and reveals only the tree and scenery behind her. Shari is not captured on the photo, nor on the next picture she makes him take of herself. Then everyone at the birthday party holds a hide and seek game. Then Shari disappears for real. Police come and search the premises but there's simply no evidence or clues, Shari's vanished without a trace. Greg tries to tell a police officer what happened, but the cop for whatever reason thinks that Greg's claim of using a magical camera that tells the future is somewhat dubious.

Greg goes home from Shari's to find his house abandoned and his room ransacked. Spidey must have been searching for the camera, Greg deduces without the use of Occam's Razor. Greg calls up Bird and Michael and has them meet him at the baseball diamond so the three can deliver the camera back to the Coffman House. The three meet and are then harassed by a couple bullies, who try to steal their camera and accidentally take a picture of Greg in the struggle. The boys escape from the bullies with their camera, but it's getting late, so they postpone returning the camera. Greg looks at the picture the bullies had just taken and sees himself and Shari at the baseball diamond, cowering in terror as a shadow looms over them.

Greg, frustrated with a lot of things (but mainly his horrible evil future-telling camera), rips up the blank photos of trees he had taken at Shari's birthday party. Two hours later, he gets a call from Shari. She had just suddenly reappeared in front of her house two hours prior. She has no recollection of where she was for the past few days, and the two agree to meet the next day at the baseball diamond.

When they meet the next day, Spidey appears (his shadow casts the scene from the snapshot) and chases after Shari and Greg and the book turns into a Scooby-Doo episode. The two agree to meet the next afternoon at the Coffman House to return the camera for good.

Naturally, a storm is brewing outside as the two enter the Coffman House the next day. They make it down to the basement and Greg returns the camera to its secret hiding spot. As they walk up the stairs, Spidey appears and forces them back down into the basement.

What follows in the novel is a pretty great example of how not to write. Spidey announces himself to be "a scientist!" Dr. Fritz Fredericks to be exact. He tells the kids that his lab partner invented the camera and that since he, Fritz, was evil, he stole the camera and the plans from his partner. But, in one of the best lines in Goosebumps history, Fritz reveals that his lab partner "was much more evil than I was." Fritz's partner didn't just dabble in the dark arts, he was a master of them. That too is Fritz's line. Fritz's lab partner cast a curse on the camera, causing it to capture souls. What.

Fritz tells the two that the camera had killed a lot of people, and since they now know his secret, they aren't allowed leave the basement alive. But didn't they already sort of knew the biggest part of his secret that mattered before they entered the basement? A struggle ensues and Shari grabs the camera from Fritz and snaps his picture. When the two kids make it to the top of the stairs, they notice that Fritz is no longer struggling with them. The two look at the photo and see Fritz's dead body. Walking back down to the basement, they see the camera's capture was accurate. This is, as best as I can figure, the only time in Goosebumps history when the main child characters actually killed a non-monstrous human being. The two leave the house to call the police. Aww, their adherence to civic duty is cute.

But the Twist is:
Lame. The two bullies for some reason were watching all this go down and sneak into the Coffman House (which I thought was crawling with police but whatever) and steal the camera and take a picture. Who cares.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Best friends Greg Banks and Shari Walker, who disappears half-way thru the book.

Questionable Parenting:
Greg's dad almost kills his entire family by not paying attention to the road, then harps on them for complaining. But he's earned that attitude. After all, he's driving A NEW STATION WAGON, MOTHERFUCKER!

Crimes Against Fashion Alert:
Proving that RL Stine should never be allowed to dress a child, Shari appears at various intervals in the book sporting a yellow jumper, various shades of leggings, and crimped hair. Did Stine learn everything he knew about how kids dressed from Square Pegs?

Vague Word Choice So As Not To Infringe On Name Brands Alert:
Greg's brother works at Dairy Freeze, the group of friends follows the adventures of a gang of superhero mutants known as the X-Force, and since Polaroid is a name-brand, the camera is described in excessive detail as a self-developing camera.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
There are some all-time stupid ones in this book, but I'd be bereft in my duty if I didn't report on:
Ch. 9/10:
Greg's brother wants to know... ARE THERE ANY MORE POTATOES?

Great Prose Alert:
"His hand trembling, his mouth hanging open in disbelief, Greg goggled at the photo."
That's not a typo, he goggled.

Conclusions:
I took a picture of myself before reading Say Cheese and Die! with a magical evil future-telling camera and looked at the snapshot after I finished, and sure enough, I looked pretty bored. But at least I looked pretty.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

#41 Bad Hare Day


#41 Bad Hare Day

Front Tagline: He's no Easter bunny!
Back Tagline: Pick A Scare. Any Scare.

Official Book Description:
Trick cards, floating scarves, disappearing doves. Tim Swanson loves magic tricks. Someday he wants to be a real magician. Just like his all-time favorite hero, Amaz-O.
But then Tim goes to Amaz-O's show. And he finds out his idol is a total grump. That's when Tim decides to steal the bag of tricks. Amaz-O's bag of secret tricks. Scary tricks.
The one with the multiplying red balls.
And all those hissing snakes...

Brief Synopsis:
Tim Swanson is an amateur child magician. To be fair, that is likely the only sort of magician you can be at age twelve. He performs tricks from a magic kit for his classmates after school on a daily basis, which is sort of suspect anyways, but he also manages to draw a crowd for these tricks, which is really when the book's credibility is blown. After his peers are "amazed" at how he can guess their card and separate metal rings, his little sister Ginny comes by and mocks his magic, revealing the secrets to his tricks to the audience, and also karate chops him in the stomach. Ginny is the character the reader sympathizes with in this book.

After his magic show breaks up (when they realize Ginny isn't going to hurt Tim again, the audience leaves), Tim and his best friend Foz decide to stop by the magic shop to look at the new tricks. I'm not sure how much money a magic shop can pull in on a daily basis, but I'm assuming the owner has some sort of magic tree that grows magic money that pays the magic bills. Or maybe he just lost a bet or something.

The owner of the magic shop gives Tim and Foz two free tickets to see Tim's idol, the magician Amaz-O, at a local nightclub the next night. Tim tries to convince his parents to let him go, but they for some reason object to their prepubescent son going to a night club at ten at night.

The day of the big magic show, Tim gives another magic show, this time at his house, where he displays a trick he constructed in the garage: a homemade trick-compartment table for making a rabbit disappear and reappear. He borrows Foz's sister's rabbit and the trick goes awry and the rabbit gets away but is then caught by Ginny, who karate chops a stream to trap the rabbit. I don't know either.

Tim's parents come home that night exhausted and go right to bed. Tim gets the fairly obvious idea to sneak out of the house and go to the nightclub anyways, which he does, but not before being caught by Ginny, who insists on going with him. The two talk their way into a nightclub unescorted, and are seated in front of the stage. Amaz-O comes out beforehand and asks Tim to be his volunteer later in the show. Amaz-O then begins his show, and if he's the world's best magician, I would really hate to see the world's worst. His act consists of doves flying out of his hat, pulling a rabbit out of a hat, and many other stereotypical, boring (even on magic-terms) tricks. In the book's single most bewildering scene, Amaz-O tried to thread a needle on stage, gets frustrated, shoves a handful of twenty needles into his mouth, swallows a long thread of string, closes his mouth, and pulls out a perfect strand of threaded needles. Never has any magician put so much effort into being boring.

Amaz-O calls for a volunteer and Tim goes up, is placed into a magic cabinet, and is delivered to what the magician calls the "5th dimension," or what we might call "the basement." He falls thru a trapdoor and lands on a mattress in the nightclub's basement. He hears Amaz-O leave the stage and end the show. Tim also find the basement door locked and he breaks his way out of the room and finds Amaz-O's dressing room. He starts to enter but a voice inside tells him to "Beat it, punk!" Taken aback at being called punk, Tim proves himself to not be a punk by stealing the magician's suitcase of tricks to get back at him. Tim and Ginny evade a cadre of security guards and bike home. Ginny insists on Tim sharing the suitcase with her and the two hide it in the attic, promising to not disturb it until Saturday, when they will have time to examine the contents more closely. This being a Goosebumps book, Tim does not follow this simple plan and instead opens the magic case later that night, and discovers an amazing array of boring magic tricks. By the way, we're two thirds of the way through the book and nothing has happened yet. Don't worry though, nothing he finds in the suitcase changes this.

The suitcase has a sound effect that plays when you open it, a large exploding boom. That's not even sort of a magic trick, but okay. Inside Tim finds a cup and ball trick, a bunch of mechanical glass snakes, a wand, a jacket, a zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Tim closes the case and decides that he must pull himself away from the remarkably unremarkable tricks in the suitcase and go to sleep. In the morning, their parents don't suspect a thing, but that doesn't stop Ginny from telling her mom she and Tim have a secret. This leads to the worst dialog exchange I've ever read, and I have taken part college creative writing workshops: Mom asks if Ginny said she has a secret; Tim says no, she said she wants a wee pet, as Ginny has been studying Scottish literature and dialect and was speaking as a Scot. No, that's really his explanation.

Finally it's Saturday, and Foz has come over to see the incredibly boring magic tricks Amaz-O's kit contains. Tim attempts to perform some of the tricks, but they all go awry. First, instead of disappearing, red balls keep appearing under cups in the cup and ball trick, and keep appearing, until he just throws them all in the suitcase and shuts it quickly. Tim then has doves fly out of his hat, but the doves won't quit flying out of his hat, and the attic fills with doves. The kids quickly leave the attic, taking the kit with them. Tim reasons that maybe they should play with the kit outside, so if there's anymore animals, they can just fly away. Foz and Ginny, quite rightly, are less interested in continuing the magic show, and more interested in anything else at all. Somehow he convinces them to join him outside. Ginny roots around in the magic kit, finds a carrot, eats it, and turns into a rabbit. There are 117 pages in this book. It took 91 pages for something to actually happen.

Tim and Foz can't figure out how to turn Ginny back into a human, so they decide to return the kit to Amaz-O and get him to turn Ginny back into a human. They break into the nightclub and find Amaz-O's lifeless body on the couch of his dressing room. Upon closer consideration, Amaz-O is actually a large puppet! Keep in mind that Tim talked to and appeared on stage with this puppet and somehow never noticed the man he was talking to was a large puppet.

A voice in the room begins to berate the children, and this is certainly welcome from the reader at this point. They discover that Amaz-O's rabbit is the one speaking. He continues to insult them, which again, is enjoyable, and then explains that he, the rabbit, is Amaz-O, and he was turned into a rabbit by a sorcerer. The rabbit and Tim have what is honestly a witty little conversation about the sorcerer's name. This exchange is the only time in the reading this novel that the book improved on the first blank page. So interesting is this crass rabbit that I can't figure out why I spent 110 pages without meeting him, only to have the book end just as something interesting finally occurs.

The rabbit goes on to explain that he built the puppet to do his stage work while he was stuck a rabbit. This makes no sense, but whatever, compared to some of the logical processes of these books, it makes the most sense I've ever heard. The rabbit tells Tim that his sister will change back to a human in less than an hour, and then makes Tim a very interesting offer.

But the Twist is:
Tim agrees to be part of Amaz-O's act, but doesn't realize that he'll be taking over the rabbit portion of the show. Wah-wah.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Tim Swanson is constantly tormented by his sister, Ginny Swanson, who turns into a rabbit 7/8 of the way thru the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
Tim's mom tells him that twelve is not "a cute age."

Dubious Relation of Previous Occurrences Alert:
Tim's mother tells the family about a troubled youth who threatened to beat up another kid. He was sent to the office by a teacher who he threatened to beat up. The office sent him to the counselor who he threatened to beat up. He was then sent to see Tim's mom, who he threatened to beat up. Upon calling this student's mother down, she then threatened to beat up Tim's mom.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 3/4:
Tim ponders whether he could ever change his sister into a rabbit. This plot cliffhanger is then finally addressed 70 pages later.

Great Prose Alert:
"My nose is long and curves up at the end like a hot dog. Ginny likes to flick the end of my nose with her finger and say 'Boi-oi-ing.'"

Conclusions:
It takes a special sort of author to make magic more boring than it already is, but RL Stine is that, let's say talented. Bad Hare Day is without question the least interesting book I've read yet in the Goosebumps series.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

#52 How I Learned to Fly


#52 How I Learned to Fly

Front Tagline: It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a... kid?
Back Tagline: He's Got His Head In the Clouds. For Real...

Official Book Description:
Wilson Schlame loves to make Jack Johnson feel like a total loser. And Jack's had it. That's how he ended up down at the beach. In a creepy, old abandoned house. In the dark. Trying to hide from Wilson.
But everything is about to change. Because Jack just dug up the coolest book. It's called Flying Lessons. It tells how humans can learn to fly.
Poor jack. He wanted to get back at Wilson. But now that Jack's learned how to fly, things down on earth are getting really scary...

Brief Synopsis:
Jack Johnson can't win anything in life. He is constantly in competition with Wilson, a better-looking, smarter, more athletic, better everything all the time always guy. He even beats Jack in wooing local middle school skirt Mia, a young girl who is always wearing hearts on her earrings, wrists, socks, and so on. The first thirty pages or so of the book consist solely of Wilson one-upping Jack. Jack draws Mia a superhero, Wilson draws her a quintet of superheroes and calls them "Mia's Defenders." Okay, so I'm not sure how the guy drawing more superheroes for a girl is the "winner," but we'll be with Stine on this one. Jack gets a new 21-Speed bike to impress Mia, but Wilson has just received a new mountain bike. The three of them race home, and of course Wilson wins. Wilson wins everything.

After like three pages, we get it, but don't worry, Wilson continues to win at things that aren't even competitions, like later in the book when Jack is eating a hotdog and Wilson comes up to him and goes "You call that a hot dog?" and then presents his footlong hot dog. I didn't make that up, that is a literal scene from the book.

What's more, even Jack and Wilson's dogs are competitive, as when Jack tells Mia that he's trained his dog Morty to bring his food dish to the kitchen, she's impressed. Wilson one-ups this by claiming he taught his dog, Terminator, to answer the telephone when he's not home. What.

Also, to the relief of everyone who was fearing their wouldn't be enough Goosebumps books featuring scenes of cats being rescued from trees, good news! Jack shimmies up a tree to rescue an old lady's cat (just once I'd like to see a verile young man's cat get stuck in a tree), but falls off a limb into Wilson's arms, who then drops him onto the concrete as Mia comforts Wilson on his sore hand that Jack landed on. Okay, so this book is pretty funny in its own way. Wilson proceeds to rescue the cat for the old woman and then, I don't know, rescues mainland China from the wrath of Rodan. There really is nothing short of walking on water that Wilson can do in this book, eventually the reader just has to realize Hey, maybe Wilson is better than Jack.

Mia invites the two to her birthday party. Wilson promises a big surprise for Mia from his dog (Wait for it guys, the surprise is amazing). Jack doesn't really want to go, as he knows he will just be one-upped by Wilson, which is of course precisely what happens once Jack gives in and agrees to go. Jack is greeted warmly by Mia's stepmother upon arriving, until she is told that he's not the Wilson they've all been expecting. Oh man, BURN CITY.



When Wilson does show up to the party, he makes his inexplicable entrance by jumping up in the air, grabbing two balloons, and crafting a perfect balloon man. Again, this is behavior that I would classify as not appealing to the opposite sex, but here we are, and Mia loves it. Then as Mia sets out the Twister mat, Wilson announces that Terminator has a special surprise for all the guests: HE HAS BEEN TAUGHT TO TURN THE COLOR WHEEL. The dog enters the party conveniently just as this information is revealed, and he indeed does spin the wheel. Amazing. Jack is upstaged by Wilson at Twister in a scene nominated by the National Book Association of America for Best Running Into the Ground of a Story Runner Award.

When Mia opens Jack's birthday gift, she is thrilled, as he has bought her a thoughtful gift: an album by the band Purple Rose. Wilson, naturally, has bought her front-row tickets to the Purple Rose concert. Of course he has. Jack responds by screaming like a girl and running out on the party, despite Mia's calling after him to stay.

Jack hides out in an abandoned beach front house. Then he falls through the floorboards. Then he finds a book called Flying Lessons, which is only marginally more interesting to a twelve-year old than finding Fear of Flying. Then a vicious squadron of rats appears out of nowhere and attacks Jack, who kicks them away and eventually just stomps all over the army of rats on the way to a staircase that leads out of the basement. I for one am glad that someone finally addressed the serious social issue of Beach Rats in a children's novel.

Jack takes the book back home with him, a couple days pass, then he decides to read the book. Perusing the pages of the how-to, he comes to the conclusion that if he could fly, he'd finally one-up Wilson and impress Mia!

Besides a series of stretches, the book gives a recipe for a flying dough that you ingest in order to be able to fly. The recipe contains yeast, which, the Flying Lessons book helpfully points out, rises. Literal thought process on the part of Jack: "Yeast does rise. Maybe this could work." Wow.

Jack mixes the dough, then adds a packet of magical blue powder that was included with the book. As he turns his attention, wait for it, Morty the dog jumps up on the counter and eats half the bowl of dough. The dog then floats in midair through the living room, out the window, and flies directly up into the sky.

Holy

Jack panics, ingests the rest of the dough himself, and flies up into the sky to rescue his dog. He flies up near the sun, which isn't, to the best of my science knowledge, close enough to the earth that you could fly near it and also still see your house down below, but then again I guess it's not possible to fly either so here we are. Jack catches his dog, plays around with flying some, then lands safely in his backyard, hoping that no one saw him. Jack has the perfect plan: he'll meet with Wilson and Mia, tell them he has a big surprise for them, then he'll fly and win her heart and show Wilson and yeah! After many many rained out days and false starts, Jack finally meets with Wilson and Mia. Gang, stay with me here.

Jack flies up into the air above Mia and looks down with delight as he sees his plan worked. Then he looks beside him and sees Wilson also flying. Wilson can also fly. What the shit.

Wilson tells Jack that he snuck the Flying Lessons book out of his garage because he was spying on him or something, I don't know, there's really no way to pretend that this isn't just insultingly convenient. Jack falls down and Wilson lands smoothly and they both approach a visibly shaken Mia. Wilson bails, as he has tennis practice, which is way more important than being able to fly what the hell.

Mia wants Jack to show her how to fly, and he reluctantly agrees. However, when he makes his way back home with Mia in tow, he can't find the book anymore. Jack then remembers that his folks were doing spring cleaning and likely have thrown the book out. Mia tells him that it's just as well, because she suddenly for no reason is now convinced that flying is a bad idea and she tells him that he shouldn't fly anymore. He laughs this off, presumably because she's just making excuses for not being able to fly.

Some random flying moments occur and whatever, read the book if you want to hear about Jack's nighttime flight to a field or something.

A few days later, Wilson tells Jack that he's promised the gym teacher a "very special race," and Jack sees the entire student body gathered outside the gym, as I guess telling a gym teacher that two students are going to race is the sort of thing that gets all classes in all grades cancelled. Mia again tells Jack not to go thru with it, and he tells her he doesn't want to but has to try. The two indeed do fly and race, and Wilson tricks Jack into losing the race, but when both land they realize that the audience of children isn't clapping, isn't happy, but it merely standing there in stunned silence. Whoops.

Word about the race spreads across the country. Some scientists try to kidnap Jack but he escapes. Then his parents get a great idea: they'll market their boy as a freak, THE AMAZING FLYING BOY, to a local car dealership. No really, that's what they do. Jack puts on a sliver superhero suit and flies over some cars. This is the best book I've ever read.

Meanwhile, Jack learns that Wilson has his own TV show, Wonder Wilson and His Amazing Rescues. Wilson gets a TV Show, Jack gets car commercials, Jack just can't catch a break. With all the busy showbiz adventures, both Wilson and Jack are unable to spend time with Mia, despite Jack's best efforts to meet with her.

Then one day the army shows up and steals Jack and tests him for ten days then releases him. Okay.

Jack's father announces that he's signed Jack up for a big race with Wilson. Oh good, another race, it's been a good five pages since we've had one of those. Apparently this is gonna be the BIG RACE, with the winner receiving a million dollars from... I don't know, they never say. If anyone has any good joke answers as to who has sponsored this race to the tune of a six zeroes, comment in the blog below. Winner receives the ashes of my copy of Chicken Chicken.

On the day of the big race, Wilson and Jack prepare to fly off into the sky when Jack suddenly can't fly. He falls off the platform as Wilson soars in the heavens. Wilson wins again, Jack is left back to his normal life.

But the Twist is:
Oh this really is adorable.
With Wilson being hounded by army scientists and obsessive fans, he has no life beyond his celebrity, and he drops out of school and moves away. Jack gets to spend more time with Mia, in fact they hang out all the time. Jack never regrets for a second that he pretended to lose his flying abilities. For once, Jack won what he wanted. Wilson got the burden of flight and Jack got Mia.

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Well, in a rare showing, our protagonist Jack Johnson desperately wants his platonic relationship with Mia to be romantic, even when the seams of his pants disappear halfway thru the novel.

Questionable Parenting:
Jack's mom won't let him leave the house without wearing a silver-sparkled spandex superhero suit. And it's not even like a coat substitute or anything.

Questionable Teaching:
What sort of middle school cancels all of it's classes to watch two kids run behind the gym?

Early 90s Cultural References:
Who could ever forget the sweet soul sounds of Purple Rose?

R.L. Stine Shows He is Down With the Kids:
While playing Twister, Jack splits open his pants, revealing his boxers. Jack is a twelve year old kid wearing boxers. He also wears knee-garters and suspenders.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 7/8:
Jack tells the reader "I can fly!" Of course, he's just reading from the book called Flying Lessons. Oh you.

Great Prose Alert:
"Last week a real nut auditioned for Dad. She played a Beethoven symphony by banging on her head. After two notes, she knocked herself out-- and Dad had to take her to the hospital."

Conclusions:
This book may be ridiculous, but overall How I Learned to Fly is a pretty cute entry in the series. One last thing though: WHY IN THE WORLD IS THIS A GOOSEBUMPS BOOK?