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...
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 bookis 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 notappealing 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.
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.
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.
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:
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."
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?