The Paradox of Vertical Flight

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4.7 (2)
 
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The Paradox of Vertical Flight
Age Range
14+
Release Date
September 24, 2013
ISBN
0062238523
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What happens when you put a suicidal eighteen-year-old philosophy student, his ex-girlfriend, his best friend, and his newborn baby in a truck and send them to Grandma's house? This debut novel by Emil Ostrovski will appeal to fans of John Green, Chris Crutcher, and Jay Asher.

On the morning of his eighteenth birthday, philosophy student and high school senior Jack Polovsky is somewhat seriously thinking of suicide when his cell phone rings. Jack's ex-girlfriend, Jess, has given birth, and Jack is the father. Jack hasn't spoken with Jess in about nine months—and she wants him to see the baby before he is adopted. The new teenage father kidnaps the baby, names him Socrates, stocks up on baby supplies at Wal-Mart, and hits the road with his best friend, Tommy, and the ex-girlfriend. As they head to Grandma's house (eluding the police at every turn), Jack tells baby Socrates about Homer, Troy, Aristotle, the real Socrates, and the Greek myths—because all stories spring from those stories, really. Even this one. Funny, heart-wrenching, and wholly original, this debut novel by Emil Ostrovski explores the nature of family, love, friendship, fate, fatherhood, and myth.

Editor reviews

2 reviews

No Philosophy Required to Understand Why I Love This Book
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
5.0
Writing Style 
 
5.0
Who knew that stealing a baby could be so philosophical? Emil Ostrovski, that’s who, as evidenced by his debut novel THE PARADOX OF VERTICAL FLIGHT.

THE PARADOX OF VERTICAL FLIGHT follows eighteen year-old Jack immediately after the unplanned birth of his son. In going to the hospital to visit his ex-girlfriend Jess and their newborn baby, Jack decides to let every insane particle of his body take control and kidnap his baby before he can be passed on to his adoptive parents. Demonstrating his penchant for philosophy, Jack names his newborn boy Socrates, and takes Socrates on a multi-state road trip to visit his grandmother with Alzheimer’s. Jack brings his best friend Tommy and one ticked off Jess along on his outrageously illegal plan, thinking that if Socrates sees his great grandmother and has some deep philosophical “talks” with his dad, Socrates will have an experience that will help him grow into manhood.

This book is Smart with a capital “S,” and I loved everything about that. Jack relates everything in his life – from the development and dissolution of his relationship with Jess to Pokémon: The First Movie – to philosophy. Ostrovski tells jokes about philosophers and their theories that so many people (myself included) aren’t going to get without doing a little bit of research. Once you clue yourself in on the backstory, you can’t help but get a kick out of how deep and thoughtful Ostrovski’s humor is.

The best part about Ostrovski’s writing is that he’s able to take these mindboggling theories that Jack knows so much about and make them relatable to your average young adult. Ultimately, Jack is a panicked high school senior that has a mixture of regret and elation that he’s brought a new life into the world. He experiences ups and downs, moments of delusion and clarity, and feelings of love and hate for Tommy and Jess, the only two people who can help him through this emotionally unstable time in his life. Ostrovski takes this complicated mesh of emotions and the complicated theories that Jack uses to talk himself through his confusion, and somehow makes these thoughts and feelings seem completely uncomplicated. Upon finishing this book, I found myself thinking something I never anticipated thinking at the end of a YA book: “I completely understand the paradox of vertical flight.” Thanks, Ostrovski, for the thought-provoking, the heartwarming, and the unexpected.
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The Most Absurd Road Trip Ever
Overall rating 
 
4.3
Plot 
 
3.0
Characters 
 
5.0
Writing Style 
 
5.0
What I Liked:
The other day I was talking about bookish dealbreakers, and for each one of those there are multiple exceptions. For example, one of my top dealbreakers is a plot that involves babies. Well, add this one to the exception list that previously held just The Bean Trees. Despite the fact that the teens within The Paradox of Vertical Flight make almost exclusively horrible decisions and the fact that the plot revolves around a baby, I loved it, because of the vibrant realism, humor and brilliant audio performance.

Even though the plot of The Paradox of Vertical Flight seems like something I should loathe, Emil Ostrovski hits just the right notes. Sort of like how It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia should be terrible, but the writing and characters are so on point that it works. Jack is by no means someone I would be friends with in real life, but he does feel a hundred percent like someone I might meet in the real world, and the relationships he shares with his son, ex-girlfriend, best friend, and grandmother are touchingly lifelike.

Ostrovski doesn’t romanticize anything in The Paradox of Vertical Flight. Jack’s been going through a crisis, wherein he feels lonely and lacking in attention. He’s thinking about the possibility of ALMOST committing suicide when the phone rings and Jess, his ex, asks him to come to the hospital where she’s having her (their) baby. Though Jack wanted her to abort the child, he goes. Everything changes the moment he actually sees the kid, and he suddenly finds himself unable to turn the child over to the adopting parents and sort of kidnaps the baby, who he names Socrates.

From the get go, it’s pretty obvious that Jack sucks at making decisions. Committing suicide is not a good way to get attention and kidnapping a baby is not going to end well either. Still, now that he sees this little person he helped create, he needs more. Though the fact that he regretted wanting Jess to have an abortion, the book really didn’t feel preachy or anything; it just felt like his own experience, and I like that Ostrovski hit on some rarely tackled themes ESPECIALLY from a male POV.

Jack ends up calling on his best friend, Tommy, and Jess, and they all head on this ill-fated road trip to Jack’s grandmother’s place. Along the way, they’re chased by cops, befriend a homeless guy, and crash both a car and a boat, among other adventures. The baby’s situation is so precarious that even I am frequently concerned, because, much as I don’t like them anywhere near ME, I really do not wish babies harm.

The conversations on the road trip are the best part, as they always are. Jack and Tommy have this great buddy vibe, where they sort of flirt with each other in a joking way all the time. I love this, because pretty much all of the good guy friends I have flirt with each other, even though they’re all straight. They discuss things like Pokemon and Grand Theft Auto, and generally feel like teen boys. Also, there’s a plot line about the way they’ve been drifting apart, as Tommy switched schools and then enlisted, that’s really powerful.

Jess and Jack have a more complicated relationship. They had a sort of summer fling, but Jess is older and at college, so they drifted apart. Now, though, there’s this whole baby thing. What I like is that they both clearly still have feelings for one another, but that they’re not entirely sure what those feelings are and that they’re not shoved into some sort of unrealistic HEA. Another pet peeve of mine in books is terms of endearment, which are actually used to great effect here. When they fight, Jess and Jack call each other things like “darling,” which was always hilarious.

There’s also this quirky element where Jack has a lot of conversations with Socrates about philosophy. Jack aspires to being a philosopher one day and imagines his baby will turn out the same way. Using the socratic method, he helps himself cope by imagining a larger relationship with his baby. These conversations help Jack feel like this three day road trip will have an impact on who Socrates grows up to be.

Then there’s Jack’s grandmother, who’s suffering from dementia, slowly losing her memories. Jack manages to catch her on a good day, and she teaches him a last lesson about telling people how much you love them and making sure to say good bye. It’s heartbreaking and sweet and emotionally resonant. It made me all misty.

What Left Me Wanting More:
All of that, I loved. However, some of the plot elements went a bit over the top and the framing element was a bit boring. At the beginning and end of the novel, a middle-aged Jack is telling his eighteen year old son the story of his first couple of days. It’s not bad, but I didn’t feel as connected to middle-aged Jack.

Then there’s the fact that Jack knew so little about babies that it sort of made my head explode. I was never around babies as a child, but even I had the most basic ideas of the mechanics. Jack literally has to ask someone what babies eat. I MEAN, COME ON. I also didn’t care for quite how crazy the adventure got. The whole thing was a bad idea, but the fact that they got wasted on a boat with the baby was overkill.

The Final Verdict:
Any time a book can make me really love subject matter I generally avoid, I am impressed. Ostrovski’s debut is full of wit, heart and philosophy. The audiobook, especially, I recommend because MacLeod Andrews does a brilliant job with the narration, getting the characters down perfectly.
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