Eighth-grader Michael Ahrens has a lot on his mind: his grandfather has just been diagnosed with cancer. Michael spends time in science class trying to come up with a Science Fair project that might help. Michael's teacher, Mr. Conrad, suggests that he visit Harvey Scheetz, the self-proclaimed certifiable lunatic and ghost-hunter who owns and operates the Cosmic Connections Museum at the Off the Deep End Flea Market next door to Reliable Junk. Michael, his "almost girlfriend," Stefanie, and oddball best friend, Dwink, are entertained by Harvey's inventions, including a ghost-hunting glove and intergalactic telecommunications device. When Michael stumbles upon a "flying machine" made out of junk, he becomes very cynical. The machine is for Turk, a young friend of Harvey's, who has terminal cancer. Michael and his friends watch Harvey demonstrate the features of the machine and give Turk a thrilling trial run. Back at school, Michael blows up in front of Mr. Conrad, complaining that Harvey is giving the girl false hope as "no one can do anything about cancer." But later, all three young people are moved as Harvey lifts the fragile Turk into the flying machine, which vibrates with bells, whistles, lights and electronic sounds as it rocks about. The little girl "flies" as her new friends cheer her on. Months later, Michael goes to Harvey's lab only to find the inventor inert and depressed over the recent death of Turk. Michael tries to cheer Harvey up, showing him pictures he took of Turk and the flying machine, but nothing moves Harvey from his depression. Michael, on the other hand, has created, from junk, a science fair-winning touch pad remote control for his grandfather. Harvey is consumed by the memory of one child he couldn't save, while before him is Michael—whose view of science, the imagination, and healing has been changed forever by the magic of Harvey's Reliable Junk.
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