Age Level: 7th grade & up
# of Pages: Paperback 144 pages
Publisher: Laurel Leaf (November 9, 1999)
Brent Bishop is a typical new kid. He is worried about his status in the school and wants desperately to have the popular Brianna on his arm and goes to great lengths to make that happen, including putting himself out there at a party. Brianna, however, has other ideas about her life and Brent suffers public humiliation after she rejects him in front of everyone at the party. Brent leaves the party after he has been drinking and decides that life isn’t worth it anymore and decides to end his life. His reckless driving causes the death of a stranger though instead of himself. Lea was a stranger to Brent but to those who knew her she was a highly driven, talented, and well liked senior in high school. Brent’s parents think they are helping by trying to minimize his sense of guilt, but Brent is continuously tormented by what he has done and wants to make amends and have some resolution to his mistake. Lea’s mother wants to meet with Brent and asks him to "make four whirligigs, of a girl that looks like Lea....Then set them up in Washington, California, Florida, and Maine the corners of the United States." She believes that this will be enough of a punishment for him and over the course of his journey Brent is able to find himself as well as so much more.
This is one of those books that when my students ask me what they should read I automatically run to the shelf for. I love Fleischman’s novel because it has so many layers to it and it flows so well. We are able to watch Brent’s journey of forgiveness of himself as well as the impact the whirligig’s have on those he meets. We see the creation of each whirligig and the multiple layers and meanings behind it and the bystanders who are also impacted by the whirligig: a young violinist, a Holocaust survivor, a Puerto Rican street-sweeper. I love that this book is different from others because there is so much emotion in Brent and it comes through him in a very relatable way. Brent is a believable character because Fleischman writes him as such. Readers are able to see Brent grown and learn as he creates each whirligig and see his emotional response to his creations. This is a brief work but so much is packed in that you might miss out on something if you read too fast. I love that Fleischman has so much packed into this masterpiece and every time I point someone to it they always come away with a reaction of amazement for what they are walking away with.