Whirligig

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Whirligig Book Poster Image
A car crash ends one life and begins another.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 22 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

A powerful, complex tale of guilt and redemption that may inspire in kids a desire to create their own whirligigs, and to explore the country.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character's attempt to kill himself while driving drunk results in the death of another person.

Violence

Brent deliberately causes a car crash, in an attempted suicide.

Sex

Brent pursues a girl and is humiliated.

Language

Once, mild.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Underage drinking and driving.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that even without much action, this beautifully thoughtful book is enthralling to many young adults. It's a powerful, complex tale of guilt and redemption that may inspires in kids a desire to create their own whirligigs, and to explore the country. Parents need to revolve around the main character's attempt to kill himself while driving drunk, which results in the death of another person.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byselliott19 April 9, 2008
this book was the worst book ive ever read it was stupid not intresting. the chapters were a bit confusing jumping from a differnt person then back to the main... Continue reading
Parent of a 13 year old Written byrazzle98 August 17, 2011

A Stupid Waste of My Precious Summer

This book was stupid. I had to read it for school... I read this kind of stuff when I was like, 8. This is not on my reading level at all, it was confusing beca... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byMUACKS2uALL September 4, 2010

Whirligig

Sorry, no offense to the author, but I'm a 9th grader and we just had to read this book and...well....no one liked it. It's annoying because at the be... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byCourtneyRheanne October 26, 2009

Comfused.??

I think this book was a greet message too all ages. Like how he take responsibility on killing lea, he didn't give up, even how hard it was too go around t... Continue reading

What's the story?

Brent begins his second life the night he kills a girl.

Desperately chasing junior-class popularity, Brent gets drunk at a party and is humiliated in front of all his classmates. Driving home in a fog he decides to commit suicide by driving into oncoming traffic. But the ensuing accident kills a girl in the other car instead.

As a form of restitution, the girl's mother asks that Brent travel to the four corners of the United States--Maine, Washington, California, and Florida--to build and set up whirligigs that display her daughter's face. So Brent sets off to travel the country with a bus pass and a bag of tools.

In alternating chapters, Fleischman tells of Brent's odyssey of guilt and self-discovery, and of the surprising effects his creations have on others, often years later.

Is it any good?

Paul Fleischman has long been a solid children's author, but WHIRLIGIG is a tour-de-force. Breathtakingly powerful and vividly memorable, it is also multilayered. As Brent travels alone and struggles to come to terms with what he has done, his personality, priorities, direction, and indeed nearly everything about him is irrevocably changed, mostly for the better. The appalling consequences of his self-centeredness, and the rippling impact of his actions causes readers to look at their own lives in a new way.

The format can be confusing; the chapters showing the effects of the whirligigs don't follow the same order as Brent's creation of them, so the reader is often unsure which whirligig is involved. But eventually it doesn't seem to matter; the point is the unexpected consequences of our actions. This is the kind of book that latches onto readers and doesn't let go. More than a few readers have been driven to seek out books on the making of whirligigs, which the author makes fascinating and lovely.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about consequences. When Brent is first sentenced, does his punishment seem serious or does he seem to get off easy?

  • Can you think of something you've done impulsively that had unintended consequences affecting someone else?

  • Families can also talk about teen depression. Have you or anyone you know ever felt like Brent at the beginning of the story?

  • How could his humiliation at the party been avoided?

  • What do you think would have happened if he hadn't gone on to cause the accident?

Book details

For kids who love award winners

Our editors recommend

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate