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 12+
Based on 22 reviews

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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.


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


Brent pursues a girl and is humiliated.


Once, mild.

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
Parent of a 9, 14, and 17-year-old Written byHallofcats May 17, 2016


I signed up just to warn parents about this book as it is being assigned in schools for reading without parents knowing the content and messages. Only because... Continue reading
Adult Written bydrubie19 September 6, 2018

good book not sure if its totally appropriate

this book was pretty good but there was talk of sexual harassment and also a kid is underage drinking and tries to kill himself. There is also a small amount of... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bySnazzy Reader August 31, 2014

Thought Provoking Book

I , personally, thought that this book was very good. Although the way the chapters are put together is a bit confusing I thought that it is was a good idea. I... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bylowegra000 October 22, 2020


I am 15 years old and i had to read it for school and i really liked it there is a part about suicide so if you have a hard time i would recommend not reading... 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

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