Whirligig Book Poster Image




A car crash ends one life and begins another.

What parents need to know

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

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.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Underage drinking and driving.

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Paul Fleischman
Genre:Contemporary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Henry Holt & Company, Inc.
Publication date:January 1, 1998
Number of pages:133
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 14 years old Written byMUACKS2uALL September 4, 2010


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 beginning this guy is completely overly dramatic and sensitive. Everyone knows high school isn't going to be perfect, especially for new kids. But because a girl embarrassed him he decides to kill himself? Sorry but that's beyond stupid.Then some wooden toys are supposed to influence people and their life choices? Really? If I saw a toy in the park, I'd think, "cool," and then forget about it forever. The book doesn't have much going for it anyway. You can tell that the author is probably good because of his writing style, but the book is awful! If I hadn't been forced to read it I would have returned it before the 2nd day, if I checked it out in the 1st place. Do yourself a favor, and don't read it unless you have to. If you are in high school, middle school, etc, then u have enough drama in your life and shouldn't have to put yourself through a story of a random guy's self-destructive course and his guilt from murder and etc.
Teen, 15 years old Written byCourtneyRheanne October 26, 2009


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 the world and put up whirligigs. But I don't think this book was put together as well as I hoped. It felt like too me, the author just smashed these chapters together. I felt like it was too confusing to fallow. one chapter it would be of Brent and his journey, then too something really random. But that's my opinion, and even if it was too confusing for me too fallow. I still enjoyed it. I really loved the message.!! (:
What other families should know
Great messages
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 chater. the book didnt talk about the person who died that mush to feel like that brent did somthing bad. the charters in the book werent insting atall they didnt want you to know more about them and when you start reading it you wonder about other things that they talked only for a second then jump to something else that they never talked about and then jump to something else.


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