A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
- Parents say
- Kids say
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?
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.