Fleischman, P. (1998). Whirligig. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf.
Appetizer: Brent Bishop moved to the Chicago suburbs about three months ago. He's still working on establishing himself among the rich and popular juniors at his school. When he attends a party hosted by the king of popularity, Chez, he tells small lies and tries to flirt with Brianna in the hopes of her raising his status. When things don't go as he has planned, he finds himself drunk, driving, and feeling suicidal as he speeds down an express way.
Instead of killing himself though, he accidentally kills another girl, Lea Zamora, who had been driving behind him. Despite the court's decision to only give him probation, he seeks punishment and retribution. He finds it with the mother of the girl he killed. She assigns him the task of placing whirligigs, Lea's favorite childhood toy, at the four corners of the country.
People have been recommending this book for years. It then sat in my To Be Read Mountain for years until an Earthquake struck, the snow caps of my TBR Mountain collapsed and Whirligig was unearthed. Or something.
As I began reading, I wasn't sure if it was going to live up to all of the recommendations. It was clear within the first few pages that Brent was a jerk. I found myself rooting for tragedy to strike so I could finally feel some sympathy for him has be began to change (Although, the fact that he suddenly turned suicidal on page 18 was a little surprising and didn't necessarily match social-climber characterization I had imagined).
Then I hit the second chapter and the story switches to the first-person point-of-view of a girl named Steph who describes the impact one of the whirligigs had on her. And I was won over. I didn't enjoy some of the other perspectives that were included as much, but it was still an enjoyable look at the impact of actions and at Brent's reassembling of his identity after causing a tragedy.
I think it's a great book to include in a thematic unit on identity. It also can be used to focus on the impact and consequences of action (it could be one option for literature circles. Other books that could be paired with it include Looking for Alaska and The Book of Blood and Shadow.)
"Brent turned toward his clock. It was five thirty-five. He hated the hours before a party. A nervous energy whipped back and forth inside him. He focused again on the computer's screen and careened through the video game's dark passages, firing at everything speeding toward him, borne along by the never-ending music." (p. 3)
"He shouted out the catalog of the night's injustices, rained punishments on his enemies, wailed at his disappointments and deprivations. The flood of words seemed to bear him down the road. His head reeled with drink and despairs. Then he saw that he'd gotten on the wrong express way." (p. 16)
"They are the pawns. You are a king.
He took his hands delicately off the wheel again.
You have a king's absolute power within you.
He hold his hands in midair for several seconds. They shook slightly. Gradually, he lowered them and laid them lightly on his thighs. He stared blankly at the lights before him.
You have absolute power over you own life.
He saw that the car was drifting to the left. He felt his hands jerk, but kept them on his thighs.
You have the power to end your life. Now.
Very slowly, he closed his eyes." (p. 18)
"'So why are we here, of all places?'
"That's why." Alexandra stopped and pointed at a strange contraption near the edge of the cliff.
"What is it?"
We approached. It was as big as a box kite and mounted on a pole, gesticulating wildly with moving arms, vanes, wheels and propellers larger and small. I'd never seen it. It was all different colors. It didn't resemble anything in particular, except at the top, where there was a woman's head. Attached to her hair were three reflectors. Shells and chimes hung around her neck. Even with half the moving parts stuck, a gust blowing through it set off a flurry of fluttering and shimmering and ringing, as if a flock of exotic birds was taking flight.
I squinted my eyes against the wind. "Who made it?"
"I think we can rule out the Pilgrims. How should I know? It's always been here."
"What's written on the wood?"
"'Lea Rosalia Santos Zamora'."
"I'm pretty sure it's a prayer to the wind." (p. 24)
"His second life had eclipsed his first. Its moment of birth had been the crash.
He didn't remember the actual impact. He did recall the ambulance lights, the policeman asking how he felt, the discovery that he'd escaped with only cuts and a minor head injury. Then came the alcohol test. Then the drive to the police station, being booked for drunk driving, the photographs and fingerprints--registering his new birth, he thought now. Then the realization that the ambulance at the scene had been tending someone else, that he'd hit another car." (p. 34)
"'Lea is gone. I'm learning to accept that. I thought I had nothing I could ask you that would help. You can't bring back her body. Then I thought about her spirit.'
Brent's skin tingled. He stared at the photo, then at [Lea's mom], anxious to hear her bidding.
"This is my only request. That you make four whirligigs, of a girl that looks like Lea. Put her name on them. Then set them up in Washington, California, Florida and Maine--the corners of the United States. Let people all over the country receive joy from her even though she's gone." (p. 41)
Tasty Rating: !!!