by Paul Fleischman
School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up--Vapid, self-absorbed, status-conscious Brent attends a party at which he suffers a very public rejection by the girl he's been lusting after. Drunk, furious, and unable to deal with his humiliation, he tries to kill himself on the trip home, but his reckless driving kills a stranger instead: a lovely, talented, motivated, high school senior. Though Brent's parents would like to minimize his sense of guilt and his punishment, Brent himself is tormented and longs to make some restitution. The court arranges a meeting with his victim's mother, who asks Brent to "make four whirligigs, of a girl that looks like Lea....Then set them up in Washington, California, Florida, and Maine--the corners of the United States." The brilliant Fleischman has written a beautifully layered, marvelously constructed novel that spins and circles in numerous directions. Readers follow the creation of each whirligig and its impact on one or more observer: a young violinist, a Holocaust survivor, a Puerto Rican street-sweeper. They also follow Brent's journey by bus to the corners of the country and of his journey within himself to find a balance between recrimination and reconciliation. Though Whirligig has linear movement, it impresses readers more with its sense of interconnected spiraling. Brent's skill and inventiveness grow with each whirligig. The emotional responses of those who see his creations likewise vary: some find joy, some peace, some equilibrium. There is enormous vitality and hopefulness expressed in this brief masterwork.
Miriam Lang Budin, Mt. Kisco Public Library, NY
Copyright 1998 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Booklist, May 1998, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.:
Gr. 7-10. A nonlinear narrative spun out from actions, both good and bad, and their ever-circling consequences, Fleischman's latest is an unusual construction, its parts fitting together in delicate balance, much like those of the whirligig of the title and the story's central metaphor. Driving home drunk from a party, Brent tries to kill himself by letting go of the wheel but instead kills another teenager. Her grief-stricken mother doesn't seek revenge; rather, she hands Brent a 45-day Greyhound bus pass and tells him that, since her daughter Lea loved whirligigs, she wants Brent to build four, each with Lea's face and name, and plant them in the four corners of the U.S.--Washington State, California, Maine, and Florida. Brent's journey of expiation across that summer alternates with beautiful, quicksilver stories, told in different time frames, of how the whirligigs that he builds and leaves behind profoundly affect the lives of a too-studious eighth-grader and her best friend in Maine, a Puerto Rican street sweeper in Miami, an adopted Korean boy in Washington, and a teenager and her dying grandmother in San Diego. Brent never becomes quite real; his struggle with tools, directions, and sorrow sometimes is pulled under by its own weight, but the story as a whole and the inner sense of self that Brent achieves through his experiences are mesmerizing. The language of the whirligig stories gleams and soars: a metaphor of movement, dance, laughter, and irrepressible life. Like the ritual journey in Sharon Creech's Walk Two Moons (1994) and Uncle Ob's whirligigs in Cynthia Rylant's Missing May (1992), loss, fear, and guilt in Fleischman's story find a universally recognizable shape. (Reviewed April 1, 1998)¾: GraceAnne A. DeCandido.: