I decided to reread Whirligig by Paul Fleischman in order to support my son with his summer reading.
Brent is humiliated at a party in his new town. He has moved quite a bit and he realizes that he will be socially ostracized after this event. He attempts suicide while drunk driving away from the party, but instead kills eighteen-year-old Lea Zamora. Brent never knew Lea. Her mother asks that he build four whirligigs around the United States in order to spread the happiness that she is no longer able to share. She asks that he take a photograph of each whirligig to return to her after his redemptive mission.
Brent sets off on this journey, traveling to the four corners of the U.S.: Washington, California, Florida and Maine. He starts with no knowledge of how to build a whirligig and is socially awkward around others. Through the trip, he begins forming relationships with various people, such as other travelers, onlookers and more. He gets something from each encounter. He begins new hobbies during his trip, such as playing the harmonica and astronomy.
Throughout the story, there are chapters devoted to some of the random people who encounter his whirligigs and the effects they have on each person. In most cases, the whirligigs fulfilled Lea’s mother’s wish, spreading happiness to others.
At the end of the story, Brent is finally able to speak openly about his part in the accident to a woman artist he meets. This is his first time openly confessing to his crime. After this moment, Brent realizes he will be able to go on and live his life as a new, humbled person.
I was so happy to reread this book, not only to be able to talk about it with my son, but because of its important messages. The ideas of rebirth, forgiveness, and mostly, the ability to find/create beauty amidst chaos and ugliness resounded with me. These ideas are eternal, and the latter seems more important than ever in today’s society.