Synopses & Reviews
New to town, Brent Bishop longs to stroll around school with the popular Brianna on his arm. But when Brianna begs him at a party full of schoolmates to stop hounding her, Brent's hopes are shattered. Trying to escape his humiliation, he attempts to destroy himself in a car crash and ends up killing Lea, an innocent teen unfortunate enough to cross his path.
Lea's mother asks one thing of Brent: that he create four whirligigs from a picture of Lea and set them up at the four corners of the United States. Lea's mother believes that by spreading the joy that whirligigs gave Lea as a child, Brent will keep Lea's spirit alive.
And so Brent goes off with an unlimited bus ticket and the tools he needs to memorialize Lea. On his journey, he rediscovers his own love of life, and he begins to realize how like the pieces that form the intricate whirligigs people come together to affect each other in surprising ways.
"[A] beautiful story of atonement, self-respect, learning to live with the consequences of one's actions, and discovering that what we do can have a profound influence on others. Fleischman skillfully intertwines the plot threads into one finely crafted novel." Children's Literature
"Fleischman's writing is filled with beautiful imagery, no more so than in the twirling arms of his whirligigs that remind readers that sustaining the human spirit in an imperfect world requires reaching out to others." VOYA
"There is enormous vitality and hopefulness expressed in this brief masterwork." School Library Journal
In this acclaimed novel, a dejected boy tries to kill himself in a car crash and ends up killing an innocent teen. The victim's mother asks that the boy create four whirligigs from a picture of the girl and set them up at the four corners of the United States to keep her spirit alive.
Brent Bishop longs to have the popular Brianna strolling around school on his arm. But when she rejects him at a classmate's party, Brent's hopes for popularity are instantly shattered. Devastated, he tries to destroy himself in a car crash... but instead kills an innocent girl named Lea.
Instead of sending him to jail, Lea's parents challenge Brent to create four whirligigs modeled on a picture of Lea and position them at the four corners of the United States. Lea's mother hopes that the whirligig that used to delight Lea will be a fitting memorial for her precious daughter. She sends Brent off with an unlimited bus ticket, a few pieces of wood, and the tools to memorialize Lea. On his mission to preserve his victim's memory, Brent ultimately rediscovers his own love of life.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Through a drunk driving accident, 16-year-old Brent Bishop causes the death of a teenaged girl and is sent on
a journey of repentance that changes his life.
Brent Bishop is a self-centered teenager whose main goal is to be popular. A newcomer to Chicago, Brent goes to a party with the intention of making a good impression. When he shows up and embarrasses himself in front of his peers, his dreams of popularity quickly fade. Unable to handle the humiliation, Brent drinks too much alcohol and drives off, killing Lea Zamora, the 17-year-old driver of another car. The judge charges Brent with DUI–driving under the influence of alcohol–and manslaughter, sentencing him to perform an act of atonement.
At the request of the victim’s mother, Brent is to build four whirligigs that resemble Lea and place one in each of the four corners of the United States–Washington, California, Florida, and Maine. Brent willingly makes this journey and, in the process, begins to forgive himself as he sees the joy that the whirligigs bring to others along the way.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Paul Fleischman, winner of the Newbery Medal for Joyful Noise, a Newbery Honor for Graven Images, and the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction for Bull Run, has made a unique contribution to children’s and young adult literature. He is a poet and a novelist who draws on his knowledge of music, science, theater, and history to offer his readers prose that celebrates the beauty of language and the creative spirit. Mr. Fleischman lives in California, where he was born and raised. He has two sons.
BELONGING–Because Mr. Bishop has moved his family around the country, Brent has been the “new kid at school” many times and is always in search of ways to be a part of the group. Discuss how Brent’s need to belong is a common need expressed by most teenagers. How do you know that Brent is concerned with social status? What are the things that Brent does to try to impress his peers? Have the class talk about how Brent’s humiliation at Chaz’s party could have been avoided.
GUILT–The judge sentences Brent to probation in place of the detention center. Although most teenaged criminals would welcome probation, Brent wants to be punished. Discuss why Brent needs a punishment. What is Brent’s reaction when he meets Lea’s mother? Why does he say that he wishes his parents weren’t around when he sees Mrs. Zamora? Ask students to discuss how Brent deals with his guilt as he makes his journey around the United States.
FORGIVENESS–Lea’s mother doesn’t believe in retribution. Why might retribution be considered the easy way out? Brent’s parents are horrified when Mrs. Zamora requests that Brent travel around the country making whirligigs. Discuss why Brent is so willing to accept the assignment. At what point on his journey does Brent begin to forgive himself? Discuss what Mrs. Zamora and Brent may say to one another when he returns with the photographs of the whirligigs. Discuss whether Mrs. Zamora knew that she would be helping Brent by sending him on this journey.
SELF-DISCOVERY AND COMING OF AGE–Ask students to discuss the relationship between self-discovery and coming of age. How does Lea help Brent to come of age? After the car crash, Brent feels that “He was lodged in his own chrysalis but had no idea what he was turning into” (p. 43). Discuss what Brent discovers about himself.
LANGUAGE ARTS–Brent sees Mount Olympus when he travels to Washington, the first stop on his journey. Discuss why Mount Olympus makes Brent think of the story of Hercules. Ask students to read “Hercules,” and write a short paper that compares Brent’s life and journey with that of Hercules.
Ask students to explain the metaphor, “His life was a house that had burned to the ground” (p. 17). Then have students locate and explain other metaphors in the novel. What is the central metaphor of the book?
Engage the class in a discussion about the structure of the novel. Why does the author alternate chapter settings in Maine, Florida, California, and Washington? Ask students to choose one of the characters in the alternating chapters and write a note that the character may leave pinned to the whirligig.
SOCIAL STUDIES–Brent is to receive alcohol counseling and therapy for depression. Ask students to find out what agencies in their town or city offer such help for teenagers and families. Divide the class into groups, assigning each group a specific agency to research. This research may include a personal or telephone interview with a representative of the agency. Then have each group write a brochure about the services offered by the agency.
Brent is instructed to build four whirligigs, placing them at appropriate places in Washington, California, Florida, and Maine. Divide students into groups and ask them to use a road atlas of the United States and plan the route for the Greyhound bus that Brent takes. Students should begin by listing the cities that are mentioned in the novel. Include highway numbers and names of cities on the route. Then have each group calculate the number of miles that Brent travels on the route they plan. Allow each group the opportunity to share the route it develops. How many different routes are developed?
MATH–Ask students to research the number of highway deaths in their state over the past five years. Then have them find out how many of these deaths were caused by drunk drivers. Construct a graph that compares the data gathered. Have the number of drunk driving fatalities improved, or is drunk driving still a major killer on highways in their state?
SCIENCE–Brent buys a book about constellations in a San Francisco bookstore and becomes interested in the individual stars and their names. They become his friends in his community of strangers. Ask students to diagram the constellations that Brent sees throughout his journey. Have them find out the astrological meaning of each constellation. Which star may hold the most meaning for Brent?
ART–Ask students to think about Brent’s journey and how he changes along the way. Then have them design a whirligig that resembles Brent at the end of his journey. Decide an appropriate location to place the whirligig.
Invite a juvenile detention professional and a probation officer to speak to the class. Ask them to talk about the number of alcohol- and drug-related crimes they deal with each year. Have them share specific case stories, emphasizing the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse. Allow the class time to ask questions.
Vocabulary/Use of Language
Students may discover some challenging vocabulary in the novel. Instruct them to record unfamiliar words to share with the class. Such words may include reconnoitered (p. 4), turreted (p. 9), tormentor (p. 11), de facto (p. 11), perennial (p. 12), harem (p. 19), gesticulating (p. 24), restitution (p. 37), ethereal (p. 38), and decompressing (p. 87). Ask the class to try to define the words using clues from the context of the story.
• A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
• An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
• A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
• A Booklist Books for Youth Editors’ Choice
• A Publishers Weekly Best Book
“There is enormous vitality and hopefulness expressed in this brief masterwork.” –Starred, School Library Journal
“The language of the whirligig stories gleams and soars: a metaphor of movement, dance, laughter, and irrepressible life.”
“Complex and rewarding, this is a stellar addition to a consummate writer’s body of work.” –Starred, Publishers Weekly
“A unique coming-of-age story.” –The Horn Book
OTHER TITLES OF INTEREST
Self-Discovery • Guilt • Forgiveness
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Responsibility • Acceptance
Family & Relationships
Guilt • Friendship
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Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye
Belonging • Self-Discovery • Forgiveness
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We All Fall Down
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