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Whirligig Book Summary

by Paul Fleischman


Paul Fleischman


Whirligig is a poignant young adult novel that delves into themes of grief, guilt, and redemption. The story follows Brent Bishop, a teenager who makes a devastating mistake that results in the death of a young woman. Consumed by remorse, he embarks on a cross-country journey to build whirligigs—spinning sculptures—in each of the four corners of the continental United States, as a way to honor the memory of the girl and find his own path to healing.

Table of contents

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Author & Writing Background

Paul Fleischman is a renowned author of children’s and young adult literature, known for his lyrical writing style and exploration of complex themes. He has won numerous awards, including the Newbery Medal for “Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices.” Fleischman’s background in music and theater often influences his storytelling, creating narratives that resonate deeply with readers of all ages.

Key Takeaways

Grief and Guilt

The novel explores the profound impact of grief and guilt on Brent’s life as he grapples with the consequences of his actions and seeks to find a way to move forward.

Redemption and Forgiveness

Brent’s journey becomes a quest for redemption, as he strives to make amends for his past and earn forgiveness, both from others and himself.

The Power of Art

The whirligigs serve as a symbol of hope and healing, demonstrating the transformative power of art and its ability to connect people and evoke emotions.

Human Connection

Throughout his journey, Brent encounters a diverse cast of characters who offer him support, guidance, and different perspectives on life and loss.


As Brent travels and builds the whirligigs, he embarks on a journey of self-discovery, learning about his own strengths, weaknesses, and capacity for change.

The Importance of Memory

The novel emphasizes the importance of keeping memories alive and honoring those who have passed away, even as we move forward with our own lives.

Finding Meaning in Tragedy

Whirligig explores the possibility of finding meaning and purpose in the face of tragedy, suggesting that even in the darkest moments, there can be opportunities for growth and healing.

The Ripple Effect of Actions

The book highlights the interconnectedness of human lives and the far-reaching consequences of our actions, both positive and negative.

FAQ about Whirligig

What is the significance of the whirligigs in the story?

The whirligigs are symbolic representations of hope, healing, and the interconnectedness of human lives. They serve as a way for Brent to honor the memory of the girl he killed and to connect with others who have experienced loss.

How does the book address the theme of forgiveness?

The novel explores the complex nature of forgiveness, both self-forgiveness and forgiveness from others. Brent’s journey is a testament to the challenges and rewards of seeking forgiveness and learning to let go of guilt.

What is the main message or lesson that the book conveys?

Whirligig offers a message of hope and resilience, suggesting that even in the face of tragedy, it is possible to find meaning, purpose, and redemption.

Whirligig Quotes

  • ”Sometimes, when you make a mistake, you have to make amends. And sometimes, you have to go a long way to do it."
  • "The whirligig spins, the world spins, we spin — and where we stop, nobody knows."
  • "It’s not about forgetting. It’s about remembering, but not letting the memory control you.”