Whirligig, the newest from Newbery Medal-winner Paul Fleischman, is one of those focused, fascinating short novels in which the sum of the parts seems greater than the whole. Brent Bishop lives for the illusion of happiness promised by high school popularity the right clothes, the right drink, the right girl. All of that is shattered in a single moment by a fatal mistake a mistake with ramifications enough to take any remaining innocence from his youth. Brent is a frighteningly real character, a contemporary teenager who has bought into the false front of his surrounding upper class culture, but in the hands of Fleischman he achieves a redemption that is real and powerful. It is a strange redemption, one that takes him literally to the four corners of the country Maine, Florida, Washington, and California building the most curious of contraptions, the whirligig, in each location. Unknown to Brent, his handiwork, crude and fumbling at first, changes the lives of an array of ordinary people: a cynical schoolgirl, a street-sweeper on the edge of emotional ruin, and a teenager, confused and frightened by her dying grandmother. As his work is honed into art, so too are Brent's heart and soul honed to the point where he knows that "he could have done what he'd done and still be good." Much like the whirligig itself, the book is full of "myriad parts, invisibly linked" and propelled by hidden connections. Fleischman misses no opportunity to employ the symbolism of his title in this book, and the result is rewarding on every level. Through the precise rendering of contemporary life, this is a classic coming-of-age piece in which the character must pay for his misdeeds with the pain of loss and the awesome task of accepting both himself and his responsibility. Whirligig is a fine and worthy reading, spectacularly free of pedantics, to share with teens facing the ominous task of real adulthood. Reviewed by Denise Olivieri Yagel.

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