Whirligig by Paul Fleishman
In trying to kill himself, Brent causes an accident that kills Lea Zamora, a high school senior whose life is very promising. Brent was drunk and had just been humiliated at a party by the girl he is lusting after. His actions were thoughtless and now a wonderful person is dead. How can Brent atone—how does he seek forgiveness?
Lea’s mom, though grieving, is the person who helps him, oddly enough, by asking him to make reparations. As part of a program for victim’s families, Lea’s mom requests that Brent make whirligigs and place them in the four corners of the United States—Maine, Florida, Washington, and California. She asks this because Lea loved whirligigs and seeing these blown by the wind would make people happy. Brent is not required by law to do what Mrs. Zamora asks, and his parents raise all sorts of objections, as if to protect him. But Brent is very sorry about what he’s done. He NEEDS to repent and so agrees to the request. Mrs. Zamora gives him a 45-day bus pass good all over the country and a disposable camera to take pictures of the whirligigs when he finishes them.
The story shows how Brent’s odyssey changes him into a better person as he endures physical fatigue and becomes more skilled in carpentry. It also shows, through interspersed chapters, the effect that Brent’s whirligigs (all of them have Lea in them in some way) have on people who see and enjoy them.
This is a beautiful story about the need for forgiveness as well as about growing up and accepting responsibility for one’s actions–and the journey there. If you’ve read Homer’s “The Odyssey,” I wonder if you see a connection.