Brent fortunately gains maturity throughout the course of Whirligig. He is, after all, only a junior in high school. And his penance for the accident causes him to grow up and to develop his own identity. But the first chapter, “Party Time,” is full of immature behavior on his part. Here are three examples:
After he finds out that the party has a dress code that he didn’t fit:, we read that “Fury rose up in him from a deep well. He’d been a head-banger as a toddler and still threw tantrums when he didn’t get his way. He knew he couldn’t afford a tirade here.” At least for a few minutes, Brent understands and can control his anger. But he lets it explode later when he attacks Chaz, just before he storms out of the party.
When the conversation comes to cars and Porsches, Brent steps in as if he has personal experience with them. He claims his father had one back in Atlanta but wasn’t happy with it and finally sold it. “It was the sort of lie that would never be found out, the sort he’d drawn on often. Moving had at least that one advantage. Over the years, he’d grown adept at creating alternate pasts for himself.” His fabricated stories make his family sound better off than they really are. He feels the need to be equal or to be better than everyone else.
The last two pages of the chapter show the climax of his immaturity, when Brent listens to a drunken subconscious voice that validates his bad behavior and that prods him to take his hands off the steering wheel. “You have the power to end your life. Now. Very slowly, he closed his eyes.” Brent’s temper and selfishness combine to cause the tragic accident.
Brent does show growing maturity as he devotes his energies to the whirligig project. But there are still a few moments when his youth and inexperience break through. In “The Afterlife,” during the mediation session with Mrs. Zamora, Brent tries to express his remorse but cannot: “When his turn finally came to speak, the long apology he’d rehearsed reduced itself to the two words ‘I’m sorry,’ words he spoke over and over, then wailed miserably through tears, not caring that his parents were watching.” He is really still a child.
Later in the same chapter, when Brent is on the road to the Pacific Northwest, he realizes that maybe he should have done more preparation. At least he had gotten a book about building whirligigs. “He’d read only the chapter on supplies. He knew he should have tried building one in Chicago, but he hadn’t. Once his probation officer had convinced Brent’s parents that the trip might help him, he’d been in a rush to leave.” Now he would have to learn by doing, when he could have mastered the craft by practicing first.
As he builds the first whirligig, things don’t go as he had planned:
He tightened the wood down to the table with a clamp, started in with his D-shaped coping saw, and promptly broke the thin blade. He inserted the only spare he’d brought, feeling like a soldier down to his last bullet. He worked gingerly. The blade survived. The file that followed the same path not only smoothed the wood’s edge but snapped off a sizable chunk of the angel’s wing. He slammed the file onto the table. He hated wood. He took a break, frightened by his anger in the face of this setback. There was no channel-changer here. … He sat down. He decided to do without the wing. The figure could simply be a harp player.
Brent loses his temper but is able to calm himself down and to get back to work successfully, without anyone else’s prompting. Finally, he’s learning. This is the last tirade we see from him in the book.