Whirligig Topics for Discussion
by Paul Fleischman

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Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Why does Brent initially rely on outward appearances and possessions to help him feel good about himself? What makes you feel good about yourself?

2. What does alcohol do to a person's ability to reason and make decisions?

3. How does the second chapter, "Weeksboro, Maine," fit into the story? It is a flash forward. Explain what that means. How did Fleischman have to think about his writing to write these independent stories that intersperse Brent's story?

4. In "The Afterlife" chapter, Brent wants punishment, and his father wants to "get him off" with no time in jail. React to Brent's feelings of guilt, remorse, and disinterest in life.

5. What is probation? Does it only refer to the justice system?

6. Fleischman writes, "We never know all the consequences of our acts. They reach into places we can't see. And into the future, where no one can." What does this mean?

7. Do you remember doing something you did not think through that caused problems for yourself or someone else? What were the consequences? Did you have to make it right?

8. What is restitution? Restitution is part of Brent's probation sentence. What is atonement? How are restitution and atonement different?

9. Can the two words "I'm sorry" ever be enough? Explain. What would you ask of Brent for restitution?

10. Mrs. Zamora says she does not believe in retribution. What is it? How is it different from restitution?

11. Does everything happen for a reason? What could possibly be the reason for the death of Lea, a talented, wonderful young person?

12. What is your reaction to Mrs. Zamora's request? Why did Brent or his parents not have to pay Brent's way? They could certainly afford it.

13. Fleischman uses the word karass. What does it mean? Have you experienced karass? Share your experience.

14. How do the chapters, "Miami, Florida"; "Bellevue, Washington"; and "San Diego, California" relate to Brent?

15. Emil, the German student Brent meets in San Diego, tells Brent his father's favorite quote, "A teacher lives forever through his students." Explain the meaning of this. How is this true of you and teachers in your life?

16. Brent thinks about his life in compartments. They are life before the accident, his first life, and life after the accident which he calls "The Afterlife." Can you explain his disconnected feelings?

17. In Bellevue, Washington, Anthony, an adopted...

(The entire section is 594 words.)