Humiliated after being jilted by a girl at a party, 17-year-old Brent decides life's not worth living and promptly steers his car into oncoming traffic, little realizing that his life isn't the only one at stake. In fact the accident leaves Brent relatively unscathed, soon allowing him back into the realm of consciousness only to learn how his rash behavior's involuntarily killed another person. The fatal victim is a first generation American girl named Lea, who at 18, was a senior in high school already accepted to a prestigious four-year university on scholarship. She would have been the first in her family ever to attend college.
Sentenced to indefinite probation and countless hours of community service, to say nothing of the permanent anguish and guilt, Brent's still not prepared for what confronts him immediately after the hearing. Lea's mother meets with Brent to discuss a court-approved 'trip' she wants him to take to honor Lea's memory. Brent is to ride a greyhound bus to all four corners of the lower United States, spending enough time in each region--Miami, San Diego, Washington and Maine--to construct a whirligig (hand-crafted object spun by wind) solely with his own hands, tools and resources. The four whirligigs are to be given as a gift to someone special at each locale in remembrance of Lea.
The book's non-linear sequence of events really allows the reader inside Brent's character. Once a self-seeking teen only interested in upward-mobility, Brent's post-accident demeanor remains absent of everything he once was, his mindset now one of quiet repose and contemplation as he meets with the opportunity for at least some restitution. Intermittent descriptions of the four individuals destined to be the gift-bearers provide a good balance to Brent's narrative, each interpreted as someone able to understand the whirligig's brevity of meaning.