by Paul Fleischman


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With a family always on the move, popularity and the ability to fit in quickly are vital to Brent Bishop's high school survival. When he blows his chances with the girl of his dreams in front of everyone, he's devastated. Brent tries to end it all in a fatal car crash, but instead he finds an unlikely beginning. He's sent on a journey of repentance—a cross-country trip building whirligigs. His wind toys are found by people in need: a Maine schoolgirl yearning for her first love, a Miami street-sweeper desperate for peace and quiet, a kid in Washington who just wants to play baseball, and a San Diego teenager dealing with loss. Brent's whirligigs bring hope to others, but will they be able to heal the wounds deep inside himself?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312629113
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 10/12/2010
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 57,283
Product dimensions: 5.61(w) x 8.34(h) x 0.39(d)
Lexile: 760L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 - 17 Years

About the Author

Paul Fleischman won a Newbery Medal for Joyful Noise and a Newbery Honor for Graven Images. He is also the author of the young adult novel The Mind's Eye, and middle-grade novels including Bull Run and Seedfolks. He lives with his wife in northern California.

Read an Excerpt


By Paul Fleischman

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 1998 Paul Fleischman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-6032-2


Party Time

Brent turned toward his clock. It was five thirty-five. He hated the hours before a party. A nervous energy whipped back and forth inside him. He focused again on the computer's screen and careened through the video game's dark passages, firing at everything speeding toward him, borne along by the never-ending music.


His mother's voice echoed up the stairs. Brent paused the game. The firing and explosions ceased as if a window had been closed on a war.


"All right."

He played on, chewing up the minutes that stretched before seven o'clock. Why couldn't you fast-forward through time the way you could with a video? He flicked another glance at the clock. Five forty-one. Real time was a drag.

He went downstairs. His parents had started eating. When they'd moved to Chicago a few months before, they'd suddenly begun dining in the kitchen, where they'd put a small TV. Brent served himself at the counter, then took his stool at the island and watched with his parents.

The Friday sports news was on, annotated by his father's grunts and snorts. Brent had learned to judge his mood from these. He reconnoitered his father's long, handsome face and studied the wrinkles, fine as if scratched in with a burin, feeding into his eyes. The promotion within his car-rental company had rescued them from Atlanta's heat, put Brent into a private school, bankrolled Brent's mother's furniture-buying spree, but hadn't seemed to improve his own spirits. The caustic complaints about work had begun again. Lately, Brent had begun to feel sorry for him.

The news ended. His father reached for the remote, which Brent's mother always put to the right of his fork when setting their places. He dodged commercials, serving the rest of the family a finely ground visual hash. Switching the control to his left hand so as to take a bite, he inopportunely dropped it when the screen showed the victims of an African famine. A child crawling with flies was wailing. Brent's father scrambled for the remote. A white woman now faced the camera. "This tragedy —" she began, then was cut off.

"Let's go there for our next vacation," said Brent's mother. The remark drew no comment.

"I'm going to a party tonight," Brent spoke up.

His father dismissed from the screen a male newscaster, then a woman selling detergent. Brent found himself thinking of his parents' former spouses.

"I wish I was," said his mother.

All three watched a commercial for the new Jaguar.

"What do you say, Brent?" said his father. "Nice lines, huh?"

"Very nice," Brent replied.

He examined his father's words for signs that a Jaguar might now be in reach with his new salary. He imagined himself driving it, observed by the assembled student body, adding to the daydream a Calvin Klein shirt from the advertisement that followed. He put his dishes in the sink.

"Write down where you'll be," said his mother.

He skipped upstairs and showered, scrubbing himself with medical thoroughness. Though he was in his junior year, he still only had whiskers on his upper lip and chin. He shaved his whole face anyway, then applied aftershave. He put on deodorant and gargled with mouthwash. Taking his comb, he parted his straight blond hair down the middle, confronted the mirror, then combed it straight back, like the models in GQ. He worked in the mousse, imagining the hands raking his hair were Brianna's. Next he inspected his left ear's gold earring. At his school in Atlanta, it had been the right ear. Likewise in Connecticut. But at the Montfort School, in the western suburbs of Chicago, it was the left. His father's corporate climb had demanded four moves in the past seven years. Earrings were one of the first things Brent checked.

He returned to his room and flipped on the radio. Discerning what stations were considered cool was another of his moving-in tasks. No spell-chanting shaman knew better the importance of precise adherence to tradition. And keeping the right music flowing, using headphones between house and car, was as vital as maintaining a sacred flame. With the room now prepared, Brent set about dressing. It was May and no longer rib-rattling cold. He considered his large collection of T-shirts, weighing their logos, color, and condition. To impress without risking being made fun of was his mission, the latter especially important in the case of a party at Chaz's. Especially when you hadn't actually been invited.

He chose khakis and his Chicago Bulls T-shirt. He attached his wallet chain to a belt loop, tucked the wallet in his back pocket, then couldn't decide whether or not to wear his Vuarnet sunglasses. He finally stuck them in his shirt pocket as a compromise, then looked at the clock. It was six-thirty — still too early to leave. For half an hour he played video games, losing all of his lives in short order, the radio booming over the games' noise, his mind elsewhere. At seven he took off.

He drove to Jonathan's and honked. His friend bounded out, lanky and loose-jointed as a clown, wearing a Cubs cap backward and a pair of shredded jeans. Instantly, Brent regretted the choice of his neatly ironed khakis. They drove off.

"So how come you need a ride?" Brent asked.

"Forgot to pay my car insurance," said Jonathan. "My dad took the car for a month. 'There are consequences for our acts, my boy.' Like having to show up in your Studebaker instead of my Mazda MX-6."

"It's a Chevy, not a Studebaker."

Jonathan winced wearily. "No kidding."

A sense of humor was a luxury that Brent had never been able to afford. He was always the new kid, stumbling through the maze, never quite rich or good-looking or athletic enough to join the elite. Unless he played his cards right at the party tonight.

"So how do you get there?"

"Get on 355," said Jonathan. "I'll show you."

Brent drove through Glen Ellyn's maple-lined streets. Chaz lived all the way across the city, in Wilmette, on the lake. Montfort drew from all of Chicago. It was Brent's first private school. He'd cheered when he'd heard that his father would be making enough money to afford the tuition. Then, when they'd moved from Atlanta in March, he'd found that, measured against his new peers, he was suddenly a lot poorer than before. Getting any respect at Montfort was going to be like climbing a glass mountain.

"Get on the East-West Tollway," said Jonathan. The new song by Rat Trap was on the radio. He turned it up until the dashboard vibrated. "Then we'll take the Tri-State north. Then we'll cut over. I'll tell you where."

"And you're sure it's okay, me coming?"

"Trust me! I'm his friend. You're my friend. Therefore, you and Chaz are friends. As was proven by theorem 50 in chapter 6. Stop worrying! It's party time!"

Jumping from one freeway to another, they zigzagged across Chicago. Brent had his doubts about Jonathan's logic. But at least he was certain Brianna would be there. This was a chance to be with her without risking actually asking her out, to be seen with her, to make a statement. To take the next step. Maybe more than one.

They found the house, clustered with cars as if it were a magnet. Cherokee, Honda, BMW, another Cherokee. Brent knew all their models and prices. Judging by the crowd, he figured they were on the late side, which was fine. It gave the impression he had other, more important things on his schedule.

He parked and put on his headphones. They approached the stone house. It was vast and turreted, looming above them like a castle. Brent reached for the knocker, but Jonathan opened the door as if it were his own.

"Hey, it's a party. Remember?"

Inside, the rooms seemed too large, the ceilings too high. Brent felt out of scale. No one seemed to be around. He trailed Jonathan through the labyrinth, at last emerging onto the back patio. Music was booming from a sound system to their right. Below them, in the tennis court and on the grass and inside the gazebo, lounged the cream of the junior class. Brent felt he'd gained a glimpse of Olympus.

It was dusk. They wandered toward the others. Then Brent noticed something. He grabbed his friend's arm.

"Is there a dress code or something?"

Jonathan stopped. Then he saw it too. Everybody was wearing either all white or all black.

"Jesus!" Jonathan smacked his head, then grinned. "Forgot again."

"Forgot what?" Brent knew the panic had shown in his voice.

"We were supposed to wear white or black, like chess pieces. Chaz has some big party game dreamed up."

Brent glared at his friend. He felt he'd been tricked. 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. He pulled off his headphones and tried to form his reply.

"Relax," said Jonathan. "Chaz always has a theme. Check out the tennis court. It's a big chessboard. Must have used chalk. He loves this kind of thing. He's in Drama Club. Figures." He eyed Brent. "Don't sweat it."

He moved on, robbing Brent of his lines. Without Jonathan next to him, Brent felt conspicuous. Everything about the party made him nervous. Then the thought hit him that he could leave. He stuck out enough already without the added business of the clothes. This was the time, before the party game started, whatever it was. Down on the tennis court, two figures in white were rollerblading. He debated, teetered toward flight, started to leave — then sighted Brianna. The balance swung. He trotted and caught up with Jonathan, walking beside him as if nothing had happened. Then each felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Chaz.

"A yellow shirt and blue jeans?" he inquired. He affected the headmaster's English accent, sternly surveying Jonathan. He was tall and long-jawed, his sandy curls topped by a gold crown. "Really, Mr. Kovitz. This will lower your grade. Learning to follow directions is vital both to your success at Montfort and in the wider world beyond. Regardless of what pathetic, godforsaken piece of it you occupy."

Jonathan smirked. "I thought school was over." He viewed Chaz's crown and fingered his black cape. "Not to mention the Middle Ages. Anyway, I don't have a car at the moment, so Brent here drove me. I figured you could use an extra pawn or two."

Chaz took stock of Brent's catsup-red Bulls shirt. "Points off," he said. He dropped the accent. "Brent Bishop, right?"

Brent nodded his head.

"Bishop, like the chess piece," Chaz mused. "Let's see if he moves back and forth diagonally, the way a bishop should."

He stood behind Brent, put both hands on his shoulders, and guided him toward the left. Brent resisted at first, them complied, allowing himself to be treated like a toy, hating his helplessness. Abruptly, Chaz reversed direction, pulling Brent stumbling backward.

"Works fine to the left. Let's try the right."

People were watching. Brent felt like slugging Chaz, but knew his tormentor was taller, more muscled, and the de facto ruler of their class besides. If Chaz said that easy-listening music was hip, then it was. Losing his cool here would be suicide.

"Seems to be in good working order," said Chaz. He stopped, then turned Brent to the left. "Bishop to drinks table," he called out in chess-move fashion. Struggling not to trip, Brent was marched across the grass, through a circle of girls, and up to the table. He felt Chaz's hands release him and prayed his host would vanish. He did.

He replaced his headphones to help shut out the scene and stood staring, dazed, at the bottles before him. He felt as if he were still onstage. Playing to his audience and his own need, he poured himself a scotch and soda, heavy on the former. He added ice and sipped it quickly, feeling it run through him like a river of lava. Discreetly, he scouted the territory. The smell of pot smoke reached his nostrils. He spotted Jonathan in a group of boys on the lawn and headed that way.

The talk was of the Cubs. Brent marveled that people could publicly root for such perennial losers. The Bulls in basketball were different. They won. Both he and his father had bought Bulls shirts their first week in Chicago. His own stood out less among the whites and blacks as darkness fell. Then lights came on above the tennis court and inside the gazebo.

"The human chess game will commence in thirty minutes!" Chaz announced from the patio.

"Should be interesting," said the boy next to Brent.

The subject switched to hockey. Brent pretended to listen, sipping his drink and watching Brianna. He wanted to catch her alone. At the moment, she was talking with two other girls. She was drinking a beer and had a sullen look, her wavy blond hair reaching down her black dress like a hanging garden. His knowledge of her was sketchy. In his two months at Montfort he'd learned that she'd recently broken up with someone, that she stood near the top of the pecking order, and that her father, rumor had it, was worth a hundred million. He also knew, for a fact, that she was gorgeous. Having her for a girlfriend would mean instant respect. And why shouldn't she like him? He was tall, a little skinny perhaps, a bit uncoordinated, but reasonably handsome, with a square chin and no braces or acne. She was probably sick of the same old faces. She'd smiled at him off and on when they passed. They'd been assigned to the same group project in history. Making use of his newcomer status, he'd often asked her questions about Chicago, offering in return his services in math, his best subject. She hadn't taken him up on it as yet, but finals were coming. He had hopes.

He made another drink and returned, his nerves pleasantly numbed by the scotch. He took off his headphones. He was feeling more comfortable, proud of the fact that he could hold hard liquor. On the patio, Chaz had taken off the rap and put on French-sounding accordion music. It was so corny it was cool, and somehow fit the moment: a spring evening, the air warm at last, the leaves thrusting from the trees again and crowding out the sky. A faint breeze stirred the greenery.

Around Brent, the talk turned to cars, then gradually focused on Porsches. He heard his cue and roused himself.

"The 4-S really flies," he volunteered. "But tons of repairs. Always in the shop. Don't even say the word Porsche to my dad."

"He drives one?" asked Jonathan. "I always see him in that Continental."

"Back in Atlanta," said Brent. "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. He glanced to his right and was returned to the present. Brianna was crossing the grass, alone.

He slipped from his group and hurried his steps to intercept her.

"Hi," he said.

She looked startled. She hadn't seen him in the shadows. "Hi," she replied flatly, then moved on.

He strode beside her briskly to keep up. "So who are you in the chess game?"

She reached the drinks table and poured herself some vodka. "Beats me."

She added tonic to her cup. He added scotch to his and sipped it. He lifted the top off the ice bucket for her. She ignored the gesture and walked away. He followed, emboldened by the alcohol to try to overcome her coolness.

"That history test was deadly," he offered.

"Sure was."

He tried to fight through the accordion music and the fog in his brain to find something to say, unaware she was headed for the crowded gazebo. He sipped his drink.

"If you need any help in math —"

Brianna stopped short, squeezed her eyes shut, then wheeled and screamed, "Stop hanging all over me!"

They were well lit by the light in the gazebo, where Chaz was giving a waltzing lesson. All heads turned toward Brianna and Brent. Conversation stopped.

"You're like a leech or something! Get off of me! Can't you take a hint? Go bother someone else! And that goes for at school too!"

There was silence but for the accordion's cheery tune. Brianna stormed up the gazebo's steps and disappeared into the crowd.

Brent stood, brain and limbs paralyzed, as if turned to stone by her curse. He'd never been in such a situation and had no ready response. The music and the black and white figures facing him made him wonder if he was dreaming.


Excerpted from Whirligig by Paul Fleischman. Copyright © 1998 Paul Fleischman. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Party Time,
Weeksboro, Maine,
The Afterlife,
Miami, Florida,
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,
Bellevue, Washington,
San Diego, California,
"Everybody Swing!",

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Whirligig 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 56 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the way the author wrote this novel. It is probably one of the most unique books i have ever read, and a very captivating one as well. The story line is very creative and you can really connect with the characters in the book.
coffeechica More than 1 year ago
Four tales about redemption, family, and hope are framed by a fifth tale of the boy who touched all of their lives without even being there. Tight prose and a joyful ending to contrast the tragic start. Fleischman has an ear for dialogue and an eye for nuances that make this story feel real. One of my favorite YA titles.
red14 More than 1 year ago
Whirligig is an interesting, yet very short book. Whirligig does have a few chapters that don't really live up to the standard presented throughout the book, but they are few and far between in this emotional journey of a teenage kid. If you're into psychology, I highly recommend this book. For the rest of us, Whirligig is an entertaining story that is worth reading and has that special quality that makes you want to read it twice.It won't blow you away, but Fleischman didn't set out to do that, and Whirligig certainly doesn't need to blow you away to show you its charm. Four ot of Five: Recommended.
bookloveteen More than 1 year ago
New to town and only caring if the cool kids like his car and clothes, Brent is excited to be at one of their parties. Trying too hard to be accepted, he is humiliated by the people he is trying to impress. Leaving in his car angry and drunk, he decides to end his life but instead causes the death of Lea Zamora', a beautiful teenage girl with a love of life. The mother of his victim asks that he create four whirligigs with the face and name of her dead daughter, and place each one in the four corners of the U.S. With all the tools he needs, including a 45-day bus pass, Brent sets off on his journey in hopes of some redemption. As he travels, his whirligigs begin to deeply affect four dramatically different people in ways no one but Lea's mother could have imagined. The stories of a young violinist, an immigrant from Puerto Rico, an Auschwitz survivor, and a Maine teenager are weaved throughout Brent's as he slowly begins to heal and realizes how powerful smalls positive deeds can be. I am constantly reading about poor innocent young people dieing at the hands of the irresponsible. Although unlike real life Lea's death does not seem to be completely in vain. Brent's growth felt genuine and my hope for the world was renewed a little. A fast, heart-wrenching read, Whirligig will take but a few hours to get through but just might change your life forever.
almy More than 1 year ago
This book was great. Very thought-provoking, "life changing" (as my 13 yr. old put it), and just a good story. It really made you think of how your choices and actions affect others lives, without even meaning to. I think it's a great read for teens especially, and although the author's manipulation of time may seem jumpy at times, making you have to really think... it's very worth it!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I can't believe everyone things this book is boring. It's different, but not at all bad, it's a cool and refresing way to look at writing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing! This book is so good,it’s got adventure,and love and has such good detail??????
miksmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Brent Bishop, high school junior, just wants to fit in. He thinks the party at the home of one of the popular kids at his new school will be his big chance, but the evening could not have turned out worse. Brent makes a fatal mistake, and must set out across the country to right the wrong he has committed. Like the whirligigs Brent is commissioned to create, in honor of a girl he never knew, Paul fleischman brings together four unrelated characters - with their own stories of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and peace - as they are each affected in their own way by Brent's work. The main story, of course, is that of Brent and his journey toward redemption and peace. Fleischman demonstrates well how our actions - good or bad, deliberate or accidental - can have the power to change someone's life. This multi-layered story is thought-provoking and beautifully told from the perspective of the different characters, with times and places shifting in each chapter.
Jill.Barrington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Brent is a teenager who tries to commit suicide while driving. His attempt at suicide results in the death of a teenage girl, rather than himself. Brent just wants to get away; making and placing four whirligigs at each corner of the U.S. per request of the girl's mother is his ticket to getting away. Along his journey alone, Brent learns a lot about himself and matures.The book would be useful in a discussion about how outcomes can seem so clear, but something different results.
BGMSTeachers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A teenage boy is responsible for another's death in a drunk driving accident. He sets up a whirligig in all 4 corners of the US as atonement. The book is more about the healing for the boy and the mother of the accident victim than about drinking and driving. This would be a great book for discussion.
MrsBond on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A young boy decides to end his life, instead he accidentally takes the life of another. The victim's mother requests that he build whirligigs in honor of her daughter, to make people smile the way she did in life. Follows the boy as he journeys across the country, putting himself together after the car crash that changed his life. Also shows how each of the whirligigs have positively impacted someone's life.
lalalibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love how all the stories intertwine. I'm still working it all out in my head, but I thought this story was beautiful.
Ynaffit27 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book didn't have a big affect on me like I thought it would. The way the chapters were set up was kind of confusing and difficult to read. I think everything could have gotten into more detail. I couldn't really see the change in the main characters feelings and everything seemed "too convenient."
bettyjo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Every young adult should be made to read this short novel about actions and consequences.
snapplechick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Brent is all caught up on the his new social life in Chicago. His father has just had another transfer and it's all about fitting in. When he goes to a party and is called out by the girl he really likes,everythingbecomes too much for him. As he's driving along the high-way, a voice inside his head tells him he doesn't have to deal with life anymore, that he has the power to end it all. So Brent closes his eyes and lets go of the wheel. He's fine, but it turns out he hit another car. He later learns the person he hit has died. He speaks to the mother of the girls he has killed, and she asks him to do one thing- make 4 whirligigs, put one in each corner of the U.S.- California, Washington, Florida, and Maine. And for some crazy reason he says he'll do it.
4sarad on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a quick and easy read. You can feel the main character grow through his efforts to build the whirligigs and it was enjoyable to follow along. It makes you want to travel, and it also makes you want to take up woodworking and learn an instrument. Good read.
ewyatt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Brent Bishop has moved around a lot, so he knows "the rules" of trying to fit in at different high schools. A lot of these things have to do with status and appearance: the right clothes, cars, girlfriends. Those things matter to Brent. After getting humiliated at a party, he decides to end his life. The car crash he gets in doesn't kill him but instead it kills Lea, an 18-year-old with a bright future. Her mother gives Brent the task of building whirligigs in Lea's honor at the four corners of the United States. The story is interwoven with vignettes of how the whirligigs touch the lives of people who come across them. The story is beautifully written and the structure of the story reinforces the themes of interconnectedness, loss, and healing. Brent is a person transformed by his experience.
eloehmann on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My husband and I read this one aloud to each other. Loved the concept of the boy making ammends by taking on the task of building whirligigs and setting them in the four corners of US learning life lessons along the way.
GwenContraire More than 1 year ago
Very inspirational. This book made me want to go on a journey of my own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book called Whirligig is a somewhat interesting story, as you can tell by the title. This is about a boy named Brent who wants to be around all the popular kids, and also with his dreamy girl Brianna. However, one thing that didn't go according to plan is that Brianna doesn't like Brent. She finds him to be too clingy to her even though they aren't a couple. Brent is crushed after being made fun of at a party with all his schoolmates. After experiencing that he tries to commit suicide by getting into a car crash while drinking. In doing this, he unfortunately ended up killing a teenage girl instead of himself. His victim was Lea. She was only 17 years old. She was a very intelligent girl who had a successful life to look forward to. As the result of this terrible loss, Lea's mother asks one thing as a favor of Brent. He should create 4 whirligigs from a picture of Lea and draw symbols that represent her. In addition, he must put one of each whirligig on the four corners of the United States. Lea's mother believes that spreading whirligigs of her will keep Lea's spirit alive. Brent is willing to do this favor but his parents are worried and not sure about this commitment, yet they let him do it. He sets out on his journey, gets the supplies he needs, and goes to finish that project. On the way going to the four corners of the country Brent learns a very important lesson he should have learned a long time ago: be grateful and appreciate what you already have. Trying to control and posses others to gain happiness or popularity will not bring fulfillment. It may end up causing more pain and suffering. This book is easy reading. It took some time for it to capture my attention. Although some events were predictable, I was surprised by the death of Lea and also by the request her mother gave to Brent. She seemed to be a very forgiving person. I imagine it would be hard for a parent to loose a child in such a tragic way. That terrible tragedy could have been prevented.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Coltieee More than 1 year ago
The Book was made to show you how great life is, and is not worth giving up. The book starts out with this guy that goes to a party. He tries to end his life after the party, because a girl doesn't like him. But he ends up killing someone else with his car, a different girl. The girl's mother asks him if he can make Whirligigs that look, and explain her, and put them on the corners of the United state. The book isn't boring at all. It always keeps you thinking. But once it get near the middle it doesn't get as exciting as the beginning. All together I think this is a great book. I recommend this to people that like to read stories about Teen's lives.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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