By now it’s no secret that I’m absolutely 100% head over heels in love with Jerry Spinelli’s writing. I love his books. Even the worst of his books I’ve read was still somewhat enjoyable. Stargirl is right up there with the best of Spinelli….maybe just a notch below the fantastic Maniac Magee. Confession: this book was published in 2000. I was…uh…in my early 20’s in 2000. So I’m cheating a little on my blog’s concept here and reading this one for the first time. But yanno…it’s fucking Spinelli! How could I not read it?
Beware: Spoilers ahead!
This book is told from the POV of 16 year old Leo Borlock, a Junior at Mica Area High School in Mica, AZ. MAHS is a bastion of conformity. Sure there are jocks and AV kids, but no one ever goes out of the little accepted boxes of high school. Until Stargirl comes along, that is.
No one has ever met anyone like Stargirl. Homeschooled for her entire life, Stargirl begins her first year in a public school as a Sophomore at MAHS. At first it appears she just dresses odd. But her behavior is completely off the wall. She has a pet rat, Cinnamon, who goes every where with her. She plays the ukelele and serenades kids’ who are having birthdays at lunch time, she provides holiday-themed snacks for the other students…things like that. The students, Leo included are in complete awe.
One night at a football game, Stargirl joins the team on the field, joins the band on the field and joins the cheerleaders (for both sides) on the sideline. People love her. The cheerleaders ask her to become a member of the squad, which she does. And her popularity skyrockets. The students love the different new student and start to mimic her. But being different can be dangerous. At first it’s amusing when Stargirl as a cheerleader cheers when the opposing team scores. But when the previously hapless basketball team starts to win, the other students actually start to care about the success of their schools’ sports teams, and Stargirl’s willingness to cheer for the other side (and even comforts their injured star player) is little more than base treachery.
This whole time, Leo is completely smitten with Stargirl. As her popularity starts to dwindle, Leo makes his move. And Stargirl loves him back. Leo is good and happy….for a few days. Then he starts to realize that Stargirl is being shunned, literally. The other students don’t talk to her and, by proxy, they won’t talk to Leo either. Stargirl doesn’t notice. She’s busy playing good samaritan in secret. Leo had never been overly popular, but he had been well-liked and this shunning doesn’t sit well with him. So he does the worst thing possible.
He tries to change Stargirl.
And for a while, she reverts to being Susan (the name given by her parents, before she chose Stargirl) who wears makeup and stops performing random kindnesses. But she’s not happy and neither is Leo. Neither are the other students, who continue to shun her. She and Leo break up. Stargirl makes quite an appearance at the end of year dance, where she goes by herself, winning the students back but disappearing forever by the end. And no one hears from her again.
Her presence in the school is noted, however. Leo, now an adult fifteen years out of high school, tells us that the MAHS band features ukeleles, there is a Sunflower Club whose only rule is to do one nice thing for someone else every day, and there is an MAHS tradition now of cheering for opposing teams when they score their first point in each game. Leo hasn’t married, has no family. He thinks he’s being watched and is waiting for Stargirl’s reappearance.
- Here’s the thing. You have to suspend belief quite a bit while reading this book, and somehow that doesn’t take away from the awesomeness.
- It’s Spinelli, so as always, I have to let his amazing words speak for themselves:
As Leo falls for Stargirl:
“She was bendable light: she shone around every corner of my day.”
When Leo is asking Archie, a former teacher and friend of Stargirl about her and where he thinks she went and who, exactly, Stargirl is:
“…every once in a while someone comes along who is a little more primitive than the rest of us, a little closer to our beginnings, a little more in touch with the stuff we’re made of. “
When Leo is thinking of Stargirl at nights:
“In that moonlit hour, I acquired a sense of the otherness of things. I liked the feeling the moonlight gave me, as if it wasn’t the opposite of day, but its underside, its private side, when the fabulous purred on my snow-white sheet like some dark cat come in from the desert.”
Upon learning that Stargirl’s many acts of kindness came from basically spying on people, Archie calls it “A lovely treason.” And ohmygod, do I want a reason to use that phrase someday!
- Stargirl keeps a “pebble wagon.” A small wagon and twenty pebbles. Everytime she feels happy, she adds a pebble to the wagon. When she’s sad, she takes one out. In general, her pebbles in the wagon hover around ten. She’s up to eighteen at the height of her and Leo’s relationship. Down to two when Leo tries to change her. What a concept.
- The plot of this book is somewhat similar to Jason & Marceline. Stargirl is like Marceline on steroids. Stargirl makes Marceline look like the head cheerleader. I give a slight edge to Stargirl (the book, not the person) simply because Leo is a better narrator. In fact, he’s a nearly perfect narrator in that he doesn’t try to make himself out to be a better person while telling this story in hindsight.
- What a perfect ending. You know I hate when things get wrapped up in a neat little bow at the end.
I’m trying to think of an eloquent way of “Squee! I loved this book!” But I’m having a little trouble with it. What can I say, snark comes to me easier. But I’ll try.
I’m not religious. I consider myself a Humanist and this book is one great big shining example of what is great about simple humanism. Stargirl is absolutely bursting with humanity with a complete innocence about the concept of paying back. Hell, she doesn’t even care about paying forward. She sees a boy who wrecked his bike, she wants to make him happy by buying him a new one. She reads the birth announcements in the paper and sends cards. Death announcements, cards. She drops coins on the ground because she knows how happy people are to find money. She doesn’t do good because she wants to be rewarded. She doesn’t avoid doing bad because she fears being punished. She just is. There is something so zen about her character, so that when I’m reading about her, I’m relaxed. When the story falls away from her character, I would tense up. Her total goodness causes me to forgive her the oddity of stalking her classmates to find out personal information on them. (She kept files! That’s just wrong!) She is not preachy, and just does her thing without making people feel bad about not being as good. We get by reading this, that if someone is feeling bad about not doing more, that feeling comes from within themselves, not from Stargirl or any other external source.
And that my friends, is why I’m completely sold on this book. Because Spinelli crafted Stargirl to personify what is so right in people in a way that neither preaches nor talks down to his audience. So two thumbs up! Five stars and all that shit.
(And in my mind Stargirl ends up with Maniac Magee in the future. Sorry Leo.)
Also — for some reason this book TOTALLY reminds me of Green Day’s song Extraordinary Girl. Which is a compliment. I ❤ that song.