Sunday, May 19, 2013

Review: Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli

Everybody could use a friend like Stargirl. She's fun. She's blissfully unaware of social rules. She wants everybody to be happy and doesn't seem too concerned about herself. On one hand she's powerfully charismatic, but on the other hand she's on the outskirts of society. Somebody like her, continuously cheerful and positive, blissfully unaware of social norms, tends to have less friends than not, but those friends she does have are very close. Popularity doesn't concern her. Acting bizarre in public doesn't embarrass her. She's always so full of energy it's as though her crazy behavior fuels her. Reading Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl, it's hard not to fall in love with the title character. And the reader does get to vicariously fall in love with Stargirl through the eyes of the main character, Leo. The results are a fun, fresh story about nonconformity.

As she's the new girl in town, the students at Mica High are unsure what to make of Stargirl. What is clear is that she's something of a sensation. At lunch, on her first day of school, Stargirl plays "Happy Birthday" to a student on her ukelele. She seems to have a supernatural sense about special things such as birthdays and random acts of kindness. A student who picks up a piece of trash from the floor and throws it away will turn around to see Stargiril cheering him on. The student body begins to feel good about itself and looks forward to Stargirl appreciating previously unnoticed gestures of kindness and goodwill. It's not long before she's the most popular girl in the whole school.

What I have described so far make it sound like the story's main character is Stargirl, but that would be wrong. In fact, the story is told in the first person perspective from a student named Leo. Leo directs a school show called Hot Seat, which his friend, Kevin, hosts. On the show, a jury comprised of students asks whoever is on the Hot Seat probing, personal questions, and as soon as Stargirl arrives, it is Kevin's goal to get her on the show. Leo is less certain, however. He feels it might be cruel. The early parts of the story are focused almost primarily on Stargirl, but as the story begins to settle Leo becomes much more important.

The story settles into a sweet romance between Stargirl and Leo. Though he's reluctant at first, Leo falls head over heels for her, and the two go on dates that aren't normal dinner/movie dates, but are a lot of fun nonetheless. The romance that Spinelli writes is among the sweetest romances I have had the pleasure to read. Of course, the romance occurs early enough that you know something is going to happen to threaten it. Not that I mean Stargirl is predictable. What does end up happening seems natural, but certainly not predictable.

For some reason, Stargirl falls in love with Leo. Maybe she can sense a certain kindness to him. Or maybe she liked it when he followed her after school one night to see where she lived. What develops, however, is a sweet, fun romance. None of that dark, murky, games-playing romance seen in Twilight and The Hunger Games. These are two teenagers who fall head-over-heels in love and enjoy each others' company. As with any romance story, this romance faces a conflict - in this case in the form of popularity. Stargirl's popularity in the school lasts only so long. She's a sensation as one of the cheerleaders, but the school soon despises the fact that Stargirl cheers every basket that is scored, including those on the other team. Thus the students begin to shun Stargirl.

Stargirl doesn't seem to notice, but Leo does. What scares Leo is that, as Stargirl's boyfriend, he also feels shunned. He pleads with her to act more normal because the pressure is too much for him. It's something that eats away at him. A question arises in the story as to whether it's more important to be true to your own unique self or to conform to societal norms in order to become accepted by others. A retired archaeologist in the story, and a mentor to many of Mica High's students, Archie provides Leo with one of the novel's key question: "Whose affection do you value more - hers or the others'?" I won't say how the story answers this question, but it is a compelling one, a question with the power to shape a young adult's values. At the core the question is addressing whether you need the affection of a small number of people in order to be happy, or the acceptance of the larger societal group. The older you are, the more obvious the answer to this question is.

I love stories about nonconformity. Nonconformists are important to society. They make life fun, and, besides, everyone of us has a little bit of the nonconformist in us. Stargirl is pure joy to read from beginning to end. Stargirl steals the show, becoming one of the most compelling character in literature. The novel's romance, as well, is lots of fun and serves as an example of how romance stories should be.. The ending, too, I think is perfect and keeps with the flow and design of the story. I was so engrossed I didn't want the story to end, but unfortunately all good stories must come to an end.


  1. The only copy I have of this book is in Spanish. I started it a few years ago, but never finished (for reasons I can't remember). Considering how my Spanish has deteriorated, I should probably pick up an English copy. It sounds like a story worth reading. Great review!

    1. That's neat! My Spanish is pretty rusty as well. I think you'll enjoy the book. Thanks for stopping by!