November 29, 2009 at 5:34 pm (Book Commentary) (, , , , , , )

It starts, oddly enough, with a porcupine necktie and an anonymous act of random kindness. Have you ever noticed that such an act makes people uneasy? They’re not sure why but they don’t like anonymous acts … one assumes either that people want credit or that they have some sinister reason for wanting to stay anonymous.

Stargirl appears at Mica High School at the beginning of Leo’s grade 11-year. Stargirl is in grade 10 and up until now has been home-schooled. In the beginning, the school’s halls echo with “Stargirl”, “Stargirl” as the other students dissect her. Who is she? Where does she come from? Why is everyone enchanted by and curious about her?

Stargirl is an eccentric. She signs her name like this.

She comes to school wearing 1920’s flapper dresses, kimonos and no make-up. She plays the Ukulele and serenades the students, at lunch, with renditions of Happy Birthday. How does she know whose birthday it is? She has a pet rat named Cinnamon. She has a history of changing her name. Stargirl is weird, strange, goofy, unusual.

Leo tells us Stargirl’s story. He is a normal, average student at Mica High. Leo is enchanted by Stargirl and, like the rest of the student body, falls in love with her. Leo sees Stargirl as this “ray of light” involved in everyone else’s business. Stargirl gives secret anonymous gifts. She goes to the funerals of people she does not know. She pays attention to life! She has no ego and doesn’t care what other people think of her, or so Leo tells us.

Before Stargirl came to Mica High the school revolved around Hillari Kimble, cheerleader and most popular girl and Wayne Parr who is admired only because he is gorgeous – his aspiration is to be on the cover of GQ.

Stargirl energizes the school and the community. She gets people out to the football games, she becomes a cheerleader, and she roots for everyone … no matter the importance of their accomplishment. Herein lies her downfall … she roots for everyone, including the opposing team. The energy and originality that first made Stargirl seem enchanting and special in the eyes of her classmates ends up getting her shunned.

All this shunning upsets Leo more than it does Stargirl. Because he loves her he also bears the brunt of the school’s gossip and teasing. Taunts of Starboy echo behind him in the hallway and the things that made him love Stargirl now makes him want to change her. He tells her “we live in a world of them” implying that what matters most is how others perceive us.

To please Leo, Stargirl goes back to the name her parents originally gave her … she becomes plain, ordinary, everyday Susan. She looks like everyone else. She tries to act like everyone else. Her most important task becomes winning the speech contest. This will make her popular. She has to win, she must win, she does win. Nothing changes. Winning does not make her popular. Trying to be someone else does not make her happy. Susan returns to being Stargirl and Leo removes himself from her orbit.

However, Leo still loves Stargirl. He may no longer physically orbit around her but he is aware of what she is doing. Stargirl’s final showdown occurs at the Ocotillo Ball. She goes alone and in triumph ends up a legend, the belle of the ball. And then she leaves. Stargirl leaves school and her parents leave town. Still, in the end, Stargirl is forever embedded in the mythology of Mica High School and in Leo’s heart.

The voice of reason throughout this story is A. H. Brubaker, retired professor of paleontology. Archie the Bone Man, as the local teenagers who congregate at his house, call him.

It is in Archie’s shed that Stargirl keeps her office. Here are her files on people. Her “lovely treasure” as Archie calls it. Archie, like Leo, sees the enchantment behind Stargirl but also understands why others fear her. He tells Leo “You’ll know her more by her questions than by her answers.” Do we fear Stargirl because she has no ego and cares not how others perceive her? Do we wonder if we could be as happy as she is if only we didn’t care about how others saw us? How much of ourselves do we lose because we care so much about how we are perceived?

Because Leo cared how others saw him he lost Stargirl. Because the others cared they lost her as well. Leo, and perhaps everyone else, ends up seeking forever what they have lost.


by Jerry Spinelli

New York: Knopf, 2004

P. S. This is an old review and in searching for images I find that there are two sequels. (Or are there?) Yeah, more for me to read 🙂


1 Comment

  1. Kauaiboogie said,

    What Was Leo’s Major Accomplishment?

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