Stargirl

stargirl-coverTitle: Stargirl

Author: Jerry Spinelli

Published: 2000

I’ve had something of a thing for nostalgia lately. I’ve been picking up some books that I enjoyed reading as a kid. No, Stargirl is not one of those books. I was 20 years old when this book was first published. But its author, Jerry Spinelli, wrote one of my favorite books from my childhood: Maniac Magee.

My first exposure to Stargirl came when I was working in an elementary school a couple years ago. An English teacher was reading it to her fifth graders during classroom downtime. Unfortunately, I was transferred out of that school before I was able to listen to the teacher read the second half of the book. I was curious as to how the thing turned out.

Then, one day, when I happened to be at a thrift store, I happened upon Stargirl, along with old copies of Island of the Blue Dolphins and Bridge to Terabithia (both of which I did read as a kid). When a short paperback is only a buck, you tend to buy it. Well, maybe not every short paperback that’s only a buck. But if it’s something that you’re interested in reading to completion, then you definitely get it.

I’m glad I did. It’s not epic. It probably took me a couple hours to actually read the thing. But it was definitely worth the read.

Stargirl tells the story of a girl named, oddly enough, Stargirl. It’s narrated by another kid named Leo, who manages to fall head over heels for Stargirl. There’s no way around it, Stargirl’s a weird kid. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Except that it makes a lot of people in school despise her.

Oh, they like her at first. She’s this oddity who has been home-schooled until she reached the tenth grade. She shows up at school with a pet rat and a ukulele which she uses to accompany herself as she sings “Happy Birthday” to classmates during lunch in the cafeteria. People don’t know what to make of her, they just know she doesn’t fit the mold.

The kids tolerate her quirks up until her good-natured optimism includes her willingness to cheer for and care about opposing basketball teams. That’s when she becomes despised.

In the meantime, Leo has a thing for her and she brings out a lot of good in him. And he’s okay with each and every one of her bizarre tendencies (and even loves her for them), until he comes to realize the school is shunning him along with Stargirl. He doesn’t mind not being popular, he just can’t stand suddenly becoming a non-entity.

Toward the end, the book kind of breaks my heart. Stargirl decides to change who she is in an attempt to win over her classmates and, by extension, Leo. It breaks my heart that such a uniquely positive force felt the need to be like everyone else. It breaks my heart even more when it doesn’t work.

When I worked as a counselor, I worked with my share of weird kids. In some ways, I was incredibly judgmental of them. I remember thinking about one in particular, a kindergartner, that he just wasn’t gonna make it long term with his classmates. And I thought that because I watched the ways that he would interact with others in and out of the classroom. I thought that because I watched the ways that his classmates would (or would not) interact with him. And it broke my heart.

I’m not advocating that kids should give up their individuality in order to fit in with the status quo, though, in some ways, that’s what I was there to help with as a counselor. I just wish there was some way that we could teach kids (and adults) how to accept the weird kids without making them feel like outsiders. And I’m saying all of this to myself, too.

Spinelli wrote a sequel called Love, Stargirl. I’m intrigued enough after finishing Stargirl to want to find it and read it. I’m guessing it’s written in the form of letters, judging by the snippet that was included at the end of this book. If I find it, I’ll let you know if it’s any good. For sure, this one is. Check it out, even if you’re older than 10.

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